Wa­ter: Freely we re­ceive, freely we abuse

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - EDITORIAL -

In this World En­vi­ron­ment Week when we need to re­flect deeply on vi­tal is­sues which have brought about the catas­tro­phe of cli­mate change and global warn­ing, one such vast area is wa­ter -- the mighty oceans, rivers and streams.

Wa­ter, an es­sen­tial com­po­nent for life, is gen­er­ally avail­able and ob­tained freely. So we have a ten­dency to take it for granted. This hap­pens at fam­ily level also. We of­ten re­al­ize the vi­tal need for wa­ter only when there is a pro­longed wa­ter cut. Oth­er­wise we of­ten waste wa­ter. Freely given, freely used or abused. This hap­pens at a city level, na­tional and in­ter­na­tional lev­els also. But now ex­perts are warn­ing that fresh wa­ter is run­ning out fast, and within two or three decades we may see wars for fresh wa­ter just as we are see­ing on­go­ing wars for con­trol of oil and nat­u­ral gas re­sources.

Worse still, we have been pol­lut­ing the oceans to such an ex­tent that up to 50% of the marine species are dead or dy­ing. Ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, while marine pol­lu­tion can be ob­vi­ous, the worst harm is caused by pol­lu­tion that can­not be seen. Marine pol­lu­tion oc­curs when harm­ful, or po­ten­tially harm­ful ef­fects re­sult from the en­try into the ocean of chem­i­cals, par­ti­cles, in­dus­trial, agri­cul­tural and res­i­den­tial waste, noise, or the spread of in­va­sive or­gan­isms. Some 80% of marine pol­lu­tion comes from land. Air pol­lu­tion is also a con­tribut­ing fac­tor by car­ry­ing off pes­ti­cides or dirt into the ocean.

When pes­ti­cides are in­cor­po­rated into the marine ecosys­tem, they quickly be­come ab­sorbed into marine food webs. Once in the food webs, these pes­ti­cides can cause mu­ta­tions, as well as dis­eases, which can be harm­ful to hu­mans as well as the en­tire food web.

Wa­ter pol­lu­tion is contamination of wa­ter bodies -- lakes, rivers, oceans, aquifers and ground­wa­ter. This form of en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion oc­curs when pol­lu­tants are di­rectly or in­di­rectly dis­charged into wa­ter bodies with­out ad­e­quate treat­ment to re­move harm­ful com­pounds, ex­perts say.

It has been sug­gested that wa­ter pol­lu­tion is the lead­ing world­wide cause of deaths and dis­eases. It ac­counts for the deaths of more than 14,000 peo­ple daily. An es­ti­mated 580 peo­ple in In­dia die of wa­ter pol­lu­tion-re­lated ill­ness ev­ery day. About 90 per cent of the wa­ter in the cities of China is pol­luted.

In ad­di­tion to the acute prob­lems of wa­ter pol­lu­tion in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, de­vel­oped coun­tries also con­tinue to strug­gle with pol­lu­tion prob­lems. For ex­am­ple, in the most re­cent na­tional re­port on wa­ter qual­ity in the United States, 44 per cent of as­sessed stream miles, 64 per cent of as­sessed lake acres and 30 per­cent of as­sessed bays and es­tu­ar­ine square miles were clas­si­fied as pol­luted.

The spe­cific con­tam­i­nants lead­ing to pol­lu­tion in wa­ter in­clude a wide spec­trum of chem­i­cals, pathogens, and phys­i­cal changes such as el­e­vated tem­per­a­ture and dis­coloura­tion. While many of the chem­i­cals and sub­stances that are reg­u­lated may be nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring such as cal­cium, sodium, iron and man­ganese, the con­cen­tra­tion is of­ten the key in de­ter­min­ing what is a nat­u­ral com­po­nent of wa­ter and what is a con­tam­i­nant. High con­cen­tra­tions of nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring sub­stances can have neg­a­tive im­pacts on aquatic flora and fauna. Oxy­gen-de­plet­ing sub­stances may be nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als such as plant mat­ter, for ex­am­ple leaves and grass as well as man-made chem­i­cals. Other nat­u­ral and an­thro­pogenic sub­stances may cause tur­bid­ity or cloudi­ness, which blocks light and dis­rupts plant growth and clogs the gills of some fish species. Many of the chem­i­cal sub­stances are toxic. Pathogens can pro­duce wa­ter­borne dis­eases in ei­ther hu­man or an­i­mal hosts.

In Sri Lanka we have been blessed with the Ma­haweli and 102 other river basins. But in re­cent decades the ex­ces­sive use of im­ported agro-chem­i­cals and the irresponsibility of factory own­ers who dis­charge toxic sub­stances into rivers have pol­luted huge amounts of our fresh wa­ter. The Na­tional Govern­ment needs to act ef­fec­tively to stop the pol­lu­tion of ground wa­ter and river wa­ter while en­sur­ing that the neo­colo­nial transna­tional com­pa­nies are not al­lowed to grab our fresh wa­ter re­sources. In­di­vid­u­ally, in our homes or work­places and else­where we need to stop wast­ing fresh­wa­ter. We could even go fur­ther in our wa­ter­tight pa­tri­o­tism by find­ing ways of re­cy­cling wa­ter or col­lect­ing rain­wa­ter which we have had in abun­dance since May 15.

It has been sug­gested that wa­ter pol­lu­tion is the lead­ing world­wide cause of deaths and dis­eases. It ac­counts for the deaths of more than 14,000 peo­ple daily

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