This is about water. Water, the vital resource that has been pushed to the background by the great noise made by us around carbon dioxide emissions. Yes, climate change is important, but no less important is conservation of water. Unlike global warming, which has global implications and needs to be addressed by the international community across all borders, water is more of a national issue, and each nation has to formulate its own strategy for water, with respect to its own water situation. It is unfortunate that in our country, not only that we are not acting on it, but we are miles away from even recognising the potential crisis of water.
The starting point has to be measuring water consumption and valuing water. There are two old adages involved here - what you cannot measure, you cannot control, and what is free is always wasted. Think about it, both these truisms apply succinctly to the way we supply and consume water - it is almost as if there is no tomorrow. We know that as we have continuously improved our lives, as we have industrialised, and as our populations have grown, we consume more and more of everything, including water. Sweet water is renewable but not unlimited. Some computations indicate that by 2030, global water demand will exceed supply by as much as 40 per cent, but I will submit that such global balances are meaningless in the context of individual countries, some of which may be staring at a sooner precipitation of water crisis because of local specifics.
Take for example, the case of India. In a paper published by Joseph P Quinlan, Sumatra Sen and Kiran Nanda aptly titled ¨Thirsty Nation¨, we were informed that India currently has the world´s second largest population, and is expected to overtake China´s by 2050, when it is likely to reach a staggering 1.6 billion, putting unheard of stress on the available water resources. Presently, the nation has 17 per cent of the world´s population, but only 4 per cent of its usable fresh water. The per capita availability of water in India has dropped from 5,300 cubic metres per annum in 1951 to 1,544 cubic metres in 2011. Thus, the country is already in a potential ´water stress´ situation. It also goes to show that we have managed to manage our water resources rather poorly. By contrast, most of the Americas and the Eurasia are comfortable with water. So, unlike global warming, water is not necessarily a global concern and we have to draw up our own national programme to address this crisis. Industrialisation is one major cause of driving the demand growth of water. The cement industry has been held accountable as one of the major contributors to climate change, but neither cement nor concrete are a significantly water guzzling industry, compared to say, steel, power, paper and such other industrial sectors. Funnily, however, concrete is second only to water as the most consumed substance on Earth, with almost one ton of it being used for each human being every year on the planet Earth. In any case, cement companies have been recently working hard to establish standardised methodologies for measurement and therefore management of water. As a result, a few multinational companies have been able to report, for the first time ever, water consumption numbers which ranged from 200 to 300 litres per ton of cement. This is most definitely the first step in the right direction, and the next steps will be to develop strategies for water conservation, and adopt reduction targets with accountabilities. Ultimately, what you can measure, you can manage.
Sumit Banerjee Chairman, Editorial Advisory Board