Rain Water Harvesting: a Sustainable Solution to Water Crisis
Particularly in cities like Shimla, Chennai and Bengaluru, several residential localities have been experiencing interruptions in regular supply of water for weeks altogether. Even in Uttarakhand’s provisional state capital Dehradun, disproportionate rise in the population and decline in cyclic rainfall are the two dominating factors which have contributed to shortage of water, especially during the summer months.
One of the most dreaded yet rapidly approaching disasters confronted by the contemporary world is a global shortage of fresh water. Although almost all the countries are being affected by the scarcity of usable water since the last decade, it is certainly the economically backward or the developing ones which have been impacted the most. According to the estimates provided by the World Economic Forum, the demand for drinking water will double in the next five years, while the supply will shrink down by a considerable margin.
Due to its unrestricted spiralling population growth, India stands in a particularly precarious position with regards to the water availability situation. Between 2017 and 2019, many cities in the country have witnessed discrepancies in water availability as compared to past years. Particularly in cities like Shimla, Chennai and Bengaluru, several residential localities have been experiencing interruptions in regular supply of water for weeks altogether. Even in Uttarakhand’s provisional state capital Dehradun, disproportionate rise in the population and decline in cyclic rainfall are the two dominating factors which have contributed to shortage of water, especially during the summer months. What compounds the problem is the hike in the volume of floating population due to high tourist influx during the summer season. The Jal Sansthan officials have admitted to the acute water scarcity in many localities and slums within and in immediate outskirts of Dehradun. Distraught residents frequently complain of having to walk for kilometres on a routine basis to fetch buckets of water from neighborhood water tanks, hand pumps and other sources.
In the last five years, the net amount of annual rainfall has also reduced. The primary reason for this is the large scale deforestation that has taken place as more residential projects have been coming up. The chronic drying of rivers and lakes has made a huge impact on the ground water resources as well. Even the water bodies which are still functional are becoming polluted rapidly, with litter and sewage water contaminating them. The only option, for many residents to source fresh water for daily use remains water tankers. They are being forced to take water from private tankers at exorbitant prices. The water tankers which are owned by Jal Sansthan and municipal corporation of the city are far deficit in number to meet the growing demands of people and their supply is highly skewed. On several occasions the residents have also complained about the contaminated and toxic water they have ended up receiving form the tankers. The situation is grim with a prodigal overuse of water across the hospitality industry on the one hand and scores of people struggling to meet their daily requirements, on the other.
In this backdrop, the need of the hour remains not just a patchwork solution, but a systematic and sustainable solution to the burgeoning water crisis.
Besides inculcating awareness on water conservation at the household level, what is really a long term solution is rain water harvesting. Technically the process means an accumulation and storage of rainwater for on-site reusing by not letting it flow away and get wasted. In cities it can be done easily by collecting rainwater on the roof tops, paved and unpaved areas of houses, apartment complexes, commercial buildings, an open ground, park and office building. The ambitious Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) launched by the government in 2005, which revolves around a host of urban development initiatives, had made distinct guidelines for rain water harvesting. Similarly recommendations on it have been envisaged in the Smart City Mission of 2015.
The benefits of rain water harvesting are several. In an ecologically sensitive state like Uttarakhand, where farmers in the mountain villages routinely grapple with soil erosion and flash floods, rain water harvesting can benefit a lot because it can enable the farmers to save the runoff water and reduce soil erosion. This can be used for irrigating crops even when there is deficient rainfall. Summer water scarcity being experiencedannually in Dehradun and surrounding towns can be mitigated as harvested rain water is potable, cheap and reliable. It can be stored for drinking, washing and gardening. Dehradun being a valley terrain, the problems of water logging in low lying regions can be solved if the water is collected safely. Although Tamil Nadu became the first Indian state where rain water harvesting has become mandatory, in several other states like Rajasthan, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and others the government has assured a 50 per cent assistance for installing rain harvesting equipment. In cities where the monsoon rainfall is above the national average, the excess rain water can be stored and used to replenish the ground water. It can also be shared by neighbouring states, wherever the water is scarce.
Given that when it comes to food cultivation and drinking, the quality of water is equally important as quantity, more sophisticated equipment have been developed like rain saucers, which direct clean rain water into buckets directly.
Despite the benefits of the technique, rain water harvesting is still a less commonly practiced method in Dehradun. The Mussoorie Dehradun Development Authority (MDDA) rule mandates having rain water structures for all buildings with an area of 125 square metres or more. However despite that this is only widely practiced on paper.
The most common constraints people complain about when it comes to applying rain water harvesting are the difficulties in installing rain harvesting apparatus, the poor quality of most of the apparatus which is available and the costs involved in its maintenance. Few people even seem concerned about the contaminated nature of rain water, due to the high levels of air pollution. However in such cases rain water can always be purified for human use. Even where the apparatus can not be afforded, given economic and maintenance constraints, then simple collection tanks, funnels and pipes can be used for storing and utilising rain water.
Whenever there is an ample monsoon downpour, we have the opportunity of storing the excess rain water and diverting it for better uses. Right from schools to workplaces, a proper training in harvesting the rain water has to be provided to people. All contemporary houses must have rooftop, balcony and gardens equipped with water collection apparatus. By relying on nature friendly approaches, we can not only protect our slowly eroding ecology but also replenish it further. In a nut shell only falling upon nature and not running against it, can help in restoring the nature and creating a greener world around us.
(The author is a retired civil servant)
Monday, 12 August 2019 | Neeraj Kumar Pande| in Guest Column
Author: Neeraj Kumar Pandey
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