Summary of Down to Earth: 31 March 2018 (Part - 3) (Download PDF)


Download PDF of This Page (Size: 280.55 K)

Crisis of Management - In case of Bengaluru, the extra allocation of water from Cauvery by Supreme Court would be of little relief unless the water is managed well. The 2013 - 14 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General says that half of the Cauvery waters, supplied to Bengaluru from 2009 to 2013, was wasted either due to theft or leakage due to outdated plumbing.

  • Mexico City loses 40 % of the water due to leakage, aged piping, lack of maintenance and illegal connections.
  • Some estimates show that the lost water, if saved could provide supply to 4 million people every day.


  • Water crisis is the culmination of short sighted policies of usage of limited water resources since 1949.
  • A 2008 report by Probe International, a Canadian public interest research group says that the Policy of supplying water to the city with little or no cost has created problems for farmers and encouraged wasteful use of water by industrial and urban consumers.


  • Eric Odada, professor of geology at the University of Nairobi and director of the African Collaborative Centre for Earth System, says that the city is heavily dependent on surface water that it plunges into a crisis whenever the monsoon is not good.
  • Another problem is lack of water governance in the city. Water shortage became acute in 2016, in April 2017, heavy rains caused floods. Floods could have solved the water crisis but still people continue to queue up in several localities.
  • Another problem is inadequate water supply network. About 75 % of Nairobians buy water from kiosks and pushcart vendors at higher rates because they are not covered under city’s water supply network or receive inadequate water supply.


  • Most populous city in Turkey faces a similar problem as Nairobi. In 2014 and 2015, it faced severe drought. Water in the reservoir was just enough for 100 days.
  • In 2016, due to decent amount of rains, the reservoirs were filled to 85 % of the capacity. Poor planning has put Istanbul into one of the water scarce cities.
  • A study published in the journal Environment, Development and Sustainability in 2015 says by 2020, the demand-supply gap to reach 607 million cubic metres per year

Sao Paulo

One of the 10 largest metropolitan cities in the world, faces water crisis due to heavy dependence on surface water. The city depends on six reservoirs on the Tiete river and its tributary for water supply.

In 2015, the city faced worst water crisis over 80 years due to below average rainfall for 2 consecutive years.

Steps taken by authorities were

  • Introducing a water rationing system

  • Residents endured 12-hour water cutoffs daily

  • The licenses that authorise businesses, agricultural enterprises and private entities to draw directly from rivers, reservoirs and artesian wells were also suspended

Brazilian scientists, including its water utility officials, claimed that large-scale felling of rainforests in the Amazon basin was a major cause of the drought.

Analysts do not ignore the connection, but feel that diversification of water resources is needed and leakages are to be plugged. Sao Paulo loses almost 30 % of its treated supply due to leaks in the piping system

Is Assured Supply Enough?


  • Industrial and financial centre of Pakistan is the country’s most populous city. Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) barely meets 50 % of the city’s total requirement even as its population grows by 5 % per annum, according to Media reports.
  • 60 % of the households covered by KWSB network, receive water at a low pressure and for a few hours.
  • The 12 community points meant for informal settlements, cater to over 50 % of the city’s population, barely yield water and so people resort to tanker mafias. The worsening water crisis resulted in civil unrest in the city in June 2016.
  • 57 % of the households have proper sewerage systems. This means a large amount of raw sewage gets washed away into open drains, contaminating leaky pipes, shallow aquifers and the Lyari and Malir rivers that are the major water sources of the city.
  • A 2007 report by the Asian Development Bank reveals that Karachi dumps around 340 million cubic metres of wastewater into the Arabian Sea every day

Buenos Aires:

  • The capital city of Argentina, is crisscrossed by the La Plata river and dotted with waterbodies.
  • Unchecked expansion of industrial units, including tanneries, along its shores has made the river containing heavy metal-laced industrial waste.
  • Most waterbodies remains choked with waste because the capacity has a capacity of treating 5.3 % of untreated waste.
  • Since 1940, the city is dependent on ground water. But over the years effluents from industries and domestic sewage has contaminated the ground water.


