India, the world’s second most populous nation, is going through one of its worst heat waves ever. Many locals however, are reluctant to implement modern solutions.
In May 2015, the city of Phalodi in the northern state of Rajasthan recorded a temperature of 51 degrees Celsius, the highest ever in India. It’s been estimated that the heat wave is affecting over 330 million people and as of late April 2016, has already killed around 300 people.
India’s water crisis also affects agriculture, with over 65 per cent of farms relying on rainwater, says The Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice. The Centre adds that over 17,000 farmers committed suicide in 2009 due to insurmountable debt, of which water acquisition is a key contributor, and the estimated number for the past year was significantly higher.
Aqwise To the Rescue
To solve this water crisis, India is looking to international technology.
In 2012, Israeli water treatment company Aqwise participated in a landmark project. Setting up a water treatment plant in Agra by the Taj Mahal, the company sourced contaminated water from the Yamuna River, cleaned it and provided drinking water for locals and the many tourists that visit the iconic site.
Aqwise uses MBBR (moving bed biofilm reactor) technology that sees small plastic biomass carriers break down contaminants in water to make it drinkable. In the case of Agra, the company’s technology was able to cleanse an astounding 150 million litres of water per day.
When it comes to the country’s high rates of water contamination, Marc Krieger, Aqwise’s Asia-Pacific director of business development, says: “India needs a lot [of help].” The problem, according to Krieger, is that the country isn’t adopting new technologies quickly enough.
“They are not in a rush to implement advanced or disruptive technology. They’re very conservative, and like to implement what they already know and understand.”
But there is hope that things are changing. In 2013, the Indian Institute of Technology Madras created a nano-based water purifier that can be used by families and groups to cleanse their drinking water. Late last year, the Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation advocated its use around the country.
Keeping It Traditional
Although disruptive technology like Aqwise’s solution brings great benefits, Susmita Sengupta, deputy programme manager for the water department, Centre for Science and Environment, says India’s problems doesn’t lie only in expensive and advanced cleansing technology.
The Centre advocates the implementation of traditional rainwater harvesting techniques – ones that have been passed down from generation to generation and don’t require technology or even a budget.
“If you look at Laporiya and other areas in Rajasthan, which actually harvest rain using their local methods that have been applied for decades, or even centuries, they have survived the droughts,” says Sengupta, who calls it “traditional wisdom”.
Despite having received a notoriously small amount of rainfall, Laporiya is noted for sustaining water levels with an inventive ‘Chauka’ (square) system. Laporiya locals dig rows of rectangular holes on sloped terrain, connect them with shallow canals and enclose them with walls of dirt. When it rains, water fills these holes, with overflowing water running down the hill, where more squares are waiting to be filled. Locals don’t collect this water. Instead, it seeps into the ground, replenishes underground water aquifers and feeds into ponds and wells although the overflow is often designed to run into a village tank.
Water sourcing should be like this, Sengupta adds. “It should not be costly, it should involve local people and local knowledge.”
A Two-Pronged Attack To Resolve India’s Water Crisis
This arguably reinforces what Aqwise’s Krieger had to say about Indians wanting to implement what they already know but Sengupta certainly has some valid points.
Meanwhile, Krieger says the technology Aqwise and similar water cleansing companies provide can produce drinkable water on a much larger scale – by treating water from dams and entire rivers.
India’s water crisis is a big problem but the country has many weapons to fight it – some inexpensive and traditional, others more expensive and technological. Hopefully, it’s able to better utilise one or both, so heat waves that come in the next few years aren’t the killers they have been in recent years.