Sunday, June 14, 2009

Can a recycled Sewage Water Utility ever be feasible?

When I read this article on the world’s largest water recycling facility in Orange County, U.S.A., it got me wondering. Can such a water utility ever be feasible in India?

Perhaps no.

The first deterrent would be a religious recoil from the very idea. The scientific and pragmatic folks would then come to the fore with suitable pontifications. Wasn’t the Municipality water nothing other than river water recycled for drinking? Didn’t everything from dead corpses and sewage to industrial effluents constitute river water?

This would next assume political overtones, with our awfully conscientious public sentinels in the various Water, PWD and Health Departments, citing possibilities of widespread endemic diseases.

The various environmental minders would also begin an aggressive awareness campaign on the need for re-cycling sewage water. Perhaps adopt the slogan “Treat sewage water to provide every Indian with drinking water”. Various community groups would countermand this by taking to the road with placards on “What are you drinking?” and “Toilet water into Tap water?” Online and offline signature campaigns would become the order of the day. Media and photo-journalists from all over would converge here to outdo all previous shots of the quintessential Indian village woman carrying water on her head (with a barely clad child in her arms).

Researchers would come forward with their findings hitherto only published in foreign journals. Committees and sub-committees would be appointed to look into the various issues concerning recycling of sewage water. Public utilities would beg to differ on the accountability arising out of power snaps and voltage fluctuations, bound to affect the purification process.

To effectively utilize the plant capacities, a dictum would need to be made, to the effect of ‘increase your flushes per day’. What flushes? Most don’t have toilets, let alone flushes installed.

Debates would continue. Conflicts may erupt between the various public utility departments and community forums. With some parliamentary pandemonium thrown in, for the DoorDarshan viewers.

As suddenly, all controversies would die a sudden death.

A Rainwater Harvesting Ministry would be born and work in tandem with several civic departments and climatologists. It would serve to effectively utilize the plentiful Indian monsoon rains and use the run-offs from roofs and road channels to replenish the groundwater aquifers. Monetary incentives would be awarded to those with minimum usage shown on the personal water meters. Companies manufacturing vegetarian goodies would get tax holidays and those of ‘red-marked’ food stuff heavily taxed , as the latter belongs to the water-intensive sector. Multinationals would secretly laugh all the way to the bank, it is merely a matter of juggling accounts for them – after all they control all agricultural lands and food malls.

The great plan for recycling sewage water would thus be suitably squashed just as in San Diego “when the recycling issue became politicized and the public turned away from the idea of turning toilet water into tap water.”

So lets use water sparingly, re-cycle water domestically, practice rainwater harvesting, lest you are compelled to go the Orange County way.

The complete blog can be accessed at India Water Portal

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Geo-Politics of Climate Change

Ever since the Kyoto Protocol when the U.S. Congress refused to ratify the provisions, the climate roadmap has taken us through Bali and COP15, and more shows in the sidelines. Result, nada. Now however, in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit in December this year, said to be the successor treaty of the Kyoto Protocol, the scene is hotting up like never before.

Delegates from 182 nations are holding talks at Bonn, to draw the skeletal framework that shall form the basis for the hopefully decisive Copenhagen summit. How this summit has stood out from the rest? Well, for the first time the countries have texts of draft agreements to work with. Resembling multiple choice exam papers, these negotiating texts for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, present a list of possible options for these nations, ranging from very strong actions to weaker ones. Like one draft text that offers the option of carbon cuts between 25 - 40 % by 2020 and 50 - 85 % by 2050.

These are grossly minimal figures, chalked out by the International Panel on Climate Change for the U.N. Yet, the world's largest gaz-guzzlers and coal -fired power plant builders, U.S. and China, will not be able to meet even the barebone 25 % target. So what do have here?

A quagmire-like situation, where delegates from these 182 countries have parked at Bonn, lobbying their interests, negotiating terms, drafting texts to work with, all for the cause of climate change mitigation. The developing nations are banking upon the benevolent disposition of these large emitting nations. It is hoped that the historically large emitters will compensate for their deafult by paying up. Towards this the stage is set at Bonn for the finest show of geo-politics at its best.

This treaty if ever negotiated, will be the most complex ever drawn. Not merely because of the sheer scale of the problem, or the divergence in viewpoint. But for the fact, that this is a problem of a ticking clock where there is no turning back, a problem that affects all nations, and which can only be resolved to some extent through cohesiveness and climate diplomacy of unprecedented levels.

So we wait and watch from the sidelines, as the representatives try to hash out the best deal for the nation as a whole. Testing the metre of Geo-politics, at its best.