‘’Water is Precious’’ It is our lifeline next to air | Sunday Observer

‘’Water is Precious’’ It is our lifeline next to air

17 January, 2021

Water is one of the world’s most precious resources and essential needs of life that could be considered as a gift of nature to living beings. You may live only a few minutes without air and only a few days without water.

Water seems to be in abundance in Sri Lanka and in some parts of the world, but many cannot seem to get the right water to the right people at the right time. The Ocean makes 71 percent of the earth’s mass while the other 29 percent is made up of the rest of the water.

Of all the water on the earth, 97.5 percent is contained in the ocean while the remaining 2.5 percent is fresh water in lakes or as frozen water in glaciers.

On our planet, the availability of fresh water is limited while sea water is unlimited. Some people have to walk miles for a bucket of water in many parts of the world including in some areas in Sri Lanka, during dry seasons.

The human body consists of mostly water, the brain and heart containing 73 percent, lungs 83 percent, skin 64 percent, muscles and kidney 79 percent and bones with 31 percent water which is proof enough how essential is the water to the human body, only next to air.

There are local and international disputes over water due to its demand and scarcity.

Sri Lanka is an Island blessed with water but also with dry zones with the inhabitants struggling for natural water, with the state now providing tap water to a fair cross section of the community, managing the ground water.

Tap water is provided to 80 percent according to the World Health Organization reports of which 40 percent is wasted due to mismanagement (World Bank Reports).

Sri Lanka suffers from lack of proper water management that has led to shortage of water and water being expensive despite the country being blessed with water in abundance. Water giant the tiny nation Israel is the best model for us on water management and preservation.

International disputes

“When the well is dry we know the value of water” Benjamin Franklin said indicating the value of water when disputes arose on water, thinking and speaking in global terms.

Around 89 percent of the world population has access to water (only 71% being safe clean water) but in Africa only 40 percent have access due to scarcity and mismanagement under corrupt rulers.

In India, the River Ganges runs through thousands of kilometres serving over 400 million people with disputes occurring among the neighbours.

Israel and Jordan entered into a pact on a ‘desalination plant’ and the water dispute was resolved by the Wadi Araba Treaty with mutual diplomatic measures to bring about a permanent solution avoiding another war on water. Water disputes in Africa is often set up and lead to mini wars.

Colonel Gaddafi of Libya had plans for self-sufficiency of water for the surrounding area in the African region (which world super powers then did not endorse) and most sources state it as one of the reasons for his fall and untimely death.

Sri Lanka is fortunate not to be involved in international disputes over water due to the geographical situation of the Island, but is inundated with drawbacks due to mismanagement of waste and corruption of officers led by inefficient and corrupt politicians.

Sri Lanka is fortunate being an island as there is no room for international water disputes or interventions due to its unitary nature. Water segments internationally are a common feature worldwide, 97 percent being salt, 3 percent fresh water, of which 70 percent for agriculture, 8 percent domestic, and 22 percent for industries.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a country with 800 to 5,500mm rainfall and plenty of water by way of rivers, waterfalls, tanks and underground water. But 50 percent of rain water is wasted on land, 20 percent saved as ground water and 30 percent in inland lakes. In Israel however, every drop of rain water is collected underground and recycled after being used, being the leader on water technology and also agriculture in the area. In Israel sewage waste and water is recycled and reused.

It is a country with minimum rainfall, little underground water and only one lake called ‘Gallali’ which was used 70 years ago to initiate the State of Israel when she was recognised as a State with much opposition but with the support of the USA and UK.

Israel was recognised even without defined boundaries which is one of the requirements to be recognised as a state.

Israel started desalination, of converting sea water to fresh water immediately after its declaration as a State, an expensive and cumbersome procedure now followed in many Middle East counties such as the UAE.

In addition, they preserved rain water underground and the water was circulated and technologically purified which is sufficient for local consumption and even for sale to neighbouring countries reminding us of the adage by King Parakramabahu in Sri Lanka not to waste a drop of water unused.

Israel is the world leader on water, agriculture and technology setting an example and advising leading nations in these areas, while Sri Lanka lags behind in water management, agriculture, and innovations, wasting 40 percent of tap water, 50 percent of rain water catchments, and with the most inefficient and primitive water management and productivity system.

Though a country with a proud history of developed and advanced agriculture during the period of kings, and 2,500 years ago with technology to move water upwards, to change the pressure a foot per mile with the network of rivers, streams and canals and with the most advanced agriculture network spreading the length and breadth of the country, our current situation has become pathetic.

Water is a gift of nature and its management is man’s responsibility which we have unfortunately neglected. The central hills are the catchment areas with waterfalls and origins of water.

It is disturbing that in the Nuwara Eliya district during the rains the top soil loses 75tons of soil per annum due to deformation and environment destruction; and clearing of land for excessive developments of concrete buildings. Sewage disposal is in a primitive state when in many countries it is used as a fertiliser, gold for them in terms of dollars.

Saving water and bottled water issues

The quality and quantity of surface water, ground water and coastal water should be managed to balance the current and future needs of ecological systems, of communities, industry and balancing the environmental destructions such as soil erosion and pollution, which are effects of sewage disposal which has a direct bearing on surface and ground water managements and disasters.

Clean, healthy drinking water should be provided to the community in all levels at an affordable price and should be easily available noting the cause of kidney diseases that are water borne complications.

Water habits on drinking, consumption under control with no wastage, steps taken on waste disposal in small and large scales by households and industrialists, maintenance of sanitary conditions and practices in households and communes, prevention of waste in small and large scale, saving and storage of rain water in small and large scales are parts of good practices in the consumption of water.

Urban areas depend on tap water and villages (72 percent) rely on ground water, wells and other sources of water which include the use of river and canal beds for water and waste disposal.

Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara (Sunday Observer January 10, 2021) has pledged to give pipe- borne drinking water for all by 2025 which is a very ambitious promise.

Water diplomacy is prevalent in disputed systems and Sri Lanka depends on UN subsidiary bodies and their aid and researches to help the world although they are full of important advice and statistics not properly used by our governance. It is regrettable that the institutions on water are not modern and scientific like in other countries such as, the UK and Israel.

There are money spinners attempting to privatise water resources to be given to private sector encouraged by the enormous profits they are to collect when we are losing billions due to inefficiency, corruption, lack of will and professionalism.

Bottled water is a lucrative business and a health hazard with short and long term adverse effects while increasing the cost of living and encouraging an extravagant lifestyle at the cost of health.

The standards of water bottles in the market are questionable and scientific experiments have proved the side effects and long and short term health hazards of substandard bottled water.

Large scale Cola companies controlled by India and many other countries which are unhealthy and disturbing, are welcome in Sri Lanka with long hands preventing the proper fresh water use and smooth flow of water distribution systems.

Water preservation should be given priority when it has become expensive to the consumer paying high prices for water including waste.

Water is most carefully used in agriculture in Israel with the farmers watering the roots with water drops with a fertiliser instead of watering the soil like in other countries.

In Israel the soil is protected when 95 percent of agriculture industry is making use of technology to the maximum.

Priority should be given to save, preserve, and protect this precious natural treasure, with proper management and not wasting even a drop of water unused, as our great King said!

(The writer is a President’s Counsel, Solicitor in England and Wales, former Ambassador to UAE and Israel, former Chairman Consumer Affairs Authority, President Ambassadors’ Forum)