India, a land of faith, festivals, and factories, has over 350 polluted rivers. According to claims from Toxic Link, a Delhi-based non-profit, the most-polluted one, the Ganges, has microplastic concentration levels higher than any other major river worldwide.
The fecal bacteria levels in the Ganges touch 31 million per 100 milliliters in the plains, reported Sankat Mochan Foundation, an NGO dedicated to its restoration.
The aftermath of grand events, like Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga Puja, and Dussehra, is a big contributing factor with a large number of idols and waste packed in plastic bags being dumped in the river during these celebrations.
In addition to this chain of festivals from August to October contributing to river pollution in India, there are several other reasons causing worldwide freshwater pollution.
Contributing factors include:
- More than 80% of the world’s sewage finds its way to the seas and rivers untreated
- Chemical dumping from factories, agriculture, and livestock farming adds to the eutrophication, or excessive enrichment of nutrients in water, which causes the explosive and devastating growth of algae
- CO2 emissions raising global temperatures heat up the water and reduce its oxygen content
- Deforestation exhausts water resources and spikes harmful bacterial growth
- Fuel spillage during transportation and storage of oil pollute the water
The pressure is rising on the world’s limited supply of freshwater with the global population set to hit 8.5 billion by 2030. At this point, the global demand for water will exceed sustainable supply by 40%.
“Today, freshwater resources globally are extremely burdened and every fifth child on this planet faces water scarcity,” said Roshni Nadar Malhotra, Chairperson at HCLTech.
In May 2022, HCLTech announced a partnership with UpLink with a $15 million investment over five years to drive a freshwater conservation and management agenda.
“At HCL, we want to make every effort to help resolve this global freshwater crisis. Our partnership with World Economic Forum’s UpLink platform is a step in this direction and our ecosystem approach can be truly transformative. Together, we will not just encourage and scale innovations in this critical area, but also help build capacity amongst water-focused entrepreneurs – Aquapreneurs – to execute innovative solutions. Through the Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative, we are re-committing to accelerate multi-stakeholder collaboration and innovation in the global freshwater conservation space,” the Chairperson added.
In May 2019, the HCL Foundation also signed an MoU with National Mission for Clean Ganga and Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage to ramp up afforestation. The green initiative included the plantation of 10,000 saplings of native tree species in five years.
Organizations including Pacific Institute, World Water Council, Project WET, Clean Water Action, Water Aid, Water.org, Columbia Water Center, and Charity: Water are some names already dedicated to the global freshwater conservation mission.
Startups are also developing innovations in sustainable ways using technology. Examples of the leading names include:
- ConstellR’s satellite records the heat from fields using infrared technology and helps plan irrigation in a targeted manner
- AgroBiogel claims approximately 40% of water can be saved with its gel technology. The gel — based on wood that comes from the paper industry — first absorbs water and then releases it continuously over a long time
- Helioz’s WADI is a solar-powered UV-measurement device, which uses UV radiation from sunlight to naturally purify water
- Alchemia-nova’s vertECO technology is using dirty water on different types of vertically arranged plants that gets purified by microbial activity in the roots. The water can be used for washing or watering
- Imhotep.Industries’ upcoming ‘water generator’ will filter water out of the air and produce up to 10,000 liters of drinking water daily
- HypoWave has developed a cultivation method in which vegetables farming is done with recycled water
Drone technology is also reviving freshwater bodies
Besides traditional and innovative initiatives, which include development of sewage treatment plants, wireless sensor networks, and installation of CCTVs, the rise in drone usage is also helping reduce pollution levels in freshwater.
In India’s state of Uttar Pradesh, the city of Varanasi has deployed these drones to share real-time footage with officials monitoring the Ganges to measure, track, and remediate pollution levels.
There are many other examples of drones in action, including:
- In the US, environmentalist Brent Walls uses drones to build legal cases against polluters through the US Clean Water Act.
- In Southwest England’s North Devon Coast, autonomous drone WasteShark scoops up over 1,000 pounds of waste before being swept away by the sea.
- MantaDroid, a manta ray robot designed by National University of Singapore, is used for surveillance, study biodiversity, measure hydrographic data, and perform underwater search operations.