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Water and Ecological Balance


By Dr. Syed Eqbal Hasan

[Dr. Syed Eqbal Hasan is the Secretary of Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.  Louisville, KY]


DR. SYED EQBAL HASAN takes the frightful status of water available for human consumption as global ecological crisis and advises governments as well as individuals to take effective measures for conservation of available water supply.


Water is one of the most important bounties that nature has given to human beings. Two-thirds of all living forms, including our body, are made up of water. Water is essential for life; we can survive without food for weeks but cannot live without water for more than a few days. Physically, water is the only substance that occurs in all three forms of matter – solid, liquid and gas – at the earth’s surface. Chemically, its two elements, hydrogen and oxygen, are united in a special bond that makes it a very unique and versatile liquid that serves as a universal solvent and an excellent cleaner


Despite the fact that 79% of the earth is water, we don’t have plentiful supply to meet our need. This is because about 97% of all available water on earth is salty and not suitable for human use. Of the remaining 3% of fresh water more than two-thirds is locked up in glaciers and ice caps and is not readily available. That leaves us with only 0.1 % (or about 10.6 million cubic km) of fresh water that is readily accessible. Because water is a renewable resource that gets cycled through the “water cycle” one may think that 10.6 million cubic km will meet water needs of all existing and future populations. However, the worldwide deterioration of water quality from industrial and agricultural pollution has rendered most of this fresh water unsuitable for human consumption. This fact combined with global warming presents a serious challenge as to how the basic daily demand of about 76 litre of water for each of the several billion people can be met.

Ecologically, most of the major rivers of the world, including the Ganges, have been heavily polluted; so is the Lake Baikal – the largest freshwater lake in the world. In addition, existing groundwater supplies are being overexploited and groundwater levels have been going down making the water wells go “dry.” Careless disposal of solid and hazardous waste has polluted these aquifers to the extent that they are not suitable for meeting the drinking water needs. Countries, like the U.S.A. and others, are spending a large sum of money on cleaning up these contaminated aquifers but it is a slow and time-taking process and comes with an average price tag of over $20 million each. The water crisis has become so bad that one in five persons in the world does not have access to drinking water. In industrialised countries such as the U.S.A., heavy pumping of the Ogallala Aquifer – the largest freshwater aquifer in the world that holds more fresh water than all the lakes, streams, and rivers on earth – has resulted in lowering of the groundwater level by up to 30 m at some places. This has resulted in loss of farmlands and wildlife, followed by abandonment of villages and towns.

Groundwater is one of the main sources for water in India, supplying 20% of the nation’s total water need. However, over pumping of groundwater has resulted in lowering of the groundwater level by as much as 12 m in Madhya Pradesh. It is estimated that declining groundwater level affects 30% of the country’s groundwater supply.

China, another developing country, is also facing serious water problems. A recent report has indicated that there is a serious shortage of water in the Yangtze River basin that has traditionally produced 2/3 of the nation’s crops but now has only 1/5 of the good quality water available for agricultural use.

The global situation related to water availability is getting worse due to over exploitation of groundwater, exacerbated by contamination from industrial and agricultural sources. High nitrate, fluorine, and arsenic concentrations in many of the aquifers in India have turned the life sustaining resource to life threatening because of the health problems and disease associated with consumption of contaminated water.

Given the frightful status of water availability, what options do we have to avert this looming ecological crisis? There are quite a few steps that can be taken, not only by governments but also by individuals: conservation of available water supply should be top consideration by one and all. On a personal level we should only use as much water as we need and stop wasting the water. Simple steps like turning the tap off while brushing our teeth or shaving in the morning, and re-using water by collecting the drain water from showers and kitchen sinks and using it to irrigate lawns and gardens in urban homes, would go a long way in conserving the available water supply. On a large scale, we may have to change old practices of crop irrigation. Some developed countries have been using large-scale mechanised sprinkler systems that result in loss of large volume of water due to evaporation and trickling away from the cropland. Appropriate measures to manage the wastes to ensure that surface and groundwater do not get polluted are very essential in maintaining the ecological balance. Rain harvesting is another attractive idea that should be promoted. Artificial recharge of groundwater has been done in many countries by adopting innovative techniques. In this context the recent move by the Govt. of India to create a high level Artificial Recharge of Groundwater Advisory Council is very appropriate and timely. It is hoped that the Council will carefully study all aspects of groundwater availability and make sound recommendations that will ensure adequate supply of good quality water for all people in the country.

Some Hard Facts about Water Crisis

Global water consumption is doubling every 20 years, at more than twice the rate of human population growth.

79 per cent of the earth is water. But about 97 per cent of all available water is salty. Of the remaining 3 per cent of fresh water more than two-thirds is locked up in glaciers and ice caps. That leaves us with only 0.1 per cent (or about 10.6 million cubic km) of fresh water.

The average daily demand of water is 76 litres for each person on earth. While the average American uses 335 litres of water a day, the average sub-Saharan African uses 10-20 litres a day.

1.4 billion people, that is 20 per cent of the world’s population, lack access to an adequate supply of clean drinking water.

31 countries currently face water scarcity.

India holds 20 per cent of the world’s population but only 4 per cent of its water.

More than half the world’s major rivers are either polluted or drying.

In developing countries, water causes 80 per cent of illnesses. Each year three to four million people die of waterborne diseases.

In Lima, Peru poor people pay private vendors up to US $3 per cubic metre for water that is supplied in buckets and is not even potable. At the same time, the affluent pay US$0.30 per cubic metre for treated water that pours out of taps in their homes. In India, some households spend 25 per cent of their income on water.

By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in conditions of water shortage and one-third will live in absolute water scarcity.

Israel is monopolising around 75 per cent of Palestinian water resources in the occupied West Bank, a region where rainfall is infrequent and water a strategic asset.

In order to produce 1 litre of cola 4 litres of water is required.

It takes 215,000 litres of water to produce one metric ton of steel.¨

 [Dr. Hasan earned his PhD in environmental and engineering geology from Purdue University in 1987 and is currently serving as the chairman of the Dept. of Geosciences at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, USA. He has authored an award-winning college textbook titled Geology and Hazardous Waste Management (1996). He is the first Muslim scientist in the world to have published a book on the environmental geology. Dr. Hasan was the recipient of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Excellence in Environmental Education Award for 2000.]


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