By Prof. Dr. P. K. Jena
Potentially water rich and green Odisha during the last couple of decades is experiencing unbearable hot summer with severe water scarcity for drinking as well as for agricultural, domestic and industrial purposes. At present, starting from first week of April 2017, most parts of urban as well as rural Odisha are experiencing scorching sun with temperatures at most of the places exceeding 400C. As a matter of fact, Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, which used to have mild summer, is experiencing a day temperature of about 410C. Along with the hot summer, the water crisis particularly for drinking purpose in all parts of the state, has been very acute. Most of the dug wells and tube wells have dried up. With the appearance of summer, the people of Odisha particularly those in the rural areas are covering long distances in the hot sun to fetch a jar of water to quench their thirst. It is unfortunate that the delicate children and old people are being engaged in this task.
By consuming dirty water from some ponds and low lying areas, people are suffering from various types of water borne diseases. The farmers who use nearly 70% of fresh water and the industries consuming nearly 20% of water are also experiencing a lot of difficulties due to acute water shortage. In urban areas though better infrastructural facilities are there to supply drinking water, the acute shortage of water is felt due to drying of most of the rivers and water bodies and at the same time the ground water table has gone down resulting in drying of the tube wells. As a result, the authorities are unable to supply the required amounts of drinking water. By consuming polluted water specially people of low income group are suffering from Jundice, Diarrhoea and other water borne diseases.
It is difficult to believe that, Odisha receiving an average annual rain fall of about 149 cm which is more than the annual average rainfall of India, with a large number of rivers and wetlands is experiencing such acute water scarcity along with unbearable hot summer. This measurable plight is due to unscientific irrigation practices, rampant deforestation, unplanned development of urban areas, industries, roads and railways, unscientific mining etc. Along with these, the pollution of most of the rivers due to release of urban and industrial wastes, the mismanagement in storing of water resource and unscientific water distribution have been responsible for such acute water crisis. Most of the wetlands in the state have been drained out and transformed into development of urban and industrial sites, construction of highways, deforestation and modern agricultural activities, resulting in drastic decrease in both surface and ground water resources. The rainwater due to heavy silting of the rivers are mostly draining out to the sea.
In order to save Odisha from such miserable plight, the authorities should take immediate steps for implementing various projects in two important areas like (i) Enhancing the surface water in ponds and tanks and other suitable low lying areas for rain water harvesting with facilities for recharging the ground water and (ii) Undertaking afforestation in the barren and mined out areas as well as massive commercial plantation of species like neem, karanj etc., both in rural and urban areas including road and river sides.
In the water resource development programme various projects like renovating the old ponds, tanks and other water reservers and constructing such new ones and creating facilities for harvesting rain water in these with the provision to recharge the ground water during the non-monsoon period are required urgently.
The traditional water harvesting methods being adopted long since in India as well as in other parts in the world, depend mostly on local talents and traditional practices such as bonding, pitting, micro catchment, flood water and ground water harvesting etc. These practices being simple and sure to implement and involving low capital investment, should be practiced increasingly both in rural and urban areas with certain modifications and use of modern technology. It may be emphasized here that, as in Odisha and most parts of India water required for agriculture, drinking and other domestic purposes is extracted mostly from the ground, it is highly necessary to recharge the aquifer during rainy season at convenient sites including the ponds, tanks etc. This would help to arrest the decline of ground water level, increase the water reserves as well as improve its quality by dilution. As bigger dams are being discouraged all over the world because of rehabilitation and environmental problems, it would be wise on the part of the Government of Odisha to undertake the projects on creation of a number of small dams at suitable sites of each river. This would supply large amounts of water throughout the year and be able to produce hydro power as it is being done in different parts of the world. Besides harvesting rain water on small and medium scales at suitable sites, better irrigation methods like surface, sprinkle and drip irrigation should be practiced so that the water can be utilized without much loss. Efficient water transportation and supply are very essential as due to present unscientific systems, a large amount of water is being wasted. Industrial and urban solid wastes and effluents should be processed separately avoiding their release to the rivers and other water bodies without prior treatment.
The water which we use particularly for drinking and other domestic purposes when supplied to the consumers a lot of public money is required for its purification and supply. Similarly, large quantities of water is supplied for agriculture, industry and other commercial purposes. The pricing of water should be done in a rational manner to provide revenue to recover most of expenditures to make water utility self supporting and also can provide some scope for future expansion. For all sectors, water tariff rate should be properly estimated and should increase with increase in consumption slab, so that the consumers will be forced to be economical in water consumption.
The forest being a major sink for green house gases, development of fertile soil, protector of ground water reserve and arrester of most of the rain water for going back to the ocean through rivers, efforts are being made all over the world to undertake afforestation programmes in the barren and wasteland including the mined out areas. The reforestation projects can be successfully implemented by involving the local people in planning, implementing and maintaining the forest and giving them due benefits. Agro forestry programme should be given high priority as this enhances soil fertility, moisture content of the soil and at the same time reduce erosion.
In order to bring improved socio economic development of the people in the state by utilizing its rich mineral, soil, water, forest and marine resources, the Government has to give high priority on integrated water resource management along with afforestation of vast barren and waste lands with priority to plantation of economic species both in rural and urban areas. Drinking water for all the people in the state throughout the year should receive highest priority.
Prof. Dr. P. K. Jena
(Former Director General, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, India)
Institute of Advance Technology & Environmental Studies (IATES) and
President, Natural Resources Development Foundation (NRDF)
80A – 81A, Lewis Road, Bhubaneswar – 751002,