The Pearl Protectors Co-ordinator Muditha Katuwawala: Valuing water on World Water Day

There’s nothing more essential to life on Earth than water. With global warming becoming a huge threat and the Earth slowly dying, the question of accessible water makes itself known. Today, water is under extreme threat from a growing population, increasing demands of agriculture and industry, and the worsening impacts of climate change.

With today being World Water Day, it is important to address the problem surrounding clean water.

In Sri Lanka, only 57.7% of the population has access to pipe borne water. Although the remaining population has access to basic water through self-sufficient methods such as protected dug wells, rainwater harvesting systems, and nearby public point sources, access to safe water continues to be a critical issue.

We at Brunch spoke to The Pearl Protectors Co-ordinator Muditha Katuwawala about three concerning issues surrounding this topic.


Pearl Protectors Co-ordinator Muditha Katuwawala

Water pollution

The majority of the Earth is covered in water, and when it comes to the oceans, there is a major threat from plastic pollution and waste pollution. Katuwawala said that plastic pollution is something we can work on by reducing the usage of plastic.

Humans aren’t the only creatures that rely on water to survive. He explained that there is a lot of ocean acidification happening. “When the ocean absorbs a lot of heat, it makes it impossible for marine life to thrive in water and also leads to other problems like coral bleaching.”


Women and children lacking clean water

Women and children are the worst affected – children because they are more vulnerable to contaminated waterborne diseases, and women and girls because they often bear the burden of carrying water for their families. It is a fact that women and girls spend an estimated 200 million hours hauling water every day.

This daily grind saps their energy for other activities and robs them of the opportunity to spend this time with their family, or pursue school and income-related activities to improve their lives. Katuwawala stated that this is a huge issue, both in the world and in our country, which needs to be addressed urgently.

Girls who attend school until adolescence are more likely to drop out when they start menstruating, unless their schools have clean water, latrines, sanitary supplies, and hygiene training. Helping young women to manage menstrual health is not just about providing appropriate facilities, but also includes addressing social norms, making the topic of menstruation less taboo and viewed more as a natural part of life.

At childbirth, the lack of sanitation, clean water, and proper hygiene contribute to high rates of disease and death among mothers and newborns in the developing world.


Water infrastructure is in a state of disrepair

Keeping aside the depletion of it, water also needs to be transported, treated, and discharged. Around the world, water infrastructure – treatment plants, pipes, and sewer systems – is in a state of disrepair. In many parts of the world, gallons of treated water are lost per day from leaky pipes alone. Built infrastructure is notoriously expensive to install and repair, meaning that many localities ignore growing infrastructure issues until disaster strikes, which again contributes to the depletion of water.

Sri Lanka has a colonial past and most of our infrastructure came from that time period, Katuwawala stated. Ancient villages were designed around water sources for their sustenance, while kings developed cascade systems to enhance the long-term development of the surrounding natural resources on which the communities and their livelihoods depended.

Katuwawala commented that if you look at our canals now, they are extremely polluted because we don’t have a filtration system, and this polluted water spreads into the oceans, again polluting a large body of water. “We need to work on new technologies that will clean and purify the water and make it more habitable for crustaceans to live in before it seeps into the oceans.”

A factor that is essential to clean water is a healthy ecosystem. They are the Earth’s natural infrastructure and are vital to clean, plentiful water. They filter pollutants, buffer against floods and storms, and regulate water supply. Plants and trees are also incredibly essential for replenishing groundwater; without them, rainfall will slide across dry land, instead of seeping into the soil. Loss of vegetation from deforestation, overgrazing, and urbanisation are further limiting our natural infrastructure and the benefits it provides. Forested watersheds around the world are under threat, especially with the ecocides being committed in Sri Lanka and around the world.


Water is wasted

The lack of education in society has contributed to the idea that water is a never-ending resource. This thought process leads to a lot of water being wasted – people don’t think to do something as simple as turning off a tap when not in use, gardening responsibly, or fixing leaks, even though that could help greatly with conserving water on the long run. Inefficient practices like flood irrigation and water-intensive wet cooling at thermal power plants use more water than necessary.

“We at The Pearl Protectors do a simple activity where we ask people how long it will take them to have a bath – it varies from five to 15 minutes. Then we ask them to keep a bucket under the water and see how many buckets of water they are wasting.”

Although water is considered to be a renewable resource, he added that we pollute our available water at an alarming rate, and we also fail to treat it. About 80% of the world’s wastewater is discharged back into nature without further treatment or reuse. In many countries, it’s cheaper to receive clean drinking water than to treat and dispose of wastewater, which encourages water waste.

He concluded by urging people to be more conscious of their water usage, and also to live a more sustainable lifestyle as every little thing you do counts.