Water is the most important resource for the survival of life. In fact, life for the first time was detected not on land, but water. Even today, when our scientists try to explore other planets for the possibility of life there, they look for the existence of water on it.
Almost two-thirds of the earth’s surface is covered in water. However, only 0.3 per cent of this water is in a form that we can use it. Rivers represent a huge amount of that percentage. This is why its pollution is highly concerning. Because with a growing population, the users are more, but the resource is scarce.
In India and many other countries, water was allocated to farmers — who needed it to grow our food. But now cities and industries are growing, new users of water. The problem with this is that cities and industries take water, but return waste and pollution. Thus, the available and scarce resource of water is further diminished.
The diminishing of water flow in the river causes accumulation of the human waste that is released in it. It cannot clean itself.
In addition to this, it is important to note that all this is happening in an age of climate change. Today when it rains, it does not pour; it is a deluge. In the monsoon season of 2019, we have seen over 1,000 instances of heavy and extreme rain events; many places have had 1,000-3,000 per cent more rain in a single day, as compared to their average.
This causes floods in the region causing a lot of loss especially to the poorer. But worse is, after the flood, there is drought because regions, cities, villages do not have the capacity to hold the rain, the drainage systems, ponds and tanks have been destroyed; the streams have been filled up. In this way, we have a flood at the time of drought.
Dams were built to hold water; modulate the flow. But now this holding of water is becoming the biggest risk as dam managers have no option but to release the water when there is such high rainfall — all unpredicted and this then makes the flood.
The 2019 World Water Prize was awarded to South African Jackie King for her work to establish the need for ecological flows in rivers. Her work has led to a new kind of tools to help decision-makers assess actual costs and benefits of alterations to rivers. She has advanced the scientific understanding of water flows, giving decision-makers methods and tools to assess the full range of costs and benefits when managing or developing river systems. It is time policymakers of India take inspiration from her work and make necessary changes for ensuring the health of our rivers.