Search This Blog

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cleaning Punjab's Polluted Waters

Over the recent past, I have been reading news-reports of the people of Punjab suffering from the ill-effects of drinking polluted water. This has not only been on account of untreated industrial effluents, but also due to unprecedented amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilisers being used and ultimately seeping down into the ground water, which is a major source of drinking water in the rural areas.

Over the long term, obviously, the solution lies in getting the industrialists to set up treatment plants, so that untreated effluents do not reach drinking water sources. Additionally, chemical pesticides and fertilisers have to be gradually replaced with biotic ones.

The problem is very real, however, and requires to be dealt with in the immediate future. After all, it is now that the people who drink the water are afflicted with all sorts of diseases and genetic malformations.

Facilities like water-works are not available in the villages and are unlikely to become available over the short- to medium-term. Therefore, it is imperative that cost-effective means for purification of water by the villagers themselves be made available.

Since the impurities are well-dissolved, processes like sedimentation, decantation and filtration are, obviously, not likely to be of much help, as these are meant for removing suspended impurities only. Reverse osmosis is not only somewhat expensive and, therefore, not accessible to every one, but may also not act effectively enough on impurities originating from insecticides, even as it can remove residues of metals like lead (Pb) and mercury (Hg). An advertisement for a leading brand that I perused, stated that the product on offer 'reduces' and does not remove completely, the impurities related to insecticides. Considering the fact that such content can be quite high in the ground-water in Punjab's rural areas, the quantities that remain even after passing it through a reverse osmosis plant may still be too high for it to be safe for drinking.

Therefore, to my mind, the best alternative that remains is fractional distillation. It is important, however, that the apparatus that is made available is portable so that the villagers can use it conveniently and is made of locally available material, as far as possible, so that it can be cost-effective. Also, it should be workable with locally available fuels derived from crop waste or animal waste.

In terms of inexpensive technology, inputs may be taken from the locally developed process for the distillation of country-made liquor. That could, I am sure, serve as a starting point, at the very least.

I fervently hope that the relevant government departments or some non-governmental organisations or local entrepreneurs or corporate philanthropists can step up to the challenge at the earliest possible.


Sidhusaaheb said...

An interesting side bar was the use of DDT in the United States. The use of this chemical led to the near extinction of california grey pelicans and peregrine falcons. In trying to locate how the DDT was entering the life cycle of these birds, tracer chemicals where added to the DDT. Nothing was showing up in samples collected in the San Fancisco Bay. Finally, tracer chemicals were added to the DDT as it was made in the plant. The DDT appeared in Los Angeles Bay. The chemical plant was rinsing out their tanks into the los angeles sewage system.
The 1/2 life of DDT is 2-15 years. Growing up on the california coast in the early 1970’s I used to see small flocks of grey pelicans (1-3), much smaller than the flocks of 9-15 I had seen in the early 60’s. Recently I had the pleasure to see a flock of over 140 pelican’s at Devereux point in Santa Barbara and regulary see flocks of pelicans in the 9 to 15 range go flying by.
The points being, policy changes need to be made at government level, often simple neglect is the biggest factor, after these changes are made we can see dramatic improvement (E.G. air pollution in New Delhi).
siri atma | 02.20.08 – 3:07 am | #


its just so sad to know…
the very basic life-sustaining commodity reaching people in a polluted, poisoned form… unfair,unfair!
mayG | Homepage | 02.20.08 – 7:35 am | #


what a shame.. good that you raised this issue here..maybe you should get the Indian and Punjabi bloggers to write more about this and collate a set of solutions for all stakeholders to implement…

this concerns our future generations and their sustenance…

cheers, Raza
Raza Rumi | Homepage | 02.21.08 – 6:27 pm | #


That reminds me of Erin Brockovich and the fact is that it was based on a true story….I wish somebody could stand up to these industrialists….selfihs industrialists with no quality standards….
UTP | Homepage | 02.21.08 – 6:28 pm | #


@Siri Atma: As I have outlined in the blog-post, policy changes by the government are required and should be along the lines of ensuring treatment of industrial effluents and replacement of chemical fertilisers and pesticides with biotic ones.

These would, however, even when these are applied, begin to take effect only over the long term.

A pertinent question that requires to be tackled here, therefore, concerns the adverse effects that the polluted water is likely to have until then and finding ways of protecting people against those.

A simple yet effective solution is in order and I’ve tried to make some humble suggestions here.

@MayG: Greed can cause people to endanger not only their own health, but those of the future generations as well.

@Raza: Now that is an idea…

@UTP: I agree that it should not be left to the government alone and ordinary citizens should also come forward to get the industrialists to set things right.

However, as Michael Jackson sang, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror…I’m asking you to change his ways…”, farmers have to start with using no more fertiliser and insecticide than necessary, besides looking for ‘greener’ alternatives.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 02.21.08 – 9:05 pm | #

Sidhusaaheb said...

now here’s a cause worth espousing, and which you have articulated well… despite your interesting freudian slip (“untreated industrial affluents”) (i could name a few industrial affluents i’d like to “treat”) (preferably with the aid of reconditioned inquisitional aids of the latin kind).
[smiles smugly at his own sententious smart-aleckness]

one of the problems related to industrial development is the environmental fallout of “growth.” for all my displaced [sic] idealism, i’m beginning to comprehend (if not quite accept) the unspoken worldwide philosophy that, however much the world progresses there will always be have-nots, and that the fruits of progress are essentially reserved for the haves. this is as true in india and pakistan as it is anywhere else in the over- or under-developed world.

this was brought home to me yesterday as i read an article by mahir ali ( on the “aboriginal” issue in australia. the world looks on in wonder at that antipodean marvel of socio-economic progress. yet its indigenous populace has been kept hidden behind a veil and ignored by one and all. we all choose to ignore that side of the coin, as we do the native american issue and, no doubt, countless similar cases in our own backyard and beyond.

the acker-gnomic mirror-calla of my own domicile is a case in point. everyone’s looking up in awe at the rash of skyscraping glass and concrete marvels, getting delicious cricks in the neck in the process. who cares about the bonded labour slaving away, like malnourished worker ants, to build those phallic testaments to man’s ever-growing engineering prowess. but hey, in the words of profound arbiters of morality out here… they earn more than they would back home!
such logic is so hard to refute.
kinkminos | Homepage | 02.24.08 – 6:39 am | #


Oops…That was quite a slip indeed! Thanks for pointing it out! I’ve made the necessary corrections.

I do agree that the ‘industrial affluents’ require to be treated as well as the effluents. :D

BTW, in this case, the farmers themselves are partly to blame for the situation. They have often been using excessive amounts of chemicals.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 02.24.08 – 7:47 am | #

Sidhusaaheb said...

The whole reason of my starting a blog was “Water Quality: in India (especially Punjab). I read on a few blogs where people who have visited India from USA, Canada, UK etc. and how they were crying about getting sick in India. This prompted me to do research and publish the information that I found online. You may be interested in reading what I found. While I do not deny that there is a water quality problem in India, but at the same time I find it real stupid that these people who visit India, inspite of being cautioned by so many on water issue, still eat/drink at places where they are bound to get sick.

Work in Progress Water Issues Dec 2005
Sifar | Homepage | 03.06.08 – 9:48 pm | #