Given that this World Environment Day is focused on restoring ecosystems, it is an ideal time to pause and think about what each of us can do to help. Last year, India was ranked 168th out of 180 countries in the 2020 Environmental Performance Index (EPI). With rapid urbanization, increasing population and pollution and the adverse effects of climate change, our ecosystems are deteriorating at an unprecedented rate. The quality of our life and that of the planet is intrinsically tied to the health and well-being of our ecosystems.
Globally there are discussions on how ecosystems can be restored and there are broad strategies being put into place. But what is essential here is to have a long-term approach to restoration, keeping in mind local conditions and also involving all the relevant stakeholders at the grassroot levels.
Water plays a key role in most ecosystems. By conserving and managing the quality of water within these ecosystems, we can start the process to heal and restore our environment.
It is now or never
As a country, India is one of the largest users of groundwater in the world, extracting 253 billion cubic meter per year. This is about 25% of the global groundwater extraction leading to depleted water tables across the country. The problem doesn’t stop here, continued and unplanned urbanization results in increased water pollution through domestic and industrial wastewater, untreated sewage, lack of planned drainage systems and water bodies being turned into dump yards. All of which has led to the degradation or even the loss of entire ecosystems.
The solutions lie in creating awareness and backing that up with action. We live in a time where both traditional methods and innovative technology must merge to propel substantial change and restoration.
The spotlight needs to be on conservation
According to United Nations, we have only a decade left to solve this looming environmental crisis and that makes us the only generation that can set things right. A two-pronged approach can get us started – protect what we have while we continue to restore what has been lost.
Conserving water, as easy as it may sound, is a conscious decision. From individuals to industries, it’s left to each one of us to use water judiciously, thereby curbing wastage. Using less water ensures that our ecosystems get or retain their fair share of this resource. An interesting point to note is that water can be reused not once or twice, but multiple times. Denmark has some good best practices here, with wastewater discharge being taxed, and compulsory usage of water meters which has seen a significant decrease of 40% in overall water consumption since 19804.
Ample ways have been developed to ensure water efficiency in housing and commercial infrastructure. From low-flow fixtures to save water, Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) solutions that can detect leak, using digitized pumps to monitor in real-time and predict faults to the basic method of installing rainwater harvesting systems for laundry and flushing, the solutions are everywhere – we just need to adopt them. We need to develop a sustainable mindset, where we begin to solve potential problems even before they arise.
Sustainable technology is key
Around 40 per cent of our forests in India may need to be restored5 and if this is extrapolated to other ecosystems, one can see that the opportunity to improve biodiversity, improve quality of human lives and increase good habitats for fauna and flora is substantial. More importantly, restoration has the capacity to generate substantial rural livelihoods and reduce human-wildlife conflicts. For example, while the use of renewable energy in conjunction with modern technologies and equipment / devices, has been largely looked at only at the urban or industrial level, these non-conventional energy sources could also be used effectively in forest areas. A sustainable solution here is solar energy, as it offers a decentralized, off-grid alternative to grid power and manual pumping.
The solar DC pump draws power directly from the solar panels during daytime and the system is simple and easy to use anywhere without a need for an inverter or storage batteries. This system pumps groundwater to an overhead tank and distributes it, using the natural gradient to saucer pits in the vicinity and also permits filling of water tankers for use elsewhere where water holes are located. Forest Department Field Staff and local community forest watchers (from tribal communities) can also access this water for their needs. This action reduces dependence on external power, reduces the need for human entry into the core wildlife areas, and therefore reduces overall disturbance and possibility of conflict. Further during the long dry period wild animals can access drinking water in their grazing areas itself and do not have to struggle to migrate long distances to find water.
The future is cooperation
Technological partnerships can form the bedrock of our modern-day fight against climate change and aid in ecosystem restoration. For instance, Mr. A.R. Shivkumar from Karnataka State Council for Science and Technology , India teamed with UNESCO to launch an app on Rainwater Harvesting. The application is now helping thousands of households that rely on rainwater to meet all their domestic freshwater needs . Such technical partnerships engage people in sustainable water management for the benefit of the society.
Restoration of water bodies has the potential to completely revolutionize how we address problems related to our natural ecosystem. In 2020 Grundfos and Cognizant joined hands to restore the 100-acre Sembakkam Lake in Chennai, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Care Earth Trust and Indian Institute of Technology Madras. The ongoing project will help clear the lake of solid wastes, improve the lake’s storage capacity by 50%, enhance groundwater recharge, improve water quality and benefit 10000 households and conserve the local biodiversity consisting of around 180 plant species (including 11 aquatic species) and more than 65 bird species. One of the goals of the project is to provide a natural recreational space to the local community and involve them in the maintenance of the water body.
Collaboration between government and corporate entities are also crucial for the future of water management in India. The formation of the Jal Shakti ministry along with national initiatives such as Jal Jeevan Mission and Navami Gange are forward looking steps towards a bright future of effective water management. Through such initiatives, the government can provide impetus to reviving water bodies and empowering local communities to become self-sustainable.
The onus is no longer just on others, it is on all of us. Restoring ecosystems can help combat climate change, save biodiversity and also improve the quality of life for us. This is our responsibility and we need to reimagine, recreate and restore our ecosystems.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.