Desalination and water treatment are very crucial today in developed and developing countries with water scarcity becoming a serious problem because of climate change.

“Water scarcity is becoming a bigger problem because it is largely dependent on how we preserve our water resources,” says Professor Yoram Oren, Head, Department of Desalination and Water Treatment, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.

On a teaching sabbatical at the Water Institute of Karunya University, he tells Amutha Kannan that most parts of India do not suffer from lack of water but from contamination.

There are two types of contamination – natural and man-made. “High concentrations of fluoride and arsenic are present in the groundwater aquifers. These cannot be contained. But, can be treated if identified. Man-made contamination is not like that. Humans have to first stop polluting water. Then we can take up the treatment,” Mr. Oren says.

He adds that this is the case not only in India, but also in Israel, South America, and other parts of the world. He opines that contamination by humans is not necessarily by adding only pollutants, but also by over-exploitation in an uncontrolled basis.

“The Indian Government has many laws on pollution. But, as is the norm, laws are seldom enforced. Nevertheless, the time has come for strict enforcement of these laws. Otherwise, it will turn out to be disastrous,” warns Mr. Oren.

Citing the example of Israel, he says that after finding seawater intruding into potable water that was pumped from the ground, the Government does not allow any individual to sink his own borewell even if he owns land. Such strict measures should be put in place to save the remaining water from getting contaminated.

Conceding that natural contaminants cannot be easily identified by users, he says only after the symptoms resulting out of the long-time use of such contaminants become physically visible on the users can the scientists start treating the water and advise the people to refrain from using it.

Educating people on the possible symptoms can be one way by making them aware. Another is the controlled use of water. Anything becomes harmful only if it is exploited in an uncontrolled manner, he says.

But, he still maintains that human contamination is much worse than natural contamination. Human beings contaminate the water bodies mostly with industrial wastes. The authorities have to take long-drawn out measures to clean up the water. The Rhine River is much cleaner today because of the cleaning process taken up by the Government. “It is more complicated because contaminants are of varied nature coming from textiles, chemicals, food, industry and mining. People should be aware of the dangers arising out of such pollutants and using the water polluted by these wastes. Cleaning up each and every pollutant is a very long process and involves huge sums of money,” Mr. Oren says.

The best way, he feels, is to leave the water unused for some time. “Mother Nature will, over the course of time, treat the water microbiologically.”

With regard to desalination too, he says that it is a very expensive proposition for countries that are far away from the coast. For those which are on the coast, it can be considered to a certain extent to overcome water scarcity. Nevertheless, he recommends change of water use pattern to avoid wastage.

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