2020 and beyond: saving our future from development-driven failures
Our entire generations are at stake from threats from environmental degradation bought about by excessive development and extraction all for short gains. Effective local action such as conservation practices are the need of the hour. Water is a key resource in this regard and starting from 2020 we must save our blue gold with proper conservation practices.
Pakistan is especially troubled these days, as besides its political issues, the issue of climate change is used as a shield to oftentimes rationalize local corrupt practices. We are fighting pollution and other end effects of such systematic failures. Saving and protecting our natural resources is a key start which we can being in 2020 and carry forward.
As a start let us begin by saving our previous water and other resources by local practices as rains are hard to come by these days especially during the winter season – we can find some blame on the weather and climate change, but when it does arrive what are our actions? Much of the water is lost and to add insult to injury it is oftentimes allowed to flood and kill people! A great amount of this precious being can be saved if each rain season is literally turned into a “rainwater harvesting season” – for the sake of life itself.
If conservation is followed with conviction, it means managing through periods of droughts that Pakistan is experiencing on a regular basis. Unfortunately, as trite as the whole idea of conservation of water has been made out to be, the time is nigh and now that such a philosophy guides all efforts in solving our current and impending water shortages.This includes water recycling and rain harvesting, which as the words imply, is a most elegant and practical means to hold and not let drain the truest gift to life from the heavens above rain. On the other hand, given that rains are now scarce and erratic, we can also extensively employ wastewater treatment, a practice such that existing supplies are recycled back into usage.
With the ever-growing demand of water, and the known adverse impacts, the demand for rainwater recycling systems all over the world is on the increase. Pakistan should embrace these methods, as western Britain, China, Brazil, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Germany and India are all using these techniques.
These methodsare not rocket science – by working extensively on rainwater harvesting and wastewater treatment across Pakistan, we will make sure that we are not only addressing the drought situation by storing rain, but also, in addition taking into reusinga relatively pure form of water naturally available to us from the skies above.
Water is used in everyday life, oftentimes wasted away due to inefficient means employed. It can be recycled, for example, we can save this precious resource after completing Wudu (ablution for prayers) for plants. Similarly, after washing clothes the same water can be used to wash the floors and toilets. Instead of washing cars with a pipe, we can use a bucket of water or wipe it with a wet cloth. As an example of how much water is lost in washing a car, a typical pail takes four gallons whereas about forty gallons are used when a pipe is employed. This means a tenfold increase in treatment and hence stopping such uneconomical behavior at the level of an individual and human being is of chief importance. In this case, in doing so we will not only save lots of water but will also secure our cars from rust and the roads from deterioration.
Tankers that supply water from public or private hydrants have free gate-valves, which leak this precious resource on their way and cause accidents. Introduction of new laws to check the leakage from water pipes and sewerage systems in multi-story buildings will prove to be beneficial in both the short and the long term. These leaks not only waste the water but also damage the building, so fixing these will prove the best solution to all concerned.
If we manage our dietary choices, we can also stop inflicting water losses. A move towards a vegetarian diet and cutting down on meat consumption, leads towards saving an estimated half of the water in the process.
Whenever a need for hot water arises, the cold water already in the pipes is lost. We can save this water by using a bucket or other container. This clean water can be further used for watering plants and trees. This water can also be utilized in the pipes can be kept warm if the pipes are insulated.
Another source of the losses incurred is by flushing water. Latest technology must be used to reduce water losses, for example, low volume flush tanks can reduce the water consumption to one third.
Our existing system for taxation of water does not discourage water wastage, since everyone has to pay a fixed amount for the water consumed. Thus, nobody cares for saving or caring for the amount of water lost. To implement such laws, authorities can install meters so that people be charged according to their water consumption. On the aspect of litigation and taxation, this step will ensure a certain degree of responsibility amongst the public when usage of water arises.
Considering the various factors associated with water as resource, an emphasis on the simplest measures that comes to view, is common sense conservation of water. As an organization, Subh-e-Nau advocates this line of thinking as a common theme to all the solutions provided or in consideration.
The stresses due to climate change and changing weather are not good indications of what lies ahead. We must stop leaks, invest heavily in rainwater harvesting and into individual conservation measures as well.
This should be at the forefront of any authority or individual who seeks to alleviate the water crisis of Pakistan. The steps taken should not be taken when we are literally or figuratively down to the very last few drops, but in the present and with due respect for this precious “blue gold,” which enriches us with vitality and life.
