THE YEAR 2003 AS INTERNATIONAL WATER YEAR (ENVIRONMENTAL LAW)
Mrs. P. Lakshmi Prasanna M.A, LL.M. Faculty of Law –ICFAI.
Water is a renewable but finite resource. The hydrological cycle- the succession of stages through which water passes from the atmosphere to the earth and returns to the atmosphere ensures there is enough amount of water on the earth. However, with population growth and ever increasing demand for the same amount of water, pressures are mounting. Also, if we continue to degrade our environment, abusing and polluting its resources, we will cause irremediable damage to our own health and that of the planet on which all life depends. We must change our ways. Individuals, institutions, governments- each have a role to play. The future is stake, and we must act now to increase awareness of the importance of sustainable fresh water use, management and protection.
The year 2003 is acknowledged as the “International Year of Fresh Water” by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution. So in this background let us give a thinking as to how best we can utilize, manage and conserve the water resources around us. No matter who we are, where we are, and what we do, we all dependent on water. We need it every day, in so many ways-, we need it to stay healthy, we need it for growing food, for irrigation and industry. We need it for plants and animals, for changing colors and seasons. However, despite the importance of water in our lives and well-being, we are increasingly disrespectful of them. We pollute them, forgetting how essential they are to our very survival. 2003 is a year of opportunity. It is a year for us to focus our attention on protecting and respecting our water resources, as individuals, communities, countries, and as a global family of concerned citizens. 2003 is a year for action and reflection. So let us make a difference by protecting our fresh water resources and ensure our future and planet’s long-term prospects.
A major fresh water crises has unfolded India. The crisis is the lack of access to safe water supply to millions of people as a result of inadequate water management and environmental degradation. This crisis is slowly undermining the economic and social prosperity of the country. The fresh water crises is already evident in many parts of India, varying in scale and intensity at different times of the year. Many fresh water eco-systems are degrading. The fresh water crisis is not the result of natural factors, but has been caused by human actions. The hot summer temperatures and the acute scarcity of water in most parts of India lends further urgency to the situation, signaling a need to adopt a totally different approach in managing our natural resources in general and water in particular.
Unlike other environmental problems, end of pipe solutions can make an enormous difference in case of water. For instance, if low cost end of pipe water purification systems are available to the poorest sections of the society, many of the diseases related to polluted water would be eliminated. It is not enough to just increase spending on the supply of safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. Simultaneously, we need to plug the leakage in our system, ensuring that the resources allocated for this sector are utilized honestly and effectively. As the situation becomes more critical, it will lead to a growing need for innovation and original action, including a reorientation of our science and technology programmes. Take for instance the phenomenon of climate change, which is likely to have a serious impact on the region as a whole and in water related problems in particular. With the Himalayan glaciers receding so rapidly, the water flow in the northern rivers will obviously be affected unfavorably. The increasing severity and frequency of floods and droughts, consequent to climate change and associate changes in precipitation patterns, would require new approaches to water management during different periods of the year. Sadly, the worst impacts of climate change would be suffered by the developing countries, partly because of their poverty and lack of physical infrastructure to counter the damage of cyclones, storm surges and other extreme events. Worse still, these impacts are likely to multiply with climate change such as, rise in sea-level, which is already threatening the survival of the small island states and could inundate the low lying areas pf Bangladesh and Sundarbans.
The global community has still not done enough to mitigate the problem of climate change. The protection and improvement of water resources is a major issue, which affects the well-being of people and economic development throughout the globe. In this situation, the developed, developing and even underdeveloped nations, urgently need to address themselves to the devastating problem of water pollution. An example of how people are disrespectful towards their natural bodies i.e., water resources can be well understood by having a look at Afghanistan’s current problem. Afghanistan’s environment is so degraded by two decades of warfare that it now presents a major barrier to the nation’s efforts at reconstruction. Combined with three or four years of drought, the conflicts have drained the nation’s wetlands. The drought has compounded a state of wide spread natural resource degradation, lowered water tables, dried up wet lands, denuded forests, eroded land and depleted world life populations.
Water use is increasing everywhere. The world’s six billion inhabitants are already appropriating 54 percent of all the accessible fresh water contained in rivers, lakes and underground aquifers. That groundwater is important for human well being is self evident. If one excludes the fresh water which is locked up in the form of polar ice caps and glaciers, about 97 percent of the world’s fresh water exists underground in ground water aquifers. For domestic supplies, groundwater often is more important than surface waters. Where surface water is deficient or unsuitable, groundwater is the only water source, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions. It is estimated that almost 80 percent of the worlds rural population depends on groundwater for safe water supplies. Further, some 1.5 billion people depend on underground water for their drinking water supply. Groundwater is replenished by rainwater which soaks or infiltrates down through the soil. When this water reaches the underground “water table”, it begins a long, slow journey underground, moving at rates ranging from, a few millimeters to a few meters per day. The soil removes many impurities, while the rock through which the water flows, perhaps for thousands of years, filters and purifies the water even further. It then usually reappears at the Earth’s surface free of pathogens, and pollutants. Because of this process, groundwater is normally of excellent microbiological quality, and usually of adequate chemical quality for both irrigation and portable purposes.
Ground water is facing increasing pressure from growing populations, increasing urbanization and industrialization, and increasing demand for food security, all which require ever increasing supplies of safe, clean, clean water. There are two major consequences of these increasing water needs, including
(i) excess water withdrawal at rates that exceed ability of nature to replenish the supplies, to the extent that it can eventually become unfeasible, both economically and technically, to use the groundwater as a stable water supply (“groundwater mining”), and
(ii) water quality degradation resulting from pollutants generated from a myriad of point and non-point source.
