Rein in the rain
World Water Day falls on March 22. As water becomes scarcer and scarcer, people fret and fume but do nothing to conserve it. SUDHA NAMBUDIRI says that Kochiites who crib about water scarcity will have enough and more of it if they tap the rai n source
Given an option between waiting in serpentine queues for one pot of water and spending a few thousands and not having to worry about shortage for a lifetime, what would you choose?
Logically, the second.
But most people in Kochi don't seem to think so. They still prefer to wait for the Corporation or the panchayat or the Kerala Water Authority (KWA) to do the supplying.
There may be big terms associated with managing water economically. Yet the method is very simple. You don't need a well! You don't even need a water connection! According to most experts, you will probably be spending more money on a two-wheeler than on a lifelong supply of water.
The technology is friendly. The method is mechanical. And the most important thing is that you own the water you use. The jargon is `Total Water Management'. What you do is harvest rainwater from your rooftop and use it for drinking and cooking. If this water is recycled, it can be used for washing, cleaning, flushing and gardening.
The process is very simple. Since Kochi has almost 3,200 mm of rain, higher than the average rainfall of Kerala as a whole, all you need is divert all the rainwater falling on your roof into a 6000 litre ferrocement tank. The rainwater passes through a filter of sand and charcoal and pure water flows into the tank. The water stored in this will not be contaminated since it is a closed tank with just an outlet to collect the required water.
The process could cost you around Rs. 15,000, a once-in-a-lifetime investment on something that you need all through your life.
The other half of effective water management is sewage treatment. This could ensure that you would be using recycled waste water from the septic tank for those purposes that don't need pure water. In the process you are also re-using your water as well as saving the ground water from contamination. This water management does not require any power. If done at the community level, by diverting all the septic tank water into a common place and purified, it could be less expensive and requires only unskilled labour.
Says Latha Raman, architect and director of Inspiration, a design group, ''We have rains almost eight months a year. All we need is to save water for four months. Harvest the rain and use the water. You cannot get a purer form.''
Ms Raman and her husband Jaigopal have effectively put both rainwater harvesting and waste water recycling technology into use at the BTH Sarovaram, which is a standing example of effective water management. The hotel runs without any external water supply system and the water is regularly analysed for contamination.
Reeling out quick statistics, Latha says that on an average a person needs about 100-135 litres of water per day, per person of which only 10 litres is used for drinking and cooking purposes, 40 litres for flushing and 50 litres for washing, cleaning, bathing and gardening etc.
``We don't know exactly how much contamination is there in our water supply, with the sewerage pipes crossing the drinking water pipes and there being seepage in many of them.'' She strongly advocates rainwater harvesting.
It is not that this is a new concept. The earlier District Collector of Ernakulam had supported the method and even announced a Rs. 2,000 contribution for every house that sets up this tank. However there were very few takers.
``We are moving to such a situation that in five years everybody will be using rainwater,'' warns M. K. Prasad, former Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Calicut University and an activist of the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad. ''Our attitude has to change. We are averse to using well water for drinking. All of us want tap water.''
Talking of the speed of water contamination, he says that there is not much distance between septic tanks and wells. ''E.Coli, the bacteria that contaminates water takes about 200 years to travel one kilometer, but now it might be taking just about a year''.
Mr Prasad believes that there can be a check on water wastage if each family has to account for the water they use when they apply for a land registration just like the electricity supply.
Almost 190 million litres per day is pumped from Periyar to Cochin Corporation, Vypeen and North Paravur panchayats. Yet only 90 million litres reach the Corporation after about 30 per cent seepage. The daily requirement is estimated to be around 74 million litres per day. So why the shortage, one may ask.
Mr Prasad says that this estimate is based on the 1991 census. The residential population has gone up since. And then there are the industries, not to forget the floating population.
Interestingly, there are agencies in neighbouring districts of Thrissur and Alappuzha which are actively helping set up water systems with the help of the local communities. The Socio-Economic Unit Foundation is one such NGO working on community-managed water supply scheme in Thiruvananthapuram, Malappuram, Wayanad, Idukki, and Kollam.
According to Kochurani Mathews, the organisation is helping in setting up 5000 litres, 10,000 litres and 1,00,000 litres capacity Ferrocement tanks in Alappuzha in the last two years. ''If the community identifies the source, then we give them the technology option.''
Open wells are identified and widened and the water is pumped into a 5,000 litres overhead tank, which is distributed among the community. A man and woman are given on-the-job training in plumbing and electrical works. ''Thus the community does not rely on any outside agency once the supply begins. The project costs a little more than a lakh and covers about 50-60 houses,'' she explains.
Most experts insist that educating and generating awareness among the public on water conservation is an absolute necessity. Says Ms Mathews, ''We are focusing on education and people's involvement.'' The Kerala Limnological Research Institute (KLRI) sponsored by the Limnological Association of Kerala (LAK) is also working on generating awareness among the public and school-going children.
LAK, a non-governmental association has been organising seminars and conducting workshops in collaboration with different colleges and institutions on the protection, conservation and sustainable management of the inland water resources.
According to Francis K Kakkassery of KLRI, there was a need to conduct public awareness programmes, especially targeting women and children and also incorporate such information in the school curriculum. He suggests installation of big tanks on the roofs of government institutions and schools to catch and store rainwater, thus making them self-reliant in water supply.
So as we prepare for yet another water scarce summer, it is time to look at the alternative sources of water supply. When the technology is available at so reasonable a cost and so easy a method, its time for the citizens to start thinking practically.
Rainwater harvesting is definitely something that can be practiced. If the President of India, K R Narayanan uses the one installed at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, when there is no dearth of water at his official residence, why can't we, who need it the most, do so?
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Tips to save water
1. Close the taps while brushing and bathing
2. Use flush at minimum level
3. There should be frequent maintenance of water flowing system, to avoid the leakage.
4. Avoid use of overhead showers and bath-tubs.
5. Wash utensils once in a day instead of washing them separately.
6. As washing machines demand more water, maximum clothes should be washed at a time.
7. Plants, which do not consume much water, can be planted, like cactus.
8. The waste-water purifying system must be installed and the same water can be used for watering the garden plants and kitchen garden.
9. Parents should teach their children the importance of using water judiciously.
10. Avoid the installation of big fountains in gardens.
Source: Kerala Limnological Research Institute, Chalakudy
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Water for Development
This year, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been charged with coordinating the commemoration of World Water Day 2002 under the theme: Water for development. The UN General Assembly resolved to observe World Water Day following the recommendations of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janiero.
The year 2002 marks not only the 10th anniversary of that landmark event, but also the year that the World Summit on Sustainable Development will be held.
According to the website waterday2002.iaea.org, ''Water and development are intrinsically linked. Once viewed as an infinitely renewable and bountiful resource, water today defines and confines development aspirations -- human, social, and economic -- in many parts of the world.
Even in countries that currently have sufficient freshwater supplies, increasing demands, pollution, and over-exploitation put such supplies at risk. In developing countries, demand for freshwater is increasing steadily due to rapid growth in agriculture, industry, and urban development.
Coupled with the potential impacts of global warming and climate changes on the Earth's water cycle, the future availability of freshwater appears more precarious than ever before.
But along with these challenges come the opportunities to work together and find concrete solutions.''
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