Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam: Former President of India
  Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam    
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09-12-2003 :  Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi


I am delighted to participate in the inauguration of the International Conference on Water Management organized in collaboration with the Ministry of Water Resources. I greet the organizers, participants and enlightened dignitaries for addressing this major issue in the International Fresh Water Year 2003. I was thinking what I can share with the delegates from India and abroad who have come to discuss the very important issue of water management particularly conservation, development and management of water resources, and also our concern for providing good quality potable water available to the world population. Therefore, my address will be on ?Water - our Mission?.

Global crisis of water

Today, with a global population of 6 billion only 3 billion have access to limited or perhaps the satisfactory supply of water. It is estimated that 33% of the world population has no access to sanitation and 17% has no access to safe water. But by 2025 the world population is going to rise to 8 billion but only one billion will have sufficient water. Two billion (25%) will have no access to safe water. Five billion (62%) will have no access to sanitation water. I hope we all have assembled in this conference to find solution for this global concern.


Possible solutions

Globally, there are a few solutions to solve water shortage. I would like to give certain suggestions relating to our country, it may be applicable to other countries also. The first solution is by redistribution of water. India has already started this by wide spread promotion of rain water harvesting in both rural and urban areas, but it has to done in mission mode as few states are already doing. NGO?s like Rotary international can contribute in this mission. In addition we need to put a stop to large scale wastage of water and promote water recycling on compulsory basis in urban and rural areas. It is essential to note that the mansoon rain we get only for three months in most of the places, whereas the consumption is for all 365 days using the ground water. The other major programme which is under the consideration of the Government of India is the interlinking of rivers. In this connection the Supreme Court has made a pioneering contribution.


Interlinking of rivers

Interlinking of rivers is essential for controlling floods and droughts, for making drinking water available to all regions, for transporting goods and navigation, for generating more cultivable land and generation of hydel power. This mission will also provide large scale employment opportunities through out the country. And above all the networking of rivers will lead to environmental upgradation and national connectivity.

Science and Technology can surely help in executing such missions. India has its own remote sensing satellites and their applications will help in large-scale survey from the source and river flow pattern at various seasons. Optimum water routes, mapping of the environmental profile can be evolved using virtual reality through satellite and aerial imageries. The two remote sensing satellites, which are to be launched soon namely CARTOSAT-I and CARTOSAT-II will give extensive mapping and infrastructure for executing the interlinking of rivers. The defence and nuclear technologies can be considered for the creation of series of canals and pumping stations in mountain areas. This mission will have to enlist all the connected departments of government, industries and research institutions.

The Task Force on interlinking of rivers set up by the government with Mr. Suresh Prabhu as the Chairman has made analysis of the requirements and the methodologies for undertaking this mission. The 14 Himalayan tributaries of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers in northern India can be linked with 17 southern rivers including Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, Cauvery and Vaigai. There are certain apprehensions by environmentalists that the large-scale diversion of water and disturbance to the terrain may endanger geological and ecological balance. It is therefore essential to find solution to their concern and build it as a part of the mission of interlinking of rivers. For example, the afforestation area could be increased 10 to 15 percent from the present forest area and also designing the river flow management. Therefore the comprehensive mission once evolved, debated and approved by the government will have to be taken up with funding pooled from the allocations from the various departments and closely monitored, as it will have impact in every field of development programmes of many ministries of state and central governments.


Sea water desalination

Fortunately, we have a resource of 97% of water in the form of oceans and seas. Therefore, second solution would be to create new perennial sources of fresh water by seawater desalination. There are many desalination plants already established.

Global status: World over there are more than 7,500 desalination plants in operation. 60% of them are located in the Middle Eastern countries for the reasons of desert conditions. Fortunately, these nations have the energy potential of gas and oil from fossil materials to power the desalination process. The pattern of the seasonal change and water scarcity necessitate the consideration of desalination of sea water as one of the possible options by many countries. Of course, the cost of drinking water in this process has to be made affordable through technological innovations.

