Article | October 01, 2013, 11.23 AM IST

Why should we reuse wastewater

Urban population in India has jumped from 25.8 million in 1901 to an estimated 387 million in 2011. As a result, cities and towns are increasingly facing two major problems – water shortage and sewage overload.

Freshwater demands of India’s burgeoning population can only be met if municipal wastewater is treated effectively.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the estimated wastewater generation in 498 Class I cities and 410 Class II towns is nearly 38,000 million litres per day (MLD). However, there is treatment capacity of only 12,000 MLD, which is just 31% of what is generated. It is crucial for us to bridge this gap between wastewater generation and treatment if we are to reduce dependence on freshwater.

Municipal corporations are unable to treat the large amount of sewage that enters water bodies. When contaminated water enters the human chain, it causes health complications and in some cases, even fatalities.

Urban Wastewater Management

Even as more and more Indians migrate to cities in search of a better life, it cannot be denied that a lot needs to be done in terms of urban infrastructure. It is estimated that by 2050, more than 50% of the country’s population will live in cities and towns. While it is essential to meet the water demands of a growing population, it is even more important to manage wastewater effectively.

According to the 2011 census, only 32.7% urban Indians are connected to a sewer system and that 12.6% of urban residents still defecate in the open. This shows that even as cities continue to expand, they still lack the infrastructure to handle sewage effectively. Unauthorized constructions and slums only add to the basic problem. Untreated sewage then finds its way to water bodies that in turn may serve as sources of municipal water. Hence, it is necessary to treat sewage properly if water pollution is to be reduced.

CPCB studies show that there are 269 sewage treatment plants (STPs) in India, of which only 231 are operational and the existing treatment capacity is just a fraction of the wastewater that is generated. The fallout of this mismanagement is water pollution and the spread of water-borne diseases. 

Water-borne Diseases – A Serious Threat

It is reported that in India, over 1 lakh people die annually due to water-borne diseases. Still worse, a recent audit has revealed that water-borne ailments like cholera, jaundice, diarrhea and typhoid account for 77% of all diseases in India.

Water contamination is so big a scourge that it affects nearly 70% households in India. Lack of appropriate sanitation facilities is one of the biggest reasons of water pollution. Untreated waste from homes enters water bodies, leading to the spread of ailments.

Diarrhea, one of the worst water-borne diseases, is the biggest killer of children. According to World Health Organization estimates, nearly 98,000 children in India succumb to diarrhea every year. If we are to correct this statistic, then urban planning must place a premium on sewage treatment.

Reduce Dependency on Freshwater

The only way to tackle rising water scarcity and curb the outbreak of water-borne diseases is to treat sewage water. Sewage water can be effectively treated and safely used in many non-potable applications like irrigation, HVAC applications, flushing and washing. Up to 40% of water required for daily needs in urban areas can be safely substituted by treating sewage water. Large campuses, residential complexes, etc. have started setting examples of reusing treated sewage within their premises.

CPCB states that water in more than half of India’s 445 rivers is unfit for drinking. Treating wastewater will ensure that sewage does not enter water bodies and contaminate them.

Managing water resources effectively is an important indicator of any country’s progress. If India is to fare well on this index, the key is to treat wastewater for reuse and reduce dependency on freshwater.


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