To start, rainwater harvesting is the gathering and storage of rain from roofs or from a surface catchment for various uses. This notion of is well documented from pre-Roman times and on all the major continents, although in industrialized countries, until recently, the practice had largely expired away with the introduction of reliable mains-supplied water. The water is generally stored in rainwater tanks or directed into mechanisms, which recharge ground water. Rainwater harvesting can provide lifeline water for human consumption, lessen economic burdens and the need to build reservoirs, which oftentimes require the use of valuable and fertile regions.
Traditionally, rainwater harvesting has been practiced in arid and semi-arid areas, and has provided drinking water, domestic water, water for livestock, water for small irrigation and a way to replenish ground water levels. However, this can easily be extended towards urban areas where similar benefits can be achieved. Rainwater harvesting in urban and rural areas can have manifold reasons. To provide supplemental water for the populations’ requirements, to add to soil moisture levels, to augment the ground water table through artificial recharge, to mitigate flooding and to improve the quality of groundwater are some of the reasons why rainwater harvesting can be adopted both in cities and rural areas.
Wastewater treatment is another method that can be quite beneficial, given that rainfalls are not happening all too frequently. By wastewater, one means in a general sense, any kind of water that has undergone direct or indirect usage by humans. This ranges from water used for washing dishes to industrial-municipal to sewage water. The term “wastewater treatment” is an umbrella of techniques that allow for converting this type of water into useable form again. Hence, this is a means to recycle water we already have – the technologies employed can range from sophisticated filtration plants to individually using water from washing vegetables towards other uses.
In Pakistan, a 2002 report by Ministry of Water and Power revealed that only 1% of the water is recycled using wastewater treatment, which is deplorable. There are currently three wastewater treatment plants in Islamabad and right now only one is functional (according to Pakistan Water Situational analysis). Karachi has two such facilities, which are not sophisticated to deal with the range of wastewater encountered. Lahore has similar systems; however, their functionality is highly questionable. In Faisalabad, there is a wastewater treatment plant, which does work, but is limited in use. In rural areas, this approach is virtually nonexistent, leading to pollution of surface and groundwater because of wastewater released there. Here untreated wastewater is used for irrigation at the level of about 80%, which also means the pollution spreads into the agricultural products that are grown.
The investment in wastewater treatment must be made a high priority on the part of the government’s strategies towards solving water worries across Pakistan. The upgradation of existing plants as well as making new and efficient ones should allow recycling of water, which is the call of the hour. Rainwater harvesting strategies must also be in place and given that agencies such as the Capital Development Authority (CDA) plan to include this in building codes, this strategy must be made a national practice, such that rainwater is not lost.
In sum, harvesting and recycling – key terms that now need to be practiced using strategies such as rain collection and wastewater such a nation like Pakistan gets a chance towards building itself towards as a contributor to prosperity, well-being and peace. Let’s put our actions to work in 2020 for a cleaner, greener Pakistan!
Tips for public usage of water:
Individual responsibility needed in solving water crisis
Use a pan for dish cleaning, instead of a running sink tap
Avoid using a running shower; use a bucket instead
Use recycled water for gardening, such as saved ‘Wudu’ water
Monitor and repair, in a timely manner of leaking taps and pipes
Clean cars with a bucket instead of using a pipe
Employ smaller flush tanks for saving water
Consider dietary changes towards less meat consumption, which takes twice as much water to cook than vegetable dishes.
Plant trees and raise your concern at rapid deforestation.
The advantages of adopting rainwater harvesting
Rainwater harvesting systems are integrated with the house which makes the water easily accessible.
Rainwater harvesting systems are personal which prevents arguments about who should take care of maintenance.
Installation costs are low
The required skills are present in ANY community which makes adaptation easy.
The used materials can be kept simple, are obtainable nearly everywhere at local (low) cost price.
The construction is easy and cheap in maintenance.
In areas where there is inadequate groundwater supply or surface resources are either lacking or insufficient, rainwater harvesting offers an ideal solution.
Helps in utilizing the primary source of water and prevent the runoff from going into sewer or storm drains, thereby reducing the load on treatment plants.
Reduces urban flooding.
Recharging water into the aquifers help in improving the quality of existing groundwater through dilution.
From where to harvest rain
Rainwater harvesting can be harvested from the following surfaces
Paved and unpaved areas
Water bodies: The potential of lakes, tanks and ponds to store rainwater is huge.
Storm water drains
Components of a rainwater harvesting system
A rainwater harvesting system comprises of various stages – transporting rainwater through pipes or drains, filtration, and storage in tanks for reuse or recharge. The common components of a rainwater harvesting system involved in these stages are given.
Catchments: The catchments of a water harvesting system are the surface, which directly receives the rainfall and provides water to the system. It can be a paved area like a terrace or courtyard of a building, or an unpaved area like a lawn or open ground. A roof made of reinforced cement concrete (RCC), galvanized iron or corrugated sheets can also be used for water harvesting.
