Amit Bhatnagar is Associate Professor of Water Chemistry at the University of Eastern Finland. We spoke to him about global water challenges and asked what the world can learn from Finland about water management.
Please tell us a little about your background and how it influenced your decision to take up water studies.
I was born and grew up in the city of Roorkee in India, an education hub that sits on the banks of the Ganges River. Roorkee has made some significant contributions in the fields of science and engineering over the decades. It’s in fact home to Asia's first engineering college, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee, where I did my PhD studies.
In many places in India, the lack of proper infrastructure for water and waste management has resulted in a severe water crisis. Water resources are often polluted and not suitable for drinking. I’ve witnessed firsthand the problems that people face when there is no running water at home, and when it’s necessary to boil or filter water before consumption. Over the decades, this water crisis has only got worse in India, and indeed in much of the rest of the world too.
I decided to pursue my PhD on a water-related problem so I could contribute towards solving the crisis not only in my own country, but also at the international level. In my studies, I successfully utilized the solid industrial wastes from two industries – steel and fertilizer – to treat the wastewater of other industries. After completing my PhD in 2003, I was fortunate enough to continue my research on water-related topics in Switzerland, India, South Korea, Finland, Germany, Portugal and Sweden. It was during this time I realized that water pollution is truly a global environmental problem that differs only in its magnitude from one place to another.
What are the main water management challenges in India, and to what extent are they mirrored in the rest of the world?
The main challenges in India are the mismanagement of water resources, communication gaps at different levels between national and regional authorities, and the improper implementation of government policies. It’