Water issues

“Each day, 783 million people do not have access to clean water “

“One in Nine people do not have access to clean drinking water “

The water Project, March 13, 2013.

The facts above are just the start of a series of other water issues that have come into being with urbanization, economic, political and social changes and development.

Water, being one of the major reasons for the existence of life form on earth has been ignored and in fact impaired to a large extent, with urbanization overtaking it. Natural water systems and cycles have been almost irreplaceably changed and damaged. The idea of storm water run-off into the rivers and seas and the storm water system being connected to the sewage outflow are probably one of the worst design ideas implemented in cities. They not only spoil the water quality of a naturally pure water bodies but also cause flooding due to over flow of rivers and other water bodies that they flow into.

Apart from the storm water systems that collect and transfer water directly to the water bodies, the other serious impact of urbanization was creation of large amounts of impervious surfaces. This has had serious implications not just on the water crisis but also on creation of urban heat islands across most urban centers in the world.

Water was never an issue until man interfered. The impacts however are something that he cannot take the brunt off; their magnitude is enough for him to understand what went wrong. But even with multiple water issues across the world, nothing much is being done to prevent or protect future life sustenance. In other words, the rate of realization of the situation and the scale of implementation are drastically contrasting to the required levels.

Problems such as, less or no access to clean water , flash floods and flooding , improper treatment of waste water and sewage , increase in run-off due to impervious surfaces , disposal system designs ( storm water and sewage) , and improper management of water resources , have been shaping the water scenario across the world, they have come to the status of a crisis with most of the world population starting to feel the intensity of this problem. When there is a flood in part of the world there is a drought elsewhere, this is the scenario.

As a resident in the United States , it was shocking to know that the water we get in our homes is treated sewage and other water from states that are geographically north of the our location. This leads to a serious of doubts regarding the quality of the water and the health conditions of the people who use it, in such a developed country. Then what is the case of developing countries ?

Considering all the above ,only in the recent times , efforts and research are under progress to evolve new systems and designs for better use , reuse and management of water and to resolve the current water crisis scenario. Some of the systems include improved pavement options – (porous concrete, permeable interlocking pavement, grid systems and porous asphalt) , other systems include landscape as a design element  for the inclusion of bio swales , green roofs , blue roofs . Other technical systems also include bio retention through wetlands and rain gardens, which aesthetically pleasing too. There are multiple other systems that are being experimented with to solve various water issues.

One of the most practical solution that I have encountered is rain water harvesting , that was made compulsory to any new construction and to be added to older construction , in Chennai , India , by the local government during its rule in 2010.This system is still functioning extremely well and has received national level appreciation. Simple steps can help to spread awareness of the situation.

Also the modern technologies have played a major role in the betterment of the water crisis situation, technology has helped to understand this in a much better way, and Assistant Professor Dana Cupkova’s presentation during the urban ecology class for the master of urban design studio ,CMU ,  was exemplary of this. It was interesting to learn about various new and innovative design processes and soft wares that help in energy and water analysis and management systems. It was very interesting to note how facades of buildings with a series of structures can help in energy derivation.

Innovation, technology and implementation are the main factors to resolve water issues across the world while specific to a place and in consideration of the total environment.


  • Based on lectures by Nizar Eldahar, PhD, Carnegie Mellon University;
  • Dana Cupkova, Assistant Professor, CMU and Design Principle, Epiphyte Lab

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