Coarse mesh at the roof to prevent the passage of debris
Gutters: Channels all around the edge of a sloping roof to collect and transport rainwater to the storage tank. Gutters can be semi-circular or rectangular. The size of the gutter should be according to the flow during the highest intensity rain. It is advisable to make them 10 to 15 per cent oversize. Gutters need to be supported so they do not sag or fall off when loaded with water. The way in which gutters are fixed depends on the construction of the house; it is possible to fix iron or timber brackets into the walls, but for houses having wider eaves, some method of attachment to the rafters is necessary.
Conduits: Conduits are pipelines or drains that carry rainwater from the catchments or rooftop area to the harvesting system. Conduits can be of any material like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or galvanized iron (GI), materials that are commonly available. The following table gives an idea about the diameter of pipe required for draining out rainwater based on rainfall intensity and roof area:
First-flushing: A first flush device is a valve that ensures that runoff from the first spell of rain is flushed out and does not enter the system. This needs to be done since the first spell of rain carries a relatively larger amount of pollutants from the air and catchments surface.
Filter: The filter is used to remove suspended pollutants from rainwater collected over roof. A filter unit is a chamber filled with filtering media such as fibre, coarse sand and gravel layers to remove debris and dirt from water before it enters the storage tank or recharges structure. Charcoal can be added for additional filtration.
(i) Charcoal water filter: A simple charcoal filter can be made in a drum or an earthen pot. The filter is made of gravel, sand and charcoal, all of which are easily available.
(ii) Sand filters: Sand filters have commonly available sand as filter media. Sand filters are easy and inexpensive to construct. These filters can be employed for treatment of water to effectively remove turbidity (suspended particles like silt and clay), color and microorganisms. In a simple sand filter that can be constructed domestically, the top layer comprises coarse sand followed by a 5-10 mm layer of gravel followed by another 5-25 cm layer of gravel and boulders.
Source: A water harvesting manual for urban areas
Water: Nature’s gift to Life
Water and air are the most vital links to conservation of life on Earth. These beings have played an important position in a variety of development since the dawn of human society. Almost all the civilizations of past survived due to the presence of rivers, case in point, the civilization of Indus, Nile and Ganges are still recognized by their water resources.
According to an approximation, the total quantity of water on our planet is about 1.33 billion cubic kilometers which covers 80% of the earth. Out of this total quantity, oceans consist 97 percent but excessive minerals in the seawater do not allow humans to consume it without treatment. Out of the remaining three percent, glaciers contain two percent. A mere 0.6 percent is under the surface of earth and only 0.2 percent is inland water including rivers, dales and streams. However, only 0.02 percent of water can be utilized with no trouble.
With the increase in human population, demand of water is increasing, and water deficiency is also being deeply felt all across the globe. It may be possible that potentially, water would replace land as a cause of conflict and war.
The Water Cycle
The crucial step towards considerations towards conserving water requires the thought we have only a finite amount of water on our planet and not only to ourselves. The deeper underpinnings of how this quantity is dispersed will make conservation as a first line of defense against water problems as natural as the water cycle operates.
This cycle is crucial to life as allows freshwater to be to start as a key contributing factor in the first form of life in the food chain, namely plant life. These plants form the food chain cycle on our earth via photosynthesis and this cycle provides water directly to animals.
The water or hydrological cycle is the flow of water from the oceans to the air, via evaporation, to the earth and underground through rainfall and then back to the oceans again. The surface of all the earth’s waters, which includes the oceans, rivers, lakes and wetlands; all release water in the air via evaporation. This water is carried by the wind for tens to hundreds of miles and reappears in pure liquid form as rainfall. Of this water, some is used by the plants and some water vapor is released back in the air due to this process. Some of it runs into the river systems, some penetrates through the soil into groundwater only later combining into the oceans and thus completing the cycle. The majority of this rainfall water does return to the oceans, which cover 70 per cent of the planet. Hence, oceans are the main reservoirs of the water on earth holding about 97 percent of the sum with the rest existing as fresh water, ice or water vapor. A major pull point for rainfall are trees, which use both the available water vapor and release it during the processes of photosynthesis and respiration. The excess of water vapor in the air nearby tree-laden areas causes the precipitation to arise more easily. A major instance of this is the Amazon jungle, which has an plentiful share of the world’s rainfall.
Since water cycles throughout the planet in the manner described above, it is therefore referred to as a “renewable resource.” However, if such resources are used more quickly than they are replenished, then these are appropriately termed as a “declining resource.” This slide towards arid conditions is also referred to as desertification, which is where Pakistan is currently at right now.
Writer: Dr. Farrukh Chishtie