  • Conflicts is the reason for people not able to access adequate potable water.
  • Bombings have destroyed a large section of supply networks and treatment facilities in this city, where only 20 % of the residents had access to treated water.
  • Internal strife has hit water availability in Kabul.
  • In several other cities, water has also resulted in more conflicts—both internal as well as trans-boundary.

Conflicts in the Making?

  • There are instances where farmers from surrounding rural districts of Chennai have been selling water meant for irrigation to the city to the detriment of neighbouring farmers.
  • Delhi is dependent on Haryana (60%) and Uttar Pradesh for its water needs. Last year it received less water from Haryana. The Delhi Jal Board says that if it continues then the city would face a major crisis.
  • A study by Nature Sustainability (on 482 world’s largest cities) say that such conflicts would become common as more than 27 % of cities across the world to have water demands that would exceed the surface-water availability.
  • Almost 19 %, dependent on surface water transfers, have a high potential for conflict between the urban and agricultural sectors. Policymakers should make agricultural practices efficient to reduce rural-urban conflicts.

Urban Deserts

  • An estimated 400 million people currently live in cities with perennial water shortage. The number is expected to go up to 1 billion by 2050 due to rising urban population and the impact of climate change.
  • About 54 % of the world live in urban areas and expected to grow between 60 and 92 % by the end of the century, resulting in 80 % increase in water demand in urban areas, says a study published in Nature.
  • A 2014 study published in Global Environmental Change say about 400 million urban dwellers currently face water shortage, This when the average global temperature has not risen by 1.5°C above pre-industrialisation levels.
Image of Urban Deserts

Image of Urban Deserts

Image of Urban Deserts

  • A study, published in Earth System Dynamics in November 2017, say that a 1.5°C rise in the average global temperature to expose 357 million urban dwellers to extreme droughts while the figure for a 2°C rise would be 696 million.
  • A draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) leaked this February warns that the average global temperature is set to rise by 1.5°C by the 2040s.
  • California, which faced the worst drought in its history between 2012 and 2017, is one glaring example of this trend. Since 2011, the state has received the lowest annual precipitation and highest annual temperature in its history.
  • In 2014, the government declared a drought emergency after the state received one of the lowest rainfalls in centuries. The following year, for the first time announced strict water restrictions after the snowpack on the Sierra Nevada mountain range reached the lowest point in 500 years.
  • US’ National Drought Mitigation Center said that over 91 % of the California state is suffering “abnormally dry” conditions, which means drought is likely to hit soon.
  • Australia is still struggling to emerge from the millennium drought that lasted from 1996 to 2010. The impact was more pronounced in cities, including Perth, Canberra, Adelaide, Hobart, Brisbane and Sydney.
  • Water reserves of Melbourne, for instance, fell from 97 % to 33 % in the same period.
  • Cities and Climate Change”, a 2011 report by UN-Human Settlements Programme, says
  1. The area under extreme drought conditions is likely to increase drastically in the coming decades.
  2. From less than 1 % of the total landmass at present, extreme drought could affect as much as 30 % of the land by 2100 due to changing precipitation patterns and increasing water demand
  • A 2015 study, published in the Global Environmental Change, says expanding drylands and increasing urbanisation could make nearly 0.5 million sq km of urban area drought-prone by 2030. This is nearly 300 % increase from drought-prone in 2000
  • The expansion is expected to be multifold in China, South Asia, North Africa, West Asia and North America
  • A study published in February 2018 in the Environmental Research Letters, warns that
  1. By the end of the century southern European cities, especially in Spain and Portugal, could face droughts 14 times as severe as those they experienced between 1951 and 2000.
  2. In Africa, one in three people live in drought-prone conditions
  • Unplanned urbanization has turned cities into settlements that trap heat due to widespread concretization. Trapped heat increases the rate of surface water evaporation, as a result increasing dependency on groundwater
  • ‘Urban Heat Island: Causes, Effects & Mitigating Strategies’, a study published in the Imperial Journal of Interdisciplinary Research in2017, says urban heat islands increase demand for water for cooling such as use of swimming pools and fountains or for watering plants.
  • The heat also degrades water quality in streams, rivers and lakes due to thermal pollution.
  • Scarcity amid plenty: Cities that are close to water resources or that receive excessive rain also facing water crisis.
  • In September 2013, Mexico City witnessed its worst-ever floods. Flood water levels reached 1.6 m above the ground, ravaging 3, 500 houses and submerging water-extraction wells.
  • The region reported a 300 % increase in intestinal infections and cholera because the flood had contaminated the city’s groundwater reserves.
  • Rising sea level, another impact of climate change, threatens the water security of some 360 million people in coastal cities like Kolkata, Shanghai, Dhaka and Jakarta because overextraction resulting in seawater intrusion.
  • In Dhaka, one of the most vulnerable cities to sea level rise, salt content in soil could decrease the yields of some rice crops by over 15 % by 2050, says a 2015 news release by World Bank.
  • The only way to reverse the trend is by ensuring that the average global temperature does not rise beyond 1.5°C

