Action to tackle global water crises

A woman fetching water from a pond ( UNDP Bhutan)

SONAM PENJOR

Thimphu

Every year, 22 March is observed as World Water Day (WWD) to raise awareness on the growing population who do not have access to safe drinking water.

The day is also marked to make a collaborative stance to tackle the global water crisis.

A core focus of WWD this year was to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 6: Water and sanitation for all by 2030.

Ground water is one of the most important natural resources for drinking water supplies and agriculture, as climate change gets worse, groundwater will become more and more critical.

According to the Royal Society for the Protection of nature (RSPN), we need to work together to sustainably manage this precious resource and that groundwater may be out of sight, but it must not be out of mind.s

RSPN also stated that groundwater is invisible, but its impact is visible everywhere. “Out of sight, under our feet, groundwater is a hidden treasure that enriches our lives. Almost all of the liquid freshwater in the world is groundwater,” it said.

Approximately 70 percent of global groundwater withdrawals are used in the agricultural sector for the production of food, livestock, and industrial crops. An estimated 38 percent of the land equipped for irrigation is serviced by groundwater.

Lecturer and Dean of Research and Industrial Linkages in College of Natural Resources in Lobesa, Dr Om Katel, said that groundwater is available in the voids and cracks of the different rock layers located at different layers of the earth’s surface and exits out of the surface either naturally such as spring water or pumped out of the surface such as wells.

He said that groundwater is not only confined in the ground but it helps to maintain base flow in the streams and rivers during the lean seasons by recharging the aquifers.

Dr Om said that the quality and quantity of groundwater depend on many factors such as precipitation, the structure of the ground or geology, quality of soil, density of vegetation.

Furthermore, human activities such as unplanned urbanization and poorly designed infrastructures affect the groundwater significantly.

“Groundwater is one of the most important natural resources, especially in dry areas with a shortage of surface water and rainwater where it can be pumped out and used for different purposes such as crop cultivation and drinking,” he said.

Groundwater accounts for about 98 percent of the world’s fresh water and is used for drinking, agriculture, and industry.

However, many factors affect groundwater, and depleting groundwater leads to hosts of problems.

For instance, he said that the quality of groundwater can be affected by location and leakage of septic tanks, leaking sewers, and land applications of fertilizers through which pathogens can be introduced.

He added that groundwater contamination may also occur from unplanned and poorly designed infrastructures. Since pollution of land surface affects the groundwater, hence, activities such as the use of chemical fertilizer for agriculture, landfill sites, leakage of sewerage tanks, and due to human activities should be studied critically.

It is vital to avoid rapid and unplanned urbanization as unplanned urbanization not only have a negative effect on groundwater but does affect food security, economic activity, and ecosystem balance indirectly through different means.

He further reiterated that awareness and strict implementation of policies and laws and protecting water sources are indispensable.

Meanwhile, to ensure access to safe drinking water, Dr Om said activities such as construction of septic tanks and waste dumping sites should be monitored carefully to avoid pollution to groundwater.

In addition, he said it is vital to make sure that communities have access to piped and treated water for drinking, and get the spring water tested, for drinking.

According to UNDP, Bhutan, “Groundwater has always been critically important. And now as climate change intensifies water stress, it will play an even more vital role, especially in climate adaptation and ensuring water for all.”

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, in his message for this year’s WWD said water can be a source of conflict but also of cooperation.

“It is essential that we work together to provide better stewardship of all water sources, including the world’s supply of groundwater. We need to improve our exploration, monitoring, and analysis of groundwater resources to protect and better manage them and help achieve the SDG,” Antonio Guterres said.