The first thing that might come to your mind when asked to think about water in India might be “monsoon,” the drenching season of downpours that is currently plaguing the country with devastating floods.
But India’s bigger problem with water is a deficit, not a surplus. According to UNICEF, the country is home to 16 percent of the world’s population and only 4 percent of its water resources. Demand is already outstripping supply, and surface water sources are being continually degraded from many different sources of pollution.
That leaves the nation’s groundwater supply to shoulder a heavy burden for a thirsty populace. While these underground sources are considerably cleaner than water that flows on the surface, they also contain significant amounts of dissolved salts that make them brackish. A recent report in the Journal Desalination claims that 60 percent of India’s land area sits atop such brackish waters.
These saline impurities leave the water less salty than the sea, but relying on it as a source of drinking water can still lead to long-term health impacts. Salty groundwater also doesn’t taste very good, pushing people to look for other sources that might actually be more harmful. What’s more, reverse-osmosis plants, the typical infrastructure used to purify saline water to make it fit for drinking, need a connection to the electric grid for power. Many parts of rural India lack such a power supply.
A recent report by MIT engineers analyzed the problem and found that an acceptable technological solution exists to clearing brackish waters of dissolved salts without needing a nearby electric grid.