Water, the looming frontier
NEWS While we are still in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is airborne, we have forgotten that another such blight could well come from contaminated water.
CONTEXT NITI Ayog and WaterAid (an international non-governmental organisation), amongst others, have found that over 70% of India’s surface and groundwater is contaminated by human and other waste and is likely to carry viruses.
INDISCRIMINATE HUMAN ACTIVITY
- Indiscriminate human activity is often the reason for environmental degradation and pandemics.
- The practice like keeping animals locked together for mass production of meat, produces an artificial environment that can birth mutations in erstwhile dormant viruses.
- Earlier, in the wild, animals were far away from human habitats, thus the viruses they harboured remained isolated. But human practices can spawn viruses that can easily transfer to the human population.
WATER AS A SOURCE OF SARS-CoV-2
- Once the virus has found its way into the human population, it is bound to proliferate in wastewater. For example, in England, Wales and Scotland, several wastewater samples were tested and were found to carry traces of SARS-CoV-2.
- Remnants of the virus have also been detected in raw sewage across Sydney.
ALARMING SITUATION FOR INDIA
- In India, sewage water is often discharged into water bodies.
- The river water or lake water, which carries human waste, sewage, and toxic waste, can be a very generous host for viruses of different kinds and we do not know where and how they can mutate and strike.
- Some water-transmitted viral pathogens are astrovirus, hepatitis A and norovirus.
- Unlike in the developed world, a huge section of the population in India uses polluted water from sources like rivers, lakes, or groundwater for drinking.
- Virus is still not understood completely, making it difficult to curtail.
- Decontamination of water bodies and groundwater could take several decades.
- Since most of the water sources are contaminated, the only way to purify water is through reverse osmosis (RO).
- But though RO removes contaminants, it also takes out all the healthy minerals and nutrients required by the human body.
- This is an unhealthy and exorbitantly priced proposition.
- To neutralise the virus, we would need at least an ultraviolet aquaguard treatment, but this won’t take out chemical contaminants, and it is also costly.
- There is no technological substitute for living natural resources like pristine natural water and soil. This means that we must conserve and use our natural living resources.
- The water beneath our forests is as good as natural spring water and we must safeguard it.
- It is to be noticed that developed countries have stable landscapes and populations whereas developing countries like India have a growing population, which means there will be growing consumption. Therefore, we need to work upon a sustainable model of development.
- There are two unpolluted freshwater sources left in the country. The first is the water lying below our forests; the second is the aquifers that lie below the floodplains of rivers.
- Both these sources provide natural underground storage and are renewable– the rains provide natural recharge year after year and it is this recharge which can be used to water our cities and towns. But we should use only a fraction of the annual recharge.
- Forests and floodplains must be declared as water sanctuaries.
It is important to remember that these evolutionary resources, once lost, will be lost forever. It is time we understood this is natural infrastructure bequeathed to us by nature. If we don’t realise this, it will only be our loss.
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