Worried waters

Original Article: Link

JAN 11 2016

Rukshana Rizwie

Well_image.jpg

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in an aquifer characterization study in Jaffna in 2013 cited that saltwater intrusion was on the incline due to a higher rate of groundwater extraction. “The resulting damage to the aquifer is very difficult to reverse, and any efforts to do so would take many years. Immediate action is necessary to ensure the sustainability of Jaffna’s groundwater resources for future generations,” the report denotes.

An exhaustive study, carried out by Sri Jayewardenepura University geography scholar Prof D. S. Epitawatte, quantifies the claims that residents have been making for years. Jaffna’s water sources are heavily polluted, unfit for human consumption and require immediate remedial action.

“When you study the intake and input of water, you will notice fast differences which lead to a significant impact on the availability and eventual scarcity of water sources. It has come to a point where rainfall can no longer provide the amount of water required,” he said. “This forces residents to rely on the groundwater which is heavily polluted with oil, sewage and agrochemical dumping.”

Water_from_well.jpg
Water from a well from Ezhalai in Jaffna

Professor Epitawatte, whose expertise is physical geography, has conducted the study based on the available variables of theory, maps, geological information and sea currents.

Deteriorating quality of water

“Most researchers will know that the water table in Jaffna is closed. There are no perennial rivers unlike the wet zones with a heavy reliance on water for domestic, industrial and agricultural use,” he said, adding that people and authorities have been informed of the deteriorating quality of water.

To the people of Jaffna, the ground-water in the limestone aquifer is their main source of water. Aquifers are naturally refilled by rainfall. However researchers like Prof. Epitawatte say that the refilling level in Jaffna is slowing down.

Jaffna is predominantly an agricultural area with a large commercial cultivation such as red onions, chilies, potatoes, tobacco, vegetables, bananas and grapes. Due to dependency on these cultivations, water is pumped out for agricultural needs while agro chemicals are retained in the soil. Prof Epitawatte fears that Jaffna’s limestone aquifer will become depleted leaving no fresh water on the peninsula.

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in an aquifer characterization study in Jaffna in 2013 cited that saltwater intrusion was on the incline due to a higher rate of groundwater extraction. “The resulting damage to the aquifer is very difficult to reverse, and any efforts to do so would take many years. Immediate action is necessary to ensure the sustainability of Jaffna’s groundwater resources for future generations,” the report denotes.

Climate change

According to Prof Epitawatte, since the 80s it has been reported that the nitrate concentration of water in the area is on the incline due to the use of fertilizers and that situation is no better today. “Despite the rhetoric on climate change in the international forum, there is little that the authorities are doing to resolve this brewing crisis.”

Carrot Farmer.jpg
Small-scale carrot farming in Jaffna

He also warned that climate change was already taking a toll on the peninsula but lamented that officials were hardly concerned.

“The elevation of land mass in Jaffna is at the range of 3-4 metres, hence the gradual yet eventual increase in sea level will certainly affect the lowlands,” he added.

Famer_near_well.jpg
Good groundwater management is key to Jaffna’s social and economic revival.

Water shortage has become an escalating problem globally because of the increasing demands from agriculture, expanding population, energy production and climate change.

 

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