Water pollution: Why we need to act now?

Water pollution: Why we need to act now?

Water pollution: Why we need to act now?

Rahul Bhandari IAS

Water scarcity and its contamination are likely to snowball into major problems in India. Statistics suggest that about 70 per cent water in India is contaminated. Experts attribute agrochemicals to be a cause of water contamination. The increasing demand to feed the growing population has put a lot of pressure on already overburdened agricultural setup.

The urge to grow more food has made us dependent on excessive use of agrochemicals like pesticides and fertilizers. Indiscriminate use of agrochemicals has increased the production of crops but it has also posed severe hazards to the environment as it has led to contamination of the natural resources including groundwater.

Over 80% of the sewage generated in India flows untreated into its rivers, lakes, ponds, hence turning it too polluted to use. This has led to higher levels of nitrate in groundwater than the prescribed limits. 

Various agriculture practices lead to the discharge of pollutants and sediments into the groundwater system. When this contaminated and polluted water is used as a source of irrigation, it contaminates the crop and transmits its ill-effects in the ecosystem.

Since fertilizers and pesticides are becoming an integral part of modern agriculture system, their indiscriminate use to satisfy the ever-increasing food demand is playing a major role in polluting the groundwater.


Widespread use of agrochemicals

The widespread production and use of agrochemicals in India's large agriculture sector have led to alarming levels of nitrogen pollution of surface water and groundwater in many states of the country.

Nitrogen is found in most chemical fertilizers and contributes to groundwater contamination, damaging the environment and people's health. Chemicals such as urea form the bulk of fertilizers India, which remains the world's second-largest consumer of the chemicals after China, according to a report produced by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a not-for-profit think-tank.

According to a study, 50% of the water pollution of streams and rivers occur due to leaching and mixing of chemicals from the agriculture practices. The pesticides can pollute water either though soil erosion, surface runoff or leaching.


Pesticide residue in bottled water

One of the most terrifying incidents that came to light was when pesticide residues were found in bottled water. In 2002, the Pollution Monitoring Laboratory of the New Delhi-Based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) analyzed 17 brands of bottled water; both packaged drinking water and packaged natural mineral water, commonly sold in areas that fall within the national capital region (NCR) of Delhi. Pesticide residues of organochlorine and organophosphorus pesticides, which are most commonly used in the country, were found in all the samples.

You may wonder as to how these pesticide residues may have entered the bottled water that is manufactured by several big companies. This can be due to several reasons. These manufacturing plants were situated in the dirtiest industrial estates or in the midst of agricultural fields. In fact, as surprising as it may sound, raw water samples collected from the plants also revealed the presence of pesticide residues.


What can be done?

  • Farmers must be made aware of the geology and the relative depth of the groundwater, to maintain a suitable distance from any watercourse including ditches or drinking water supplies, especially when handling or applying fertilizers, organic wastes, pesticides or other chemicals.
  • Agriculturists must not spray chemicals if there is a forecast of heavy rain within 48 hours. The pesticide may wash away into water bodies.
  • Household pesticide users should store and dispose of pesticides properly.
  • They should adopt good housekeeping and waste minimization practices that aim to prevent pollution at the source.
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