An Article by Mohan Pai
Water … the giver of life.
Water has a central place in the practices and beliefs of most religions for two main reasons. Firstly, water cleanses. Water washes away impurities and pollutants, it can make an object look as good as new and wipe away any signs of previous defilement. Water not only purifies objects for ritual use, but can make a person clean, externally or spiritually, ready to come into the presence of his/her focus of worship. Secondly, water is a primary building block of life. Without water there is no life, yet water has the power to destroy as well as to create. We are at the mercy of water just as we are at the mercy of our gods. The significance of water manifests itself differently in different religions and beliefs but it is these two qualities of water that underlie its place in our cultures and faiths.
In India, water has been an object of worship from time immemorial. Primordial water is aadi jalam, kaarana jalam, karana vaari. The sea of primeval water is kaaranavaaridhi. Water represents the non-manifested substratum from which all manifestations arise. Primarily, water is the building block of life. The five elements of nature (panchamahabhuta) include earth, water, fire, air and ether (sky). Adi Shesha, the divine snake who forms the couch of Narayana, represents cosmic waters.
Akshitha is imperishable. Water is Akshitham. In the matter of purity it is like eyes. Hence it is also known as Akshitharam. Water is a purifier, life-giver and destroyer of evil. It is life- preserving power par excellence.Although Hinduism encompasses so many different beliefs, most Hindus do share the importance of striving to attain purity and avoiding pollution. This relates to both physical cleanliness and spiritual well being. Water cleanses, washes away impurities and pollutants. The belief that water has spiritually cleansing powers has given it a central place in the practices and beliefs of many a religious ritual. Physically and mentally clean person is enabled to focus on worship. Water as an element of belief system and culture makes Hinduism ‘a religion of holy water’. The words panchapatre, dhaarakam, kudam, kamandalu, kindi and kundi(ka), kalasa are the Indian water vessels for holy use.
Most life on Earth has water as a major component; our cells, and those of plants and animals are made up of approximately 70 percent water. Water is the basic building block for all life on Earth, water is the most plentiful natural resource on the planet; in fact, over two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water. However, 97 percent is held in the oceans, while only 3 percent is freshwater. Of the freshwater, only 1 percent is easily accessible as ground or surface water, the remains are stored in glaciers and icecaps. Moreover, freshwater is not evenly distributed across land surfaces, and there are a number of heavily populated countries located in arid lands where fresh water is scarce.
The Water Cycle
Water also regulates the temperature of the planet and cycles essential nutrients through the land, air, and all living things. The flow of water through the atmosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, and hydrosphere is called the hydrologic, or water, cycle. Thus, water is both the most abundant natural resource on our planet and a fundamental element of life whose preciousness requires diligent management. Vast quantities of water also cycle through the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land, and biosphere over both short and long time scales. This grand cycling of water is called the hydrologic cycle; it shapes our weather and climate, supports plant growth, and make life itself possible. The water cycle is dominated by oceans, where 96 percent of the water on Earth is found and where the majority global evaporation occurs.
Water is stored for periods of time in various types of reservoirs, primarily the oceans and polar ice and glaciers. There is roughly 50 times as much water stored in the oceans than in polar ice and glaciers, which is the next largest water reservoir. The amount of time that water stays in a reservoir varies: while glaciers retain their water for an average of 40 years, deep groundwater can be held for up to 10,000 years. At the other end of the spectrum, the retention time for rivers, soil moisture, and seasonal snow cover is typically less than 6 months.
When rain and other precipitation falls on land, much of it seeps into the ground. This process, the movement of water into and through the soil and rocks, is called infiltration. How water behaves once it is in the ground is determined by the type of soil or rock through which it moves. It is primarily during this stage of the water cycle that water is purified, although the extent to which it is “cleaned” also depends on the water composition itself as well as the state of the surrounding environment. As water passes through layers of sediment and rock, many pollutants are filtered out. In general, the deeper groundwater is found, the cleaner it will be.
Water not absorbed into the soil flows across the land and into rivers, lakes, streams, and eventually to the oceans. Runoff waters can originate from precipitation or stem from melting snow or ice, although it will vary depending upon an assortment of factors, including the topography, geology, and land cover of a particular area. An expanse of land where the surface runoff and groundwater drains into a common point – usually a stream, lake, or river – is called a watershed, which can range in size from a few acres to many square miles. And, unlike water filtered by the soil, runoff water can serve as a collector of nutrients, sediment, or other pollutants on the land that can affect the quality of water throughout a watershed.
