[Answered] Efficient and sustainable treatment of wastewater can provide enormous economic returns and other environmental benefits. Comment.

Demand of the question Introduction. Contextual introduction. Body. Discuss the need for efficient wastewater treatment. Mention potential economic and environmental benefits of treating wastewater. Conclusion. Way forward.

India is facing a developing situation of water crisis. Continued population growth and urbanisation, rapid industrialisation are all putting pressure on water resources and increasing the unregulated or illegal discharge of contaminated water. This presents a threat to the health and wellbeing of Indian citizens. There are many causes driving this crisis, but it is clear that freshwater and coastal ecosystems across the globe are increasingly threatened. It is clear that future demands for water cannot be met unless wastewater management is revolutionised.

Potential economic and environmental benefits of treating wastewater:

  1. Economic Benefits:
  2. Business application: Wastewater can be used within the business itself or between several businesses through industrial linkages. Industrial water consumption is responsible for 22% of global water use. It is expected that in rapidly industrialising countries, this proportion could increase by a factor of five in the next 10-20 years. Therefore, there is a strong incentive to use wastewater in-house and locally, based on cost savings alone.
  3. Employment: Treated wastewater would generate jobs in the recycling industry. With about 7.5% unemployment rate, Wastewater treatment can generate some jobs giving employment to many.
  4. Tourism: India is focusing on cleanliness and Swachh Bharat. Wastewater treatment means cleaning rivers, lakes and drains. This would help in making cities cleaner and thus would boost the tourism sector, creating more jobs.
  5. Energy resource: According to recent study by the United Nations’ Institute for Water Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), the world generates about 380 trillion litres of wastewater every year which stores vast amounts of energy and nutrients for fertilisers. The primary source of energy i.e. organic matter can be converted into methane-rich biogas. Energy recovered from such wastewater in the form of methane can generate electricity for up to 158 million households.

B. Environmental Benefits:

  1. Agricultural nutrients: Wastewater has high nutrient content. If applied safely, wastewater is a valuable source of both water and nutrients, contributing to water and food security and livelihood improvements. In principle, nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium recovered from wastewater produced annually can offset 13.4% of global demand to produce fertilisers. Improved wastewater management can improve the health of farmers by reducing the risk of pathogen exposure. 
  2. Irrigation:Usable water reclaimed from wastewater can irrigate up to 31 million hectares (mha) of land, a UN the study claimed. With agriculture in India being monsoon dependent irrigation is a big issue. Wastewater can provide nutrient rich water to the fields.
  3. Ecosystem health: Wastewater treatment leads to removal of toxins from water and allows better water bodies, in which aquatic ecosystems thrive.
  4. Reduce global warming: Wastewater treatment leads to lesser carbon emissions and thus reduces climate change and global warming.

Issues in wastewater treatment:

  1. Inadequate staff: Operators of wastewater treatment facilities must be adequately trained and certified individuals. Due to lack of trained staff wastewater treatment face major hurdles in most of the Indian cities.
  2. Lack of funds: Municipalities in major cities have no fund to incest in wastewater treatment. They fail to raise funds through taxation and do not generally invest in wastewater treatment. Further corruption leads to major fund mismanagement.
  3. Sludge Disposal: Sludge is the residue generated during physical, chemical and biological treatment. A major environmental challenge for wastewater treatment is the disposal of excess sludge produced during the process.

Way forward:

  1. Legal framework: There is an urgent need for effective legal and policy framework for improved management of wastewater treatment.
  2. Funding: Municipalities must be motivated to raise funds through taxation. A check on corruption is must with stringent regulations.
  3. Hybrid approach: What is suitable in Indian context is to adopt a hybrid approach of centralized as well as decentralized planning to bridge the gap in wastewater treatment and abate the water scarcity and rising levels of water pollution.

Municipal wastewater was and still is seen as filth. However, there is a need to change the attitude by recognising the enormous potential economic returns and other environmental benefits from wastewater streams. Treating wastewater efficiently can go a long way in achieving the UN-mandated sustainable development goals (SDG). Indeed, reused wastewater may help address other challenges including food production and industrial development. Wastewater is now seen as a potential resource and its use, or recycling after suitable treatment, can provide economic and financial benefits.

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