“The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.” - is an American Indian saying and today on World Water Day (22 March), its time to reflect on this saying and this vital resource we often take for granted.
Looking at one of the core economic aspects of water that will have a severe impact on us, the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) raises today the question “Will Sri Lanka run out of water for agriculture or can it be managed?” “Overall, the world’s water demand will grow from 4500 billion cubic metres to 6900 billion cubic metres by 2030 – a 40% increase from the current water supply,” IPS says. Add to this the changes brought about by climate change affecting all components of freshwater systems, and the future of water quality and availability is certainly bleak.
Sri Lanka is among the developing countries that are heavily dependent on water for agriculture. According to current statistics, the IPS report says that ” cultivated area in Sri Lanka is estimated at 1.86 million ha. About 632,000 ha. of this area is irrigated; the rest is rain-fed. Irrigated agriculture is mainly comprised of major irrigation schemes. In addition, there are numerous minor schemes, which can be identified as semi rain-fed systems. They include over 15,000 village tanks scattered across the dry zone areas of the country.”
The demand for water in paddy cultivation is high compared to other crops. With a projected growth of 28% in paddy cultivation its imperative that Sri Lanka manage these challenges says IPS. “Experts have stressed the importance of an Integrated Approach of Water Resource Management (IWRM) to face the rising threat of water scarcity. The concept of IWRM was first proposed about 60 years ago and was re-examined in the 1990’s. IWRM calls for a holistic approach where agricultural water management is considered a part of an overall strategy of natural resource management.”
While USA, China, Japan and Germany are looking new technologies, IPS says developing nations need to look at innovative ways of IWRM to meet the future demand for water.
So enters the concept of “virtual water”. “Virtual water refers to the hidden or unobserved flow of water when commodities are traded from one country to another. The virtual water content of a commodity is the volume of water required to produce the commodity, which is measured at the original place of the production. This contains the sum of water use for that commodity at various stages of the production process. Therefore, if a country with scarce water resources is producing a particular commodity requiring a large quantity of water, then they could potentially import that commodity from another country that has relatively less water issues, and thereby save the water needed to actually produce that commodity in the country itself.”
Read more on the IPS report.
However, virtual water will not quench our thirst and the agricultural needs are only one aspect that needs to be managed with the looming scarcity of water. More effort will be needed to combat pollution of water resources, conservation and above all for each and everyone of us to remember — as we gulp it down, use it indiscriminately — that our life cycles are forever linked to the water cycle.
“Water is sometimes sharp and sometimes strong, sometimes acid and sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet and sometimes thick or thin, sometimes it is seen bringing hurt or pestilence, sometime health-giving, sometimes poisonous. It suffers change into as many natures as are the different places through which it passes. And as the mirror changes with the colour of its subject, so it alters with the nature of the place, becoming noisome, laxative, astringent, sulfurous, salty, incarnadined, mournful, raging, angry, red, yellow, green, black, blue, greasy, fat or slim. Sometimes it starts a conflagration, sometimes it extinguishes one; is warm and is cold, carries away or sets down, hollows out or builds up, tears or establishes, fills or empties, raises itself or burrows down, speeds or is still; is the cause at times of life or death, or increase or privation, nourishes at times and at others does the contrary; at times has a tang, at times is without savor, sometimes submerging the valleys with great floods. In time and with water, everything changes.”- Leonardo da Vinci –