Monday, August 01, 2005

The Big Gulp from Wired

Wired 13.08: The Big Gulp

"Water, water everywhere
Nor any drop to drink"

rues the Ancient Mariner. If he had this system, he probably wouldn't have that much of a problem. This system was tested on water from an open ditch in Jakarta and it produced water deemed drinkable by the Environmental Protection Agency. NASA is thinking of using this in their missions as this will eliminate a lot of the water carrying problem. I wonder how this system will cope with Bangalore's notorious VrishabhAvati !

Anyway, one thing that was not mentioned by Water Security, the company that makes this system, is how much the system costs. The cost of clean water is apparently 3c per gallon but what about the chemicals used in it ? Does their manufacturing involve toxic chemicals/byproducts? That should have also been commented on by the piece's author.

Nevertheless, this looks like it will be a boon to parts of the world where an acute shortage of drinking water persists whether it rains or not!

Looking at the growth in population and the depletion of water resources to such an extent, it seems to me that the next big conflict will be for water. Right now it is just about oil. But fifty years from now, with the population at an unprecedented level, there is bound to be competition for water. A big problem in addition to the increase in population is a corresponding decrease in the groundwater levels - which is really alarming.

In Bangalore, especially, I personally know that we could hit water at 100ft from the surface less than 10 years ago. Now I've seen people dig close to 1000 ft unsuccessfully. Digging to that extent is definitely illegal - but who seems to care? A person owning a plot of land needs water and can't depend on the city water company. What does he do ? He drills into the earth. This greed across all sections of society has depleted the water levels.

Even in villages, farmers now grow cash crops that are not all natural to the climate. So what do they do ? They dig borewells and pump out water like it is nobody's business. And when the wells go dry, well - what else? How do you blend human need with concern for the environment?

Rainwater harvesting is a great solution to this problem. To its credit, the Karnataka government is making it mandatory for all the new houses to have a rainwater harvesting scheme in place. Villages also get this with assistance from the government. But people should feel that this problem is theirs. Only then can a real solution be implemented.

Research on systems such as the one from Water Security should be carried on across the world's labs. For nothing is more necessary for our existence than air and water.

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