Every year in our country, the drought or flood conditions are experienced damaging the habitat and loss of life. We resort to partial solutions with large amount of expenditure. Presently in India there is certain water management for irrigation purposes which has lead to sufficient food production. The demand for food may get doubled in two decades. Therefore the planning of water through desalination process, interlinking of rivers have to be integrated in the development of additional water resources for irrigation.


Research on desalination technology

India attaches importance to research and technological solution for various desalination processes. Fortunately Department of Atomic Energy, DRDO, CSIR and academic institutions are working in different processes for desalination whereas we should recognise that there are already operational plants elsewhere in the world. It is essential for our country to take up in project mode, the production plants using already available reverse osmosis process linked to powering by the solar energy. This even can be a multi-national programme for India.


Desalination process

Recently I visited the Umm Al Nar desalination plant in Abu Dhabi, which produces nearly 500 million litres of fresh water per day using the MSF (Multi Stage Flash) process. This one plant has totally transformed the ecology of the desert, and is an example of how large scale water supplies may be obtained from the oceans. In this process the sea water has to be flashed into steam by heat addition at low pressure. When the steam is condensed to produce fresh water, part of the energy is used to run steam turbines to produce electricity to feed back to the grid. However, even with this energy recovery, no major breakthrough in technology has acquired since then to reduce the specific desalination energy to values below 10-15 units per cubic meter of fresh water. The gulf region produces aggregated quantity of 4 billion liters of fresh water consuming 1.5 giga watts of electricity burning enormous amounts oil and gas in the process. This process may be the cost effective solution for gulf region due to abundant availability of gas and oil for few decades to come. But other regions like India need new processes and new solution like use reverse osmosis using solar energy.


Use of solar energy

I understand that laboratory experiments are under way in UK, Israel, Japan and Spain for the solar powered desalination plants. Small plants up to 5 cubic meters per day have been built. These experiments have established that the use of solar powered reverse osmosis process for generating drinking water is viable and more economical.

I understand that the reverse osmosis process needs specific desalination energy less than 5 units per cubic meter, which is almost one third of multi stage flash distillation. The major advantage of this process is cost effectiveness and reduced pollution. With the increased efficiency of the solar cells, as visualized, by gallium arsenide technologies reduces the cost. MEMS and Nano technologies are also emerging as solution to improve the efficiency to more than 25 to 30% for the solar cells. One of the studies in India indicates that one kilo watt hour of solar electricity can produce about 200 litres of fresh water.

India and several tropical countries are blessed with availability of larger suitable area and availability of sun for more time in a day. We could go for large scale solar farms of 800 to 1000 Mega watt capacity and use this energy in the grid and also it is available for the desalination process at the coastal regions.


Solar power satellite

Another possible option is the use of space based solar power stations. The solar power satellite placed in geo-stationary orbit, which would all the time transmit the solar radiation in the form of microwave energy, which can be collected by the fixed remote stations and converted into electrical energy. Thus, electrical power will be continuously available for helping the reverse osmosis process to generate large-scale drinking water supplies. This enables not only solving the drinking water problem; it also solves the energy crisis which the world will have to face in the coming years. The study indicates that the space based solar power stations have nearly 10 times greater capital utilization than equivalent sized ground solar stations and in the overall economic analysis it will be the best solution.


Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas (PURA)

India has decided to launch Providing Urban amenities in Rural Areas (PURA). It envisages the three connectivities physical, electronic and knowledge connectivity leading to economic connectivity. It is strategically important to introduce micro desalination plant wherever possible in the PURA schemes. This will also reduce the pressure in the urban areas.


Weather management

India and other tropical countries in the region largely depend on monsoon for cultivation and for drinking water. While there are several schemes of water management being worked out in many countries including India, we have to find a solution to the failure of monsoon. Networking of rivers leading to water availability to the most of the parts of country coupled with forest area increase, the seasonal rain pattern may give certain benefits. Scientific research is essential to find newer solutions to combat the seasonal monsoon fluctuations.




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