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Fighting for water

  • Published at 12:00 am May 19th, 2018
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Don’t take this for granted / BIGSTOCK

Are we headed for a water crisis?

Water is running out in the South African city of Cape Town. When I first heard this news last year, I didn’t believe it. 

In disbelief, I wondered how it was possible that there was absolutely no water to drink in a city like that. Unfortunately, later on, I came to know that it was actually true. 

Cape Towners are calling the last day “Day Zero” -- the last day was initially set for May 11, but it was later pushed to June 1 and now to July 9.

The residents of the city have been living with strict water-rationing measures. I was shocked to see how the city-dwellers were leading their lives this way, with so little water. 

The water crisis has taken a heavy toll in the city. It has not only affected the political atmosphere of the city, but also its economy and sanitation, with effects ranging from climbing borrowing costs and sinking revenue from water rates to public health risks from poor sanitation.

However, reports are suggesting that the city may avoid Day Zero by an unconventional idea which they’re considering. The idea is to harness an iceberg that has broken off from Antarctica and tow it to the coast of Cape Town, where it would melt into usable water. 

An iceberg, weighing about 70,000 tons, would be enough to provide nearly 150 million litres of water per day for a year. This is reported to meet nearly one-third of Cape Town’s water needs.

The situation in Cape Town should be a warning to everyone across the globe. Cape Town isn’t alone in the list of cities that may face dire consequences due to a water crisis. Mexico City is one of the world’s largest cities with about 21 million people, which is expected to reach 30 million at the end of 2030. Reports say that the city’s water-supply infrastructure is crumbling. It is feared that water may dry out soon.

Closer to home, in Pakistan’s Karachi, the falling water level of Keenjhar Lake could result in water shortage there. Geo News reported that the level has reached 46 feet and when the water reaches 44 feet, the supply to Karachi will be closed. The officials are now taking initiatives to restore the lake to its original level of 54 feet. 

According to a WaterAid report of 2018, nearly 163 million people among India’s population of 1.3 billion -- or more than one in 10 -- lack access to clean water close to their home. 

Apart from Nepal and Bhutan, the per capita water availability in our region is already below the world average. The report also said that South Asia could face widespread water scarcity -- less than 1,000 cubic metres available per person by 2025. 

Water scarcity is expected to force out 50 to 70 million people in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and China from their homes by 2050, according to research by the Strategic Foresight Group in Mumbai.

It’s not only the regions and countries I’ve just mentioned that have been facing the crisis over water -- there’s an alarm bell ringing in all countries about the impending water crises that could lead to big wars.

Water.org says that a lack of access to safe water and improved sanitation facilities in rural areas, overcrowded conditions, and a lack of healthy ways of disposing waste in urban centres, all contribute to the water and sanitation crisis in Bangladesh. Various studies and research have already mentioned the impending water crisis in our country. 

As far as Dhaka city is concerned, experts have already predicted that the city is to face severe crisis due to its over-pumping of groundwater.

The predictions made about our future regarding water shortages are not just obscure imaginations of some people, but very real threats. We may have made significant strides in terms of sanitation, but when it comes to safe drinking water, we’re facing seemingly insurmountable challenges. 

Our rivers are becoming contaminated, and they are on the verge of disappearing due to grabbing, deep tube-wells can’t reach to the water levels, irrigation is being seriously jeopardized, tube-wells are infested with arsenic, coastal areas are threatened due to salinity.

Given the circumstances, we still don’t have any policy guidelines for water use and preservation. 

We’ll run out of sweet water in a decade’s time, if we fail to protect our waterbodies and rivers from land grabbers. Our waterbodies and rivers are also the source  of food and livelihood of millions.

Experts have repeatedly advised us to harness rainwater for averting a possible disaster regarding drinking water and the water to use in our daily life. 

We’ve launched projects, organized conventions on harnessing rainwater, but it hasn’t become a revolution across the country. 

Let’s look at an example.

The people of Patuakhali’s Kalapara upazila have been successfully storing rainwater to alleviate their water crisis. 

The underground water level fell and the salinity problem increased. 

Tubewells delivered either saline water or none at all. Now, encouraged by a government project, many families there are using rainwater storage as a partial solution.

Examples such as this can be seen in some places of the country, but the need of the hour is to revolutionize the process.

It is very important that we make this solution popular across the country like we did when it came to population control, micro-finance, child labour, etc.

Our aims should be clear: Use rainwater, restore underground water levels, clean up our rivers, and use water resources wisely. 

Ekram Kabir is a story-teller and a columnist.

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