Polluted groundwater, unfortunately, is very difficult to purify. There are several reasons for this situation:
(i) its relative inaccessibility,
(ii) its huge volume and
(iii) its slow flow rates.
As a result, pollutants enter a groundwater aquifer, the environmental damage can be severe and long lasting, partly because of the very long time needed to flush pollutants out of the aquifer. This factor also works to hide the fact that an aquifer is becoming polluted, especially because the water and the pollutants carried within it move slowly. Groundwater pollution is insidious, in that it takes many years to show up in water withdrawn from wells and boreholes. By that time it may be too late to prevent serious contamination. It is also expensive because (i) the cost of providing alternative water supplies is high, and (ii) restoration of polluted aquifers is difficult, if not impossible. Primary sources of threats to groundwater quality include the following: Urbanization Impacts – including residential sanitation, solid waste disposal; Industrial and mining development; Agricultural impacts- including leaching of nutrients, and use of pesticides; Salinity, and Waste water use for the agricultural irrigation. One major urban pollutant is sewage, being particularly serious in developing countries with inadequate sanitation systems. Large volumes of solid wastes also produced and disposed of in urban areas, and are potentially serious groundwater pollution sources, particularly where uncontrolled dumps ( in contrast to sanitary land fills) are plentiful, and where industrial hazardous wastes are disposed of at inappropriate sites located on the basis of their proximity to the source of the waste. Chemicals can be picked up from such sources as rainfall seeps through them. Industry produces waste materials that can be released into the ground or into surface water courses. Mining activities can produce pollutants from groundwater that leaches chemicals and related materials. It may be noted that the worst polluters often are the smaller industries that produce paper, textiles, processing leather, metals and other materials, and as well as repairing vehicles. Small service industries (e.g., metal workshops, dry cleaners, photo processors and printers also produce considerable quantities of toxic contaminants, combined with poorly controlled disposal practices). If population growth is not controlled and if per capita consumption of water resources continues to rise at current rate, human beings could be using over 90 percent of all available fresh water within 25 years, leaving just 10 percent for all other living beings.
Agriculture is responsible for serious groundwater pollution in many places around the world, particularly related to the intensive use of nitrogen rich fertilizers and of pesticides. Agriculturally- derived groundwater pollution is generally worse where the soil is very permeable, thereby allowing agricultural chemicals to quickly permeate down into underlying aquifers. Agriculture is responsible for most of the depletion of ground water, almost 70 percent of all available fresh water is used for agriculture. Over pumping of ground water by the world’s farmers exceeds natural replenishment by at least 160 billion cubic meters a year. Annual water depletion in India, China, the United States, North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula adds up to a hefty 160 billion m3 a year, an amount equal to the total annual flow of two Nile Rivers. To protect groundwater resources, it is clear there is a need for (i) improved groundwater monitoring and protection, (ii) for setting priorities for action based on assessment of aquifer vulnerability and contaminant loading, and (iii) for adoption of early warning monitoring strategies. Another major area in which water resources are used is energy. Hydropower is the most important and widely used renewable source of energy. It represents 19 percent of the total electricity production. There are now about 45,000 large dames in operation worldwide which produces 16 percent of the world’s food. They also serve for hydropower and irrigation and to regulate river flow to prevent floods and droughts, they have had a disproportionate impact on the environment. According to the World Health Organization, less than 1 percent of the world’s fresh water, or 0.007 percent of all the water on earth is readily available for human world consumption and 2 billion people, or almost one person out of five in the world, are without access to safe drinking water. Another reason not to waste, pollute or misuse the planet’s water. Riverine ecosystems are endangered virtually everywhere by non-sustainable development and the overuse and misuse of limited fresh water resources. More than half of the world’s major rivers are either heavily polluted or drying up in their lower reaches because of over use. According to the World Commission on Water for the 21st century, of the world’s 500 major rivers, 250 are seriously polluted and depleted from overuse. Close to half of the world’s lakes are degraded from human activities. The main threats include, over fishing, pollution, introduced species and habitat degradation from population growth, expansion of cities and impacts from industrial and agricultural activities. As good quality fresh water resources are becoming increasingly scarce, they need to be managed carefully and in an integrated way.
Many countries have a history of managing water as a commodity rather than as a resource. Integrated water resource management is necessary to safeguard the sustainable use of water resources, balance and optimize, the various uses, and a cast a wide net of supporting interventions and measures. Integration in water resource management needs to take place at different levels.- At the national level, where national water management plans and water agencies give water resource management a place in national policies enabling the integration of water management with policies in other fields. At the regional level, where integrated water resource management concerns main operational hydrological units: river basins, lake catchments or aquifers. Here, the main challenge will be to balance the interests and policies of different stake holders and to bring water management as carried out by the different water users and operators together under a common umbrella. At the local level, where important gains and win-win situations are possible, e.g. by integrating irrigation management, water supply, ground water recharge and storm water management: or by bringing together irrigation, drainage, and reuse management; or by taking joint account of water quality and quantity; or by improving the management of main water operators- such as water supply companies, irrigation agencies and farmer groups. Better management to reduce the demand for the water has great potential to reduce water stress and hydropower requirements. An improved system, management, particularly for irrigated agriculture, has tremendous potential for reducing waste, while increasing the efficiency of irrigation systems. As a last word I think it would not be wrong to suggest the National Governments to back up their commitments with appropriate legislation and management system for sustainable use of water resources and since the year offers a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness about water issues, the respective national governments should motivate people of all ages to get involved, so that each individual may have something to contribute.
1. The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2003.
2. www.un.org. 3. http://www.water year 2003.org.