Are we able to solve wa­ter cri­sis in Sri Lanka?

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - ADVERTORIA­L -

Ac­cord­ing to United Na­tions, by 2025 al­most half of the global pop­u­la­tion will not have ac­cess to safe wa­ter, due to dis­as­ters fu­eled by cli­mate change, pol­lu­tion, po­lit­i­cal con­flicts, over-de­vel­op­ment, and un­sus­tain­able farm­ing, among other fac­tors. Clean wa­ter is a trea­sure of a na­tion. Al­most 60 mil­lion cu­bic me­ters of wa­ter is lost daily in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries due to leak­ages. This wa­ter if re­turned can serve 200 mil­lion peo­ple.

How­ever, Sri Lanka is blessed by wa­ter abun­dance. With an is­land-wide rain­fall av­er­age close to 1,900 mm, to­tal an­nual pre­cip­i­ta­tion amounts to ap­prox­i­mately 132 bil­lion cu­bic me­ters (BCM) while to­tal sur­face runoff is es­ti­mated to be 50 BCM. The an­nual in­ter­nally re­new­able wa­ter sup­ply ca­pac­ity has been es­ti­mated at 43.2 BCM and an­nual with­drawals amount to 8.7 BCM. In prin­ci­ple, there­fore, there is no short­age of wa­ter. But, there is a wide vari­a­tion in re­gional wa­ter avail­abil­ity, which causes wa­ter stress in dry zone ar­eas. Con­sid­er­ing Sri Lanka’s wa­ter re­sources, our sur­face wa­ter re­source can be clas­si­fied as rivers, lakes and la­goons. There are 103 nat­u­ral ma­jor river basins in Sri Lanka. How­ever there are no nat­u­ral lakes in Sri Lanka. Based on ge­ol­ogy and rain­fall, Sri Lanka’s ground wa­ter re­sources can be clas­si­fied in to six aquifer units, in­clud­ing, shal­low karstic aquifers, deep con­fined aquifers, coastal aquifers, al­lu­vial aquifers, la­t­erite (ca­book) aquifers and re­golith aquifers of hard rock re­gions.

Ex­cept some cases, the nat­u­ral wa­ter re­source in Sri Lanka is largely cur­rently safe. How­ever pol­lu­tion stress of the na­tion’s wa­ter re­source due to an­thro­pogenic ac­tiv­i­ties is es­ca­lat­ing. Sri Lankan ground­wa­ter re­source is ex­pe­ri­enced with high lev­els of to­tal dis­solved solids (TDS), hard­ness, flu­o­ride, iron and ni­trate .Th­ese con­stituents can be cat­e­go­rized as pri­or­ity ground­wa­ter con­tam­i­nants in Sri Lanka. Ni­trate con­tam­i­na­tion is largely due to an­thro­pogenic sources such as ex­cess use of chem­i­cal fer­til­iz­ers and im­proper dis­posal of do­mes­tic wastes. The prove­nance of TDS, hard­ness, iron and flu­o­ride in ground­wa­ter is lithogenic. In ad­di­tion, iso­lated pock­ets of pol­lu­tion due to toxic el­e­ments as chromium, lead and cad­mium in ground­wa­ter oc­cur due to an­thro­pogenic ac­tiv­i­ties. Ap­par­ently the data re­lated to or­ganic pol­lu­tants in wa­ter re­sources in Sri Lanka are lim­ited. Gross oil pol­lu­tion in Jaffna Penin­sula raises new threat to the Sri Lankan wa­ter re­source. Sur­face wa­ter re­sources in Sri Lanka ex­pe­ri­ence pol­lu­tion due to nu­tri­ents, toxic el­e­ments and or­ganic pol­lu­tants. Poor qual­ity of wa­ter may give rise to an ar­ray of wa­ter­borne dis­eases.

