It seems a back-of-envelope estimation that a good samaritan has tossed up on social media to shock us out of slumber. Unbelievable though it may read, Ludhiana city dwellers have been credited for wasting some 15 million litres of water daily; Amritsar and Bhatinda account for 2.5 million litres; and Patiala some 2 million litres. It may seem a fig of imagination to many but this verifiable piece of statistics may not be without a grain of truth after all.If half of some 3.2 lakh households in Ludhiana use a reverse osmosis (RO) water filter for drawing a minimum of 100 litres to meet the daily potable needs for a family of five, every household would be inadvertently discarding a minimum of 200-300 litres in the process. Add it for all the households flushing water through such filters, and the figure could be staggering. Reverse osmosis by design is a wasteful technology meant essentially for treating brackish water.
Even if the actual figures do not correspond to the piece of statistics on offer, the fact that an enormous amount of water gets wasted across cities in the country should be a matter of serious concern. Widespread distrust in quality of water supplied has led to the adoption of reverse osmosis water filters. However, with the best of brands reporting less than 50 per cent recovery, each litre of water secured through the system pushes anywhere between two to three litres down the drain.
Far from raising quality concerns of municipal supplied waters and consequent wastage through RO filters, celebrity endorsements with attractive offers have instead pepped up the water filter market. Such has been the impact that the water purifier market is growing at a cumulative annual growth rate of 15 per cent, expected to reach an impressive $4.1 billion by the end of 2024 as compared to $1.1 billion in 2015. The signs are ominous!
According to the report of the US-based Transparency Market Research, RO filters will continue to expand its share in the water purifier market which stood at 37 per cent in 2015. “The promise of offering exceptionally services to the end users and making pure water affordable are the two key strategies being adopted,” according to the report. For its quality reliability, a growing number of consumers are investing in RO and UV technology.
From domestic to commercial, RO systems have gained popularity across rural and semi-urban areas in the state. Hundreds of such commercial units are currently operating as Water ATMs in rural and semi-urban areas, owing to high salt concentration in surface and groundwater. In the absence of any directives on waste water disposal from ATMs, concentrated discard from RO plants is leading to further contamination of scarce surface water sources.
Without doubt, reverse osmosis water filters are engineering a silent water crises of unimaginable proportions. One possible way to check the unrestricted proliferation of reverse osmosis water filters is to let the composition and quality of water supplied by urban water utilities be made public, displayed online and shared through social media, In addition to enhancing public accountability, over time such a move will restore trust in the quality of municipal water supplies.
Perhaps more important is the need to regulate the water filter industry. It should be made mandatory for each brand to reflect its water recovery data, with clarity on what quality of input water would suit best the RO filter under reference. It will then be left for the consumer to take a call. If celebrity endorsements carry such a message loud and clear, a significant saving on water can be expected at the household level. Government need to get its act together!
(Sudhirendar Sharma is a Delhi-based independent researcher and writer on development issues.)