The COVID-19 pandemic has created multiple problems. As a result, the longstanding issue of water shortage in the country has been temporarily relegated to the background. But the problem is poised to bounce back with greater severity because COVID-19 norms require people to wash their hands with soap and water periodically.
Significantly, this is occurring in 2020 – a year when a NITI Aayog report of 2018 had warned about the possibility of 21 cities in India facing Day Zero – or a scenario wherein taps across those cities run wholly dry. Besides India, other nations across the globe are slowly sliding towards water deficiency. Indeed, Cape Town in South Africa faced the ignominy of Day Zero before Chennai.
But water is such a precious commodity that its shortage can cause water riots. Such riots have already occurred in a few cities and countries across the world. Where India is concerned, apart from other issues, two wrong practices have exacerbated water shortages. These are overexploiting groundwater reserves and inadequate water harvesting.
The first problem can be partially attributed to the huge population of more than 1.3 billion. In the second case, the issue arises because barely 8% of the nation’s annual rainfall gets captured and conserved. The rest of the water is simply washed away as runoff. In essence, inadequate water management is the prime cause of the water deficit.
But there is some good news. There are many means to save water and ensure water security. The most popular way is via the 4Rs. These comprise reducing, reusing, recycling and replenishing. Where the first mantra, reducing, is concerned, smart systems can play a major role in curbing water wastage. Such systems can be most useful in bathrooms and washrooms, where the most wastage occurs.
Technological solutions offer a variety of urinals and toilet choices that need minimal water. Consider highly-efficient toilets. These use barely five litres in a single flush compared to the 10 – 15 litres required in conventional commodes. Similarly, high-efficiency urinals only require 1.9 litres per flush unlike conventional ones needing twice the quantity. What’s more, zero-water urinals are the best as they provide 100% water savings. Some of these urinals contain a cartridge that acts as a drain trap. Then there’s a sealant liquid operating like an airtight barrier, which separates the drain and the washroom. Consequently, bad odours simply cannot escape.
Likewise, there are water faucets with automatic sensors that save around 60% water whereas the solar or battery-operated varieties provide 40% savings. Then come the sink-integrated faucets that have adjustable flow rates, which reduce water usage by 67%.
If reusing and recycling of water is required, dual piping systems are ideal. These systems separate water into potable and reclaimed. The former is useful for drinking, cooking and washing while the recycled water is meant for flushing toilets and gardening as well as irrigation. Treated sewage can be converted into reclaimed or recycled water. In this way, waste and dangerous bacteria are destroyed, which makes the water suitable for flushing toilets and landscaping.
In the same manner, grey water can be segregated via dual plumbing systems. Grey water is relatively clean waste water flowing out of sinks, bathrooms, dishwashers, washing machines and kitchen appliances. Incidentally, grey water doesn’t harbour biological pollutants or any faecal contamination.
Ultimately, one of the best ways to promote water sustainability is by replenishing the groundwater reserves. Worldwide, this is done through rainwater harvesting, which also takes care of the rainwater runoff that is captured and conserved. Despite being a great tool for conserving water as well as replenishing groundwater reserves, rainwater harvesting needs to be practised uniformly throughout the nation to reap the desired benefits.
Remarkably, two small nation-states are global role models in water management and conservation. Israel has an excellent record in conserving, storing and supplying water efficiently. The other example is Singapore– a city-state that uses digital technology in water and wastewater systems to transform its water management and advance water security.
In a nutshell, a mix of smart technology and traditional conservation techniques can help India emerge as a water-secure country. But with COVID-19 norms increasing water scarcity across India, water-saving initiatives need to begin immediately.
- Anup Tripathi, General Manager, Sloan India Private Limited
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