So, in terms of wa­ter cri­sis we are fac­ing a wa­ter stress in dry zone while we are wast­ing wa­ter care­lessly in the re­gions where wa­ter is abun­dant. At the same time we are suf­fer­ing from is­sues re­lated to poor wa­ter qual­ity. In ad­di­tion we have to deal with some dis­eases caused by wa­ter qual­ity is­sues Is­land-wide. Now the wa­ter cri­sis has be­come a na­tional scale is­sue of which we need the sup­port from all our re­search, po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness part­ner­ships to be en­gaged in.

In this re­gard, Na­tional Re­search Coun­cil (NRC) plays a cru­cial role in solv­ing wa­ter cri­sis in Sri Lanka by en­ter­ing as a state fund­ing part­ner for sci­en­tific re­search. As a whole, NRC aims to pro­mote, fund, fa­cil­i­tate and mon­i­tor fun­da­men­tal and ap­plied re­search and en­hance hu­man re­source de­vel­op­ment for Sri Lanka to achieve science and knowl­edge based de­vel­oped coun­try sta­tus. NRC of­fers fi­nan­cial aids un­der three ma­jor cat­e­gories in­clud­ing, Tar­get Ori­ented Mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary Re­search Grants, Pri­vate-Pub­lic Part­ner­ship Pro­gramme and In­ves­ti­ga­tor Driven Re­search Grants.

Ba­si­cally Tar­get Ori­ented Mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary Re­search Grants (TOM Re­search Grants) are of a value of up to Rs. 50 mil­lion, over a 5 year pe­riod. From 2014, the ma­jor thrust of fund­ing of­fered by NRC is for the targe­to­ri­ented re­search projects. Each year, pre-pro­pos­als are in­vited from groups of re­searchers of pub­lic sci­en­tific R & D or­ga­ni­za­tions and uni­ver­si­ties for pos­si­ble fund­ing of tar­get-ori­ented mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary re­search projects aimed at solv­ing na­tion­ally-rel­e­vant is­sues aiming at eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, so­cial wel­fare and en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­te­nance of the coun­try. NRC is care­ful in se­lect­ing the most ap­pro­pri­ate and ca­pa­ble re­searchers who could work to­gether as a team on projects.

So far, NRC has pro­vided three ma­jor re­search grants un­der ‘Tar­get Ori­ented Mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary Re­search Grants’ cat­e­gory in or­der to help solv­ing wa­ter cri­sis in Sri Lanka. In 2014, NRC al­lo­cated a Tar­get Ori­ented Mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary Re­search Grant to run a com­pre­hen­sive study on Chronic Kid­ney Dis­ease of un­cer­tain Eti­ol­ogy (CKDu) in Sri Lanka. As a cru­cial part of this in­ves­ti­ga­tion, re­searchers are work­ing on find­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween wa­ter and on­set & pro­gres­sion of CKDu in the coun­try. NRC funded sec­ond re­search project fo­cuses de­vel­op­ing of a ‘Model Treat­ment Fa­cil­ity’ to re­me­di­ate to­tal dis­solved solids and flu­o­ride in ground­wa­ter in Sri Lanka. This is driven towards to find a sus­tain­able so­lu­tion for dry zone drink­ing wa­ter prob­lems in Sri Lanka. Re­cently of­fered third TOM re­search grant is to de­velop ad­vanced ma­te­ri­als based fil­ters for the wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion pur­poses. All th­ese ef­forts to find a na­tional scale so­lu­tion for wa­ter cri­sis in Sri Lanka.

Ms. Man­ishaRa­japakhsa, Ex­ec­u­tive Sec­re­tary of Na­tional Re­search Coun­cil at a re­cent me­dia in­ter­view with Ed­u­ca­tion Times stated that “Wa­ter is a pre­cious gift we have. As Sri Lanka is blessed by wa­ter abun­dance com­pared to the other coun­tries, we should give more value to wa­ter. Sus­tain­able wa­ter man­age­ment should be a pri­or­ity. Ev­ery­one has the re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect our wa­ter re­sources. In NRC con­cern, we have given three large grants to con­duct ex­ten­sive re­search works re­lated to wa­ter. As a fund­ing part­ner we hope our re­searchers will be able to come-out with a timely and in­te­grated so­lu­tion for the wa­ter cri­sis in Sri Lanka”

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