Water Troubles – The Need to Change

Rahul Devnath
Published: November 2013

As a part of initiative to create awareness on water, articles pertaining to the crisis and probable solutions have been published in all the issues of Aventure in the year 2013. This is the last instalment of the series as Jain University continues in its efforts to mitigate the potable water crises through different activities.

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Water is the most vital part of ‘life’ on planet earth. Yet, in this century, potable water faces increasingly acute and unique challenges like no other resource. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2013, experts rate water supply crisis as one of the world’s greatest risks. In fact water accessibility is ranked fourth highest risk to global security.

The severity of the risk is reflected in the fact that the United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 as the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation. Throughout the year, through various means the United Nations has been successful in highlighting different aspects of water management including the history of successful water cooperation initiatives, burning issues, water diplomacy, and financial cooperation in this regard. Ever-rising water demand, and climate change, is expected to further advance water problems worldwide, especially in countries that are already experiencing shortages. The United Nations has long been addressing the global crisis caused by insufficient water supply to satisfy basic human needs and growing demands on the world’s water resources to meet human, commercial and agricultural needs. The Decade, in particular, helped some 1.3 billion people in developing countries gain access to safe drinking water.

As we see today, water scarcity is an issue, which requires multidisciplinary approach for a probable solution. However, among all the tools which we have at our disposal, education happens to be basis of understanding an issue. Global water issues can only be addressed through better youth participation at all socio-economic levels. As much as possible, the younger generation of the country, must be provided a deeper understanding of our complex environmental issues and the skills necessary to undertake the challenges of our times. Sustainable water management is crucial to secure social and economic stability, as well as a healthy environment and what can be a better place than school to begin creating awareness.

The objective behind including topics related to water management in regular school courses is to bring change in the attitude at an early age. The basic problem to the issue related to water is the fact that it’s never given its due importance. And it’s easy to see why. About half a century back, when there were fewer than half the current number of people on the planet, the common perception was that water is an infinite resource. People were not as affluent as they are today and consumed fewer calories, so less water was needed to produce their food. They required a third of the volume of water we presently take from rivers. Today, the competition for water resources is much more intense. Seven billion people and the fact there is increasing competition for water from industry, urbanization and biofuel crops, completes the story. Thus, water education has never been more critical.

In India, sustainable development, and more precisely water management is part of both school and university curriculum. However, education should be meant in the widest sense, aimed at children and youths, women, with their role in the family and the community, farmers and industrial water users, managers, operational and maintenance personnel, educators, and everybody else who can contribute to the cause. In essence, education should aim at reaching and involving maximum number of people.

Indeed Water challenges are growing but we are also entering an age where big data and advanced analytics will enable us to change and better optimize the way that water systems operate.

Astonishingly worldwide, up to 60 percent of water is lost due to leaky pipes. As a case study, South Africa is losing up to 35% of its water supply due to leakages and failure to pay. With flagging resources and exponential growth in water demand, a staggering percentage of South Africa’s water is going waste. IBM South Africa has entered into a 30-day cooperative project to help capture, share and analyze information about the water distribution system in South Africa. It will result in an aggregated Water Watchers report which will create a single view of the issues challenging the urban water systems of our big cities, helping local municipalities gain a visual “picture” to prioritize improvements to city water infrastructure. It’s a new kind of data aggregation, analytics and visualization for water planners in South Africa.

This crowd sourcing project will be driven by the support of South African populace to report water leaks and faulty water pipes via mobile phone technology. With around 1-million new residents to urban cities in South Africa every 10 years, it is becoming more feasible to leverage existing technologies and co-create smart civic applications that can help improve public service delivery in our cities. The “Water Watchers” platform, as it is known, holds enormous potential for similar applications around the world.

Though technology can help, fundamentally, it can do little without the will of humans to cooperate, to understand that only being informed and a change in attitude can solve these challenges in sustainable ways.

Working together, through water education, diplomacy, water management and financing, is the only way forward. Water doesn’t follow political or jurisdictional boundaries, a change in attitude among the younger generation, will work wonders for water management across the world. In the coming years as we move ahead technologically, with even better understanding of this world; let us put that knowledge to good use!

 - Rahul is a well travelled Bangalore based photo journalist with experience in reporting, writing and communication. Currently, onboard The Jain University Press, he specializes in aviation and technology.