Damaged ecosystems affect the quantity and quality of water available for human consumption. Today, 2.1 billion people live without safe drinking water at home affecting their health, education and livelihoods. The World Water Day on March 22 is about focusing attention on the importance of water. The theme for World Water Day 2018 is ‘Nature for Water: Eexploring Nature-Based Solutions to the Water Challenges We Face in the 21st century’.

Water quality in majority of rivers flowing in Odisha has been found to be polluted due to waste water released from drainage systems in the urban areas. The pollution level is alarmingly above the danger mark in most of the places.

Municipal sewage is considered to be the main pollutant of water. Most of the sewage receives no treatment before discharge in all the cities of Odisha. The cities like Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Rourkela, Sambalpur and Brahmapur which generate approximately 10, 7.5, 6.0, 3.075 and 5.0 lakh litres of sewage effluents respectively every day. These effluents are discharged into the river Mahanadi and Kathajodi in Cuttack, Kuakhai and Daya in Bhubaneswar, Brahmani in Rourkela, Mahanadi again at Sambalpur and and Rushikulya at Brahmapur.

The effluents contain heavy metals like lead, chromium, cadmium, zinc and mercury. Besides, the sewage effluents are rich with harmful bacteria and viruses which contaminate the river water. While drinking this contaminated water, people suffer from serious diseases.

In Odisha, there are paper industries at Rayagada, Choudwar and Jaypore which discharge effluents to the rivers. Discharge of effluents from smelter plants of Nalco to the water bodies at Angul cause fluoride pollution in drinking water. Agricultural water pollution is caused by fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides, farm animal wastes and sediments. Application and heavy doses of fertilisers pollute ground water in many parts of the State.

Death of aquatic animals has been reported in intensive rice growing areas of Odisha due to application of pesticides. Careless deposit of animal waste close to the wells and ponds cause pollution of water through leaching.

The pathogenic organisms of these wastes transmit to the water and pose serious problems. Besides,  during the festival season, more than 5,000 idols are immersed in different rivers of Odisha which cause lead pollution in river water.

With rapid expansion of cities and domestic water supply, quantity of wastewater is increasing in the same proportion. Over 80 per cent of all the wastewater from our homes, cities, industry and agriculture flows back to nature and pollutes the environment. Odisha lags far behind in terms of access to toilet facilities. Major reason for perpetuation of diseases like diarrhoea and jaundice can be attributed to the non-availability of safe drinking water with poor sanitation facilities and practices.

A majority of people in rural areas still depend on open water bodies i.e. river, stream, pond etc as source of drinking water. The natural drinking water sources are getting polluted due to a number of reasons, including environmental and ecological, which affect the quality of drinking water. Very often it has been reported that water borne diseases are a major cause of poor health of women and children in rural areas.

Bhubaneswar’s increasing population growth has resulted in excessive wastewater generation and currently it is estimated at 180 million liters per day (MLD). The increased population and waste load, combined with the absence of a regular sewerage system, has led to untreated and semi-treated sewage, flowing into the city’s water bodies and creating unhygienic conditions.

Water pollution prevention and control measures are critical to improving water quality and reducing the need for costly wastewater and drinking water treatment. Discharge of sewage and affluent into water bodies and rivers must be banned and recycling of waste water must be pursued and enforced. This will help in keeping the water sources clean. Treated sewage and effluent can be used for agriculture and industrial production. Also there are several steps that can be taken to help prevent water pollution from getting worse.

Water is a key to sustainable development; it has value from social, economic and environmental perspectives. It is impossible to maintain the integrity of a balanced ecosystem without an overall strategy on water resources management. Recycling and reuse of wastewater is an important aspect of water management providing a way to increase available water while also preventing pollution of water bodies.

Once water becomes polluted, it can affect people and animals either directly through consumption or indirectly through food sources.  In addition to this, water pollution also plays a big factor in the survival of animals, plant life and various ecological factors. Therefore, we need to improve the collection and treatment of wastewater and safely reuse it. Besides, awareness must be created among people regarding present condition and upcoming water stress issues and the method to save water. City and municipal Governments play critical roles in water management ensuring provision of water, sanitation and wastewater removal.

The drinking water resources and its nearby areas should be cleaned. Every industry should have its own effluent treatment plant. Use of pesticides in agriculture should be limited and only standard quality pesticide be used.

Factories are expected to treat its effluent wastes prior to discharge. Toxic material must be treated chemically and converted into harmless materials. If possible, factories should try to recycle the treated water. Urgent action is needed to check water pollution. Nature-based solutions, such as planting trees to replenish forests, reconnecting rivers to floodplains, and restoring wetlands, is a sustainable and cost-effective way to help the rebalance the water cycle, mitigate the effects of climate change and improve human health and livelihoods. By using nature-based solutions to meet the water needs of a growing population, we will contribute to the creation of a circular economy and protect the natural environment and reduce pollution. This will guarantee the Sustainable Development Goal 6, to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030.

(Dr Praharaj teaches at Department of Architecture, College of Engineering and Technology, Bhubaneswar)

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