When Water is No Longer Limitless

  • Day Zeroes are inevitable unless cities innovate, diversify supply sources and emphasize on the judicious use of water.
  • Forecasts say urban water consumption is expected to increase by 80 % by 2050. Growing abuse will further leave the resource polluted and contaminated.
  • Governments and water agencies can turn to the ones who have quietly fought water stress through innovations and by integrating various urban water management strategies.
  • Australia, the island continent had introduced the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act of 2005. The law changed the water standard for washing machines, toilets, cooling towers, shower heads, taps as well as for industrial processes so that they do more with less.
  • Other measures taken by Australia to tackle the drought
  1. Introduced incentives to motivate people to recycle grey water and harvest rain water after the storage level of Lake Victoria got reduced to 26 % in 2009.
  2. Water for the Future initiative, under which generous rebates were given to those who installed rainwater harvesting systems or grey water recycling systems,
  3. Rallied community support for lowering household water demand
  • Californian water agencies are preparing a robust urban water management plan based on Australia’s experience to overcome the drought.
  • Partha Sarathi Datta, water and environment expert, former director of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in Delhi says that
  1. For a sustainable water supply, there should be good coordination among the city’s regulators, urban planners and hydrologists.
  2. Planners understand the growth of cities, population, water demand and infrastructure, while hydrologists have the knowledge to gauge changing rainfall pattern, surface and groundwater reserves and recharge potential of the city
  • Singapore with no water resources has been able to meet its ever-growing water demand by tapping multiple sources

Future Lies in Diversity

Surrounded by seawater, Singapore is almost half the size of Delhi. Clean water flows at the turn of almost every tap in the city-state.

This achievement has its genesis in the 1972 Water Master Plan, which outlined a diversified water resource portfolio to cover future water and development needs.

Four national taps which form a robust water supply system of Singapore are

  1. Rainwater: A network of canals and drains (8, 000 km) direct the harvested rainwater to reservoirs, where it is treated and made potable
  2. Imported water from Malaysia
  3. Recycled used water: The Public Utilities Board (PUB) supplies high quality treated wastewater, called NE Water, which meets 40 % of the water demand
  4. Desalinated water

To further strengthen its water security, the nation has improved water loss through leakages.

Measures taken by PUB to meet city’s water demand of 2060 are

  • Expanding the rainwater catchment area to 90%

  • Increase of recycled grey water to 55 %

  • Reducing per capita water consumption from 143 liters to 140 liters by 2030.

Innovations Lead the Way

  • In Lima, a city in Peru, with 98 % humidity, few scientists installed huge fog nets across its informal settlements in the early 2010s. The fog nets trapped humidity and converted it into water which flowed through a bio-filter, hung underneath the net, and then got collected in huge tanks, providing water for free to the residents.
  • Most coastal cities rely on desalination for freshwater, which is quite controversial. Some 70 % of desalination plants in the world are located in driest cities like Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Doha in West Asia.
  • The brine discharge from desalination could increase the total dissolved solids (TDS is a measure of water salinity) level of groundwater near sea, threatening fauna like turtles, shrimp and fish.
  • Another popular method to compensate for deficient rains is cloud seeding. The technology involves seeding clouds with aerosols like silver iodide, and thereby improving chances of rainfall.
  • UAE, Iran and Kuala Lumpur have been using this seven-decade-old technology to tide over water crisis, the success of the technology remains statistically unproven.
  • River inter-linking projects are expected by governments as solution for drought-stricken areas. India is all set to begin the project in interlinking the Ken with the Betwa in arid Bundelkhand region. China has already implemented a similar project. US $62 billion project to bring waters from its southern parts to quench the thirst of arid Beijing.
  • Urban areas would continue to expand. Global climatic changes would accelerate and worsen, especially if there is delay in transition to clean energy.