Most water, however, returns to the air in the form of water vapor; the bulk of this evaporation occuring by means of the oceans. Roughly half of land-based evaporation occurs on the surface area of plants, called transpiration. These together are sometimes referred to as evapotranspiration. The process in which water vapor is converted back into liquid form is called condensation. Within the water cycle, it takes place primarily in the atmosphere. As water vapor moves upward in the atmosphere it cools. Droplets develop and collect as a result of gravitational pull to form clouds. Water then returns to Earth through precipitation which, depending on the temperature of the surrounding air, will take either frozen or liquid form; although, it is primarily through precipitation that water moves from the atmosphere to the Earth.
Fresh water is one of our most valuable natural resources for which agricultural, industrial, municipal, and environmental uses all compete. Throughout history, cities and villages established themselves, and grew, near sources of water. Today, an adequate supply of fresh water is still needed, with quality being just as important as quantity. However, with continued increases in population, the competition between the various uses will only become more intense. How the allocation, use, and management of water is addressed will have dramatic impacts on the environment, the economy, and our quality of life.
Fresh Water Crisis
By mid century as much as three quarters of the earth’s population could face scarcity of fresh water. Apart from population increase, Global Climate change is exacerbating aridity and reducing supply in many regions.Lack of access to water can lead to starvation, disease, political instability and even armed conflict and failure to take action can have broad and grave consequences. In the absence of concerted action to save water, the combination of population growth and climate change will create scarcity far and wide.
Water Situation in India
India, with a sixth of the world’s population, faces a rapidly growing water crisis, both in the urban and rural areas. These include wasteful practices in the use of water, particularly for irrigation, water-logging and salinity, and inadequate access to safe drinking water and sanitation. In cities such as Chennai and Delhi, several localities rely on private water tankers for their daily water needs. Groundwater is the dominant resource that has been developed in rural India to meet the drinking water needs. But often, the shallower wells are found to be affected by fluoride, arsenic, iron, salt and/or microbial contamination. In many States, especially Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, this is a significant concern. Over-use of pesticides and chemicals in agriculture is the primary cause for groundwater pollution in the rural areas. A survey conducted in Uttar Pradesh in 2004 revealed that people in one region are compelled to drink polluted water with a high fluoride content, leading to large-scale dental fluorosis and arthritis.
Average water consumption around the world is about 53 liters per head per day. In India, we expect to soon have only about 20 liters available per head per day. We have had droughts for a long time, and now with global climate change, things will become even more difficult. The glaciers are receding from the Himalayan Mountains. They are about one fifth the size they were about 60 years ago.
The waters from the Himalayan glaciers provide water for about 70 percent of all the people in Asia. In India, we have three major rivers – the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra – and it is likely that they will drain to small rivers. It will be a very big disaster for India, more than any other country. In most of northern India, there will be no water. Right now there are floods. The flood area has increased from 25 million hectares to 60 millions hectares in the last 30 years. That is an indication that the water is draining away, and these will become dry areas. This will happen in less than 30 years. It is a very serious matter. Already today, irrigation, which has benefitted agriculture in India a lot, has become very difficult. Things have changed since the Green Revolution. The rate of agricultural production has come down. Groundwater, which is already scarce, has gone down to 800 feet (240 meters) or even 1,000 feet (300m) in some regions around Bangalore.
01 Only about 3% of surface water is fresh water.
02 Water covers 71% of the Earth’s surface, but one fifth of the world’s population lacks access to clean drinking water.
03 The Earth’s oceans are the most important carbon sink on the planet along with rainforests.
04 Floods are the most frequent disaster worldwide.
05 Waterborne diseases affect about four billion people every year.
06 In 2007, Greenland’s ice sheet lost nearly 19 billion tons more ice than in 2006.
07 It is expected that the demand for water will double during the next 30 years.
08 A kilo of industrially produced meat needs about 10,000 liters of water to produce.
09 People in rich countries use ten times more water than people in poor countries.
10 Agriculture takes up 70% of the water we use.