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Anirban Ghosh

Anirban Ghosh is the Chief Sustainability Officer of Mahindra Group.

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Corporate Citizens Tread Natural Path to Ease Water Stress

To improve the internal water availability scenario, the various stakeholders such as governmental agencies, corporate citizens and local communities can therefore try out various water rejuvenating techniques, especially nature-based solutions such as restoring forests, grasslands and natural wetlands, reconnecting rivers to floodplains, creating buffers of vegetation along water courses.

Photo Credit : pixabay.com,

The well-known Canadian Actor, William Shatner had once rightly pointed out, “the ability to breathe the air and drink the water will be what the wars will be about from here on in. And it's coming with alarming rapidity.” While air pollution and individual national sustainability commitments are quickly becoming a bone of contention worldwide, especially post the ascendency of President – Donald Trump, the issue of water conflicts is also gaining increasing momentum.

This is growing stress, whether it is the Egypt – Ethiopia dispute over the precious water of the Blue Nile River or water sharing dispute between Turkey – Iraq for Tigris River. If one looks closer, India itself has unresolved water issues with its neighbours such as Indus River – Pakistan and Brahmaputra River – China. Looking within, today India faces a big threat from internal water sharing disputes such as Mandovi River between Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra; and Cauvery River between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu; Krishna River between Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Such conflicts can only be averted through urgent innovative and alternative action. In comparison to artificial man-made alternatives, Indians have always traditionally opted for natural remedies. Even today, the success of natural products based on Ayurveda and Unani provides an insight into our nature loving leanings. 

To improve the internal water availability scenario, the various stakeholders such as governmental agencies, corporate citizens and local communities can therefore try out various water rejuvenating techniques, especially nature-based solutions such as restoring forests, grasslands and natural wetlands, reconnecting rivers to floodplains, creating buffers of vegetation along water courses. Such initiatives will help to assist in the management of water availability and quality.

It would be pertinent to point out that this is easier said than done since most governmental agencies may be focused on other areas or might be too overburdened to assist in water rejuvenation techniques. In addition, the local communities might not be cohesive enough to carry out such activities. The mantle for carrying out such water rejuvenating techniques, especially nature-based solutions therefore falls on corporate citizens who would have the necessary resources, expertise and commitment towards the cause.

Out of the total water used in India, about 87 per cent is consumed by agriculture, eight per cent by industries and five per cent for domestic purposes. The water intensity of agriculture in India is however extremely poor. For example, India uses 5000 litres of water to grow one kg of rice while China uses only 1000 litres (source: International Rice Research Institute). As India grows more food for its growing population, the demand on water will become crippling.

It is herein that corporate citizens could come forward and provide expertise in natural irrigation techniques so that agricultural activities that consume the maximum share of water resources reduces its requirement. In fact, certain techniques such as micro-irrigation helps to reduce the water used for cultivation by 20 – 30 per cent. Additionally, corporate citizens could assist with watershed development to harness precipitation and enable ground water recharge.

Understanding the importance of water and the urgent need for its conservation and management, the Indian industry has proactively taken up various initiatives to improve water availability. In fact, some corporate citizens harness many more times of water through recycling and conservation vis-à-vis their actual consumption. There are also factories that harness water covering more than 100 days of operation. 

Focused and dedicated initiatives such as these are fast gaining traction across the sector. Corporates are undertaking detailed risk mapping, rigorous water-audits and implementing programs like rain water harvesting and reusing treated waste water. Innovative technologies like using enzymes or plants to treat sewage and reuse the effluent water are also being explored. Corporations are creating zero wastewater discharge facilities. But there is a lot more to be done.

With merely four per cent of the Earth’s fresh water resources and 16 per cent of the world’s population, India has always found it challenging to ensure that all its citizens have access to adequate clean water supply. This demand supply mismatch is more severe in urban areas where the per capita demand of 135 litres per day (lpcd) is more than three times the rural demand of 40 lpcd. Due to rise in population and improved quality of living – this dire situation is expected to get further aggravated in future.

If corporate citizens step in however and actively assist – the water stress could be reduced. These corporate citizens could support more nature based solutions, including in urban landscapes that essentially involve the management of vegetation, soils and/or wetlands including rivers and lakes.

In conclusion, it must be pointed out that nature based solutions are not a panacea to the critical water-related challenges we face. However, as the global population grows they can provide innovative and cost-effective options for supplementing insufficient or ageing water infrastructure especially in a developing nation such as India. It is herein that corporate citizens can play an influencing role to handhold initiatives on nature based water solutions so that India makes the transition from being water deficit to water sufficient. Such interventions by corporate citizens will not merely reduce water stress but also assist in averting conflicts – both external and internal.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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