A Slow Boat Down the Mekong

Let my river be

Recently I have been bitten by the bug of paddling down rivers. And as each day passes by and I inch just a little bit closer to the day when I will be crossing the river into the afterlife, I am consumed by the fervent hope that there will be enough water in the river to allow me the passage to the other world, and that the water will waft with the sweet smell of nectar, and not like the fetid, putrid cess pool that many water bodies are fast turning out to be. Me destination at the other bank of river is likely to be Hell and not Heaven, but I would really like the journey at least to be one that i can remember and cherish for the rest of eternity.

I was just looking at the world population as of right now and it turns out to be 7,701,247,909.

By the time I typed in the figure and went back to look at the data once again, the figure had risen to 7,701,247,992. Almost a hundred kids were born in the past few seconds. The population this year, and it has just been four months a two days since the beginning of the year, has risen by 27,294,220 individuals. And this is a net figure, taking into account both births and deaths. Wow, that is a whole lot of people, a population that is increasing very rapidly.

Unfortunately the size of the planet, at least the thirty odd per cent that humans can and do live on, is not increasing. Sure, there are skyscrapers coming up in the larger cities of the world, but if we look at the 27 million people born this year, I seriously doubt that enough skyscrapers have been built to accommodate these people. There is a serious pressure on the resources that the planet provides and it will soon reach a tipping point, if it has not already.

Let us take water. In the past few years there is increasing talk about Day Zero, the day when particular cities will reach the stage when they will not have any more access to water. It has happened to a few cities around the world already and other cities are waiting at the threshold to cross over to the other side of this apocalyptic reality.

What has changed over the centuries? Has the amount of water gone down? The earth is more than 70% water, so why isn’t there enough water for everyone? Maybe even for the next seven billion people who will inhabit this earth in the next few years? True, the amount of water on this little blue planet is renewable, but finite. The absolute amount of water … as liquid, gas and solid … has been constant on earth ever since the planet came into being. Only its state and location changes. Anyone with even a remote understanding of the water cycle knows that water evaporates, rises as vapour, condenses as clouds, and comes back down as rain or snow. The problem starts becoming acute when the rain falls on the oceans instead of on land. 97% of all water is in the oceans. Another couple of percentage points are trapped in the polar ice fields, glaciers and snow capped mountain tops. Less than one per cent of all water in fresh water, accessible to us humans for drinking, washing, irrigation, etc. Even this break-up has been largely constant for thousands of years.

Two things have changed, however.

  1. There are seven more billion humans vying for that finite one per cent finite resource of fresh water.
  2. Technology has evolved, particularly in the last hundred years or so, to leave the limited resource of fresh water polluted and contaminated.

Nature is extremely resilient and far stronger than we give her credit for. She is fighting back in her own quiet way. She is trying to solve the above two problems in her own inimitable way. Thanks to the polluted water being consumed by more than two billion people who do not have access to clean drinking water, there is someone dying of water borne disease every ten seconds or so. The human body and technology is fighting back. The body is developing resistance to bacteria and viruses, while technology is inventing ways and means to prevent and treat such diseases. It is a losing battle and is being reactive to the problem. What needs to be removed is contaminated water and its consumption. Unless that issue is not addressed, people will continue to die and it will be a losing battle.

Maybe we are staring at a day, not too far in the future, when we will be faced with an epidemic, brought about by some mutated bacteria or virus that will be impervious to all the advances of medical intervention, or the body’s evolution in being able to deal with consuming contaminated water.

Water is depleting on earth. That is fresh water. From rivers and lakes. Since we have to cater to the demands of an increasing number of humanity, we have been digging more and more wells to dip into aquifers that have stored water underground for centuries. These aquifers are drying up too. There are reports that we will run out of fresh water faster than we run out of fossil fuels. And that is scary.

I am of the firm opinion that wars will be fought for the control of water sources, and not for control of oil fields or minerals or geographical territory devoid of water. Indications of this impending conflict is evident in many parts of the world.

There is an imminent threat and we need to take urgent and immediate action to preserve the amount of fresh water we have access to, keep it clean and pristine, recycle it whenever and however we can. Thanks to global warming large amounts of fresh water sources that are in the glaciers, are disappearing. We as concerned individuals may not be able to do too much about global warming other than trying to reduce our individual carbon footprints, but we can and should do something to reduce our water footprint.

Let us take a look at two of the holiest rivers in India … the Ganga and the Yamuna. Their virtues and mythical properties have been written about in the ancient scriptures, they are indeed holy rivers, yet they are two of the most polluted rivers in the world. The Yamuna in India is a sewage drain, many people classify it a dead river. The majority of the water comprises only sewage that flows into her from the many cities that lie on her banks, or untreated chemical effluents that with utter disregard not only to law but also to the future of their own children, are allowed to discharge into what was once a river.

Maybe it is time for a citizen’s revolution. The history of the past few decades has demonstrated that the Ganga or the Yamuna is not going to get cleaned by the Government in a hurry. So much has supposedly has been accomplished, millions of rupees has been spent, yet the rivers are as dirty as before, if not more so. Why can’t we citizens become part of the solution instead of demanding accountability from the Government? Why can’t we individual households show the Government how the rivers can be cleaned? Why can’t each of us consciously reduce our water footprint and ensure that no a single drop of sewage finds its way into the non-functional sewage treatment plants the Government touts as doing such yeoman service in cleaning up the rivers?

I have some solutions, instead of just braying like the proverbial activist. Here are some of them…

  • Recycle water. Not everything requires clean fresh water. Grey water can be recycled to water the plants, to wash the car, clean the driveway, etc.
  • Install a mini sewage treatment plant in your home. Technology has advanced to an extent that there are products, many of them herbal, that you can use to turn even sewage water into drinking grade. This will not only ensure that there is good clean water, but also the water that is connected to the municipal line is clean water.
  • Even if you do not have the resources to add a mini STP in your home, at least add some sewage treatment solution to your flush. Every time you flush, the solution will ensure that the sewage is pre-treated before entering the municipal sewage system.
  • Stop buying bottled water. For that matter, stop using the RO unit installed in your homes. Disinfect tap water using the best herbal disinfectant you can find.

Just by making these few adjustments in your lifestyle and the way you live your life, it will ensure that the Government-run (?) STPs will only receive clean water, and no more will sewage flow unhindered into the Ganga or the Yamuna. Let the Government take the credit, let us be magnanimous. Governments will come and go, but we and the future of our children will be there for a long time. It is time we took the initiative.

Let us keep our rivers clean to ensure that our final journey across the river into the afterlife is one that we look forward to.

By the way, at this time, when I am about to finish this post, the world’s population has risen to 7,701,260,224. 12,232 more people have been born in the past few minutes.

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