In this World Environment Week when we need to reflect deeply on vital issues which have brought about the catastrophe of climate change and global warning, one such vast area is water -- the mighty oceans, rivers and streams.
Water, an essential component for life, is generally available and obtained freely. So we have a tendency to take it for granted. This happens at family level also. We often realize the vital need for water only when there is a prolonged water cut. Otherwise we often waste water. Freely given, freely used or abused. This happens at a city level, national and international levels also. But now experts are warning that fresh water is running out fast, and within two or three decades we may see wars for fresh water just as we are seeing ongoing wars for control of oil and natural gas resources.
Worse still, we have been polluting the oceans to such an extent that up to 50% of the marine species are dead or dying. According to experts, while marine pollution can be obvious, the worst harm is caused by pollution that cannot be seen. Marine pollution occurs when harmful, or potentially harmful effects result from the entry into the ocean of chemicals, particles, industrial, agricultural and residential waste, noise, or the spread of invasive organisms. Some 80% of marine pollution comes from land. Air pollution is also a contributing factor by carrying off pesticides or dirt into the ocean.
When pesticides are incorporated into the marine ecosystem, they quickly become absorbed into marine food webs. Once in the food webs, these pesticides can cause mutations, as well as diseases, which can be harmful to humans as well as the entire food web.
Water pollution is contamination of water bodies -- lakes, rivers, oceans, aquifers and groundwater. This form of environmental degradation occurs when pollutants are directly or indirectly discharged into water bodies without adequate treatment to remove harmful compounds, experts say.
It has been suggested that water pollution is the leading worldwide cause of deaths and diseases. It accounts for the deaths of more than 14,000 people daily. An estimated 580 people in India die of water pollution-related illness every day. About 90 per cent of the water in the cities of China is polluted.
In addition to the acute problems of water pollution in developing countries, developed countries also continue to struggle with pollution problems. For example, in the most recent national report on water quality in the United States, 44 per cent of assessed stream miles, 64 per cent of assessed lake acres and 30 percent of assessed bays and estuarine square miles were classified as polluted.
The specific contaminants leading to pollution in water include a wide spectrum of chemicals, pathogens, and physical changes such as elevated temperature and discolouration. While many of the chemicals and substances that are regulated may be naturally occurring such as calcium, sodium, iron and manganese, the concentration is often the key in determining what is a natural component of water and what is a contaminant. High concentrations of naturally occurring substances can have negative impacts on aquatic flora and fauna. Oxygen-depleting substances may be natural materials such as plant matter, for example leaves and grass as well as man-made chemicals. Other natural and anthropogenic substances may cause turbidity or cloudiness, which blocks light and disrupts plant growth and clogs the gills of some fish species. Many of the chemical substances are toxic. Pathogens can produce waterborne diseases in either human or animal hosts.
In Sri Lanka we have been blessed with the Mahaweli and 102 other river basins. But in recent decades the excessive use of imported agro-chemicals and the irresponsibility of factory owners who discharge toxic substances into rivers have polluted huge amounts of our fresh water. The National Government needs to act effectively to stop the pollution of ground water and river water while ensuring that the neocolonial transnational companies are not allowed to grab our fresh water resources.
Individually, in our homes or workplaces and elsewhere we need to stop wasting freshwater. We could even go further in our watertight patriotism by finding ways of recycling water or collecting rainwater which we have had in abundance since May 15.