How Culture Shaped Evolution

  • Anthropologist Robert Boyd says that what made us the most successfully-adapted species is our culture. Culture makes us a different kind of animal

Taking on natural selection

  • Boyd argues against natural selection being responsible for human adaptation to various environments.
  • He believes that it is the “flexible adjustment of behaviour and morphology to the local environment during an animal’s lifetime” that makes us adapt to environments.
  • To prove his argument of culture over intelligence, he cites the example of Burke-Wills’ ill-fated expedition in Copper’s Creek, Australia, in 1860 - 61, when all but one member survived during that expedition. Yandruwandha community was able to thrive in an environment that starved and killed the European explorers. The Yandruwandha simply had a treasure trove of knowledge about the environment they lived in—knowledge that formed a part of their culture.
  • Boyd says that despite living in the same environmental settings, the groups show variations in their cultural norms. “The coastal Salish groups are more similar to the behaviours of distant inland Salish groups than they are to the behaviours of their Wakashan neighbours who share the same coastal habitat. The reason Salish groups share norms governing a host of behaviours is that they share a recent cultural ancestor from whom they inherited norms.
  • He says that creating the kind of technologies and tools that we have today is due to the collective work of cooperation and imitation which is unique to our species.
  • Cooperation takes many forms, which in turn help societies evolve different moral codes, ranging from marriage institutions to political systems. These codes govern the collapse or success of societies.
  • He proves the importance of cooperation by citing the example of Christianity prevailing over paganism in the Roman empire.
  • Imitation too has helped us become the most successful species on the planet—especially imitation of behaviours and norms of successful groups. Imitating a behaviour, helped people to adapt successfully to the local environment. For example:
  • Villages in Yasawa Islands in Fiji, consuming large predatory fish like shark and barracuda is prohibited for pregnant women. The women didn’t know the importance of the practice, but researchers have found that big predatory fish species have the highest concentration of ciguatera toxin that can cause poisoning.
  • Imitation too has its flip side, improper ideas and false beliefs could spread via blind imitation.

Boyd pointers

  • Imitation is observed in other species, like Chimpanzees but their level of “fidelity of transmission is low compared to that in humans”.

  • Other species have their limitations for the use of tools thereby making the probability of creating a cultural knowledge bank less likely.

  • The high levels of cooperation among humans are due to systems of teaching and the presence of spoken language that make it easier to cooperate and create cultural learning resources.

To sum up, Boyd says humans are a different kind of animal species because we have culture. “We can adapt to a very wide range of environments, and other animals can’t, because cultural evolution gives rise to the gradual accumulation of locally adaptive knowledge at a much faster rate than genetic evolution.

When Not to Patent

  • Inventions which were not patented are
  1. Tim Berners-Lee, the man who gave us the World Wide Web, the most significant innovation in the digital age because it has changed the way to access information
  2. Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the eponymously named rifle that’s better known as the AK-47
  3. Carlsson and Eric Jallen of the Hindustani Covenant Church founded by Swedish missionaries put together the hand pump at the Sholapur Well Service.
  • The basic design principles of the pump changed the face of rural water supply in India, and continues to be the basis of later pumps, like India Mark II hand pump.
  • The pivot geometry of the Sholapur Pump has remained unchanged and its many avatars are to be found in countries as far apart as Haiti and Somalia.
  • Sholapur Well Service turned down a proposal in 1974 to patent the design.
  • Carlsson died just over a year ago, in Kristianstad, Sweden, many Indians remembered his singular contribution in improving the lives of millions.
  • UN says almost one-fifth of the world’s population, live in water-stressed areas while another 500 million people are approaching this situation. Another 1.6 billion people, or almost one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage.
  • Solutions to water crisis need to span policy, technology and behaviour change to make a real difference.
  • A press release issued by Canadian firm Rainmaker Worldwide Inc. is an indication that commercial enterprises will only seek to maximise profits through patents. It said Rainmaker had acquired a patent for a technology “that dramatically improves the efficiency of harvesting water vapour from the air”.
  • Rainmaker Worldwide said it worked with Wetsus, a European Centre of Excellence for sustainable water technology, on research and development and got Wetsus to transfer the patent to it.
  • The patents adds to Rainmaker’s pile of patents on water-related technologies—from the use of heat pumps with variable power input to others using wind rather than motors to transport air through the system.

Extracts of the letter

  • Antibiotics are rampantly misused in India by the poultry industry to fatten chicken in less time and with less feed for commercial gains.
  • They are routinely given to all birds in the name of disease prevention, even in the absence of any clinical signs of disease. This is a well-known malpractice.
  • 2014 study of CSE, which the AIPDSPL has completely misrepresented, had found banned, critical and highly prescribed antibiotics being misused by the poultry industry.
  • A study done by CSE in 2017 proved that the misuse of antibiotics is turning poultry farms into breeding grounds of superbugs.
  • Tests conducted by CSL laboratory found that bacteria like E coli from the poultry farms were 100 % multidrug-resistant.
  • Companies like Venky’s have been indicted for selling Colistin to poultry farms. Colistin is a last resort antibiotic—when all antibiotics fail, it is used to treat life-threatening infections.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has put Colistin and few other antibiotics in the category of “critically important to humans”, so that they are restricted for use in animals.
  • The misuse of antibiotics in food and poultry industries is accelerating antibiotic resistance (ABR). Resistant bacteria from animals are now causing drug-resistant infections in humans.
  • ABR is now considered as one of the world’s biggest health threats.
  • All around the world, many common infections are becoming resistant to antibiotic medicines used to treat them, resulting in longer illnesses and more deaths.
  • India has one of the highest rates of ABR because of poor sanitary conditions coupled with the misuse of antibiotics.

Miscellaneous News

  • Meghalaya’s Khasis plant, the tuber sohphlang in the state’s hills is grown in February.
  • Lewis M Fulton, Co-director of STEPS program, University of California, Davis said: “India’s plan to go all-electric by 2030 is not impossible, but would require strong policies”.
  • The Karkoram glaciers are not being affected by climate change could be due to intensification of irrigation in the low lands.
  • 1.1 million or 70 % of king Penguin breeding pairs will abruptly relocate or disappear before 2010 due to changing climate and overfishing.
  • Exploitation in medicine’s name must be stopped: An analysis of bills from 4 reputed hopitals in delhi showed that they are making 1, 737 % profit on drugs, consumables, and diagnostics (which account to 46 % of bill).
  • In India, the public health sector lacks trained and adequate workforce, sufficient medicines, medical equipment and policy support, which are present in Private sector. The corporate hospitals mandate profits for shareholders and investors. India needs a healthcare policy consisting of medicine price control, implementation of Clinical Establishment Act, 2010 and patient friendly mechanisms for addressing their grievances.
  • States like Andhra Pradesh are following the policy of ” Reduce, Reuse recycle”. The government has initiated many rules like
  1. No food items to be packed in coloured plastic bags. The thickness of plastic carry bags shall not be less than 50 microns.
  2. Raise greenbelts and house hold gardens to increase the green cover

China, Spain, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan account for 85 % of commercial fishing, Beijing contributes to half of that.

Achievements of Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board

  1. A Grievance Redressal Centre for benefits of Public as well as Industrial units
  2. Online Grievance Redressal System which facilitates the public to fi le pollution related complaint through online system
  3. Green Awards are being distributed to Industries from 2012 onwards. Green awards are also being distributed to the District Collectors every year for contribution towards protection of environment in their districts
  4. Action was taken to revive the 754 textile dying units located in Tiruppur which were closed due to directions of the Hon’ble High Court of Madras
  5. TNPCB has taken effective initiation for the disposal of Effl uent Treatment Plant (ETP) sludge from Textile Dyeing units
  6. TNPCB has implemented Rs. 1.4 crores UNDP funded project for demonstrating and promoting best techniques and practices for reducing health care waste to avoid environmental releases of dioxin and mercury in 14 hospitals and one Common Bio-medical waste treatment facility.
  7. 5 Advance Environmental Laboratories have got NBAL accreditation.
  8. TNPCB has an active website where all new notifications, pollution prevention measure and important day to day activities
  • South Africa has been under drought conditions since 2014, or maybe even 2012. The country has seen drought episodes every 7 - 10 years for the past several decades.
  • Many parts of South Africa have already run out of water. Towns like KwaZulu-Natal introduced restrictions way back in 2014, much earlier than Cape Town, whose size and affluence helped it cope much better than other municipalities.
  • Agriculture and allied activities have been severely hit all South Africa, especially in the last three years. Most severe impact has been felt by those working on the farms as most farm workers in South Africa are landless and their employment is seasonal and insecure.
  • The drought in South Africa has also affected subsistence farmers and the dipping productivity has had an impact on food security in the country.
  • Global warming projections show at least a 2o C rise in South Africa in the coming decades, which means higher temperatures, lower rainfall and increased water stress. This would involve a change in cropping patterns, reliance on biotechnology and most importantly, a return to traditional dryland staples that used to be grown in these regions.
  • The dam on the Berg river in South Africa was built with the help of Cape Town authority, despite it being a national asset. The budget was readjusted to implement water augmentation schemes.
  • In case of Day Zero, water reticulation in formal residences to be shut off in Cape Town.
  • Day Zero implementations: 235 collection points (to be equipped with 70 - 600 taps) have been planned and a layout design is prepared. Water containers to be provided by the government through which water amount can be regulated.
  • On Day Zero, Cape Town plans to provide 100 litres for a family of 4, special provisions for larger family households.
  • In Cape Town, data shows consumption of 537 MLD, which is higher than the 516 - 520 MLD level that have been practising for some time now. If the consumption goes beyond 600 MLD, there is a risk of Day Zero being moved forward.
  • In cape-town, high-consumption households are installed with water demand management control devices. These help in regulating use and avoiding high consumption.
  • In 2011, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) released a report “Big cities, big water, big challenges”, which says a big No for the question “do the ones who receive assured water supply receive clean water? “
  • According to a study, by 2050, Los Angeles, Jaipur and Dar es Salaam are predicted to witness the greatest surface-water deficit. On an average, this would exceed 100 million cubic metre (m3) per year.
  • It is likely that by 2050, 36 % of the world’s cities will face water crisis.
  • Climate change and socio-economic factors like urbanisation will lead to an increasing urban groundwater footprint
  1. Extracts from interview with Blanca Jim Nez-Cisneros, director of the division of water sciences and secretary of International Hydrological Programme, UNESCO

  2. Countries which are not already water stressed at present, those located in arid and semi-arid zones; having high population density; and, nations in temperate regions where the per capita water consumption surpasses the local renewable water availability, are the most vulnerable ones.

  3. Promoting wastewater use, a key component of circular economy, would turn waste into a valuable source of water and contribute to sustainably closing the water cycle.

  4. Energy can be recovered in the wastewater treatment process and the sludge produced used as fertiliser post treatment.

  5. The main thing is to consider wastewater as water source.

  6. It is important that legislative and regulatory framework recognises and promotes multiple uses of wastewater according to demand.

  7. It should be clear to legislators that not all consumption demands the same quality of water.

  8. For recognizing wastewater as a resource, mainstream water education in the school curricula is to be prioritized and educate future generations to accept its use and reuse without any hesitation.

  9. Organising awareness programmes to target certain groups of users: farmers for sure as agriculture is a major consumer of water

  • Telangana state is taking up many strategies like Geo-referencing of Industries and many more to keep pollution under control. Few initiatives like townships and institutions to provide decentralized treatment system and recycle treated sewage for flushing toilets and gardening purposes are helping in reducing waste.
  • Bio-diversity Conservation by Srinivasan Services Trust, The Corporate social responsibility arm of TVS Motor Company had implemented many measures like soil and water conservation, sparrow conservation, converting fallow land to cultivable land, which yielded positive results.

- Published/Last Modified on: April 12, 2018


Monthy-updated, fully-solved, large current affairs-2018 question bank(more than 2000 problems): Quickly cover most-important current-affairs questions with pointwise explanations especially designed for IAS, CBSE-NET, Bank-PO and other competetive exams.