Are we able to solve water crisis in Sri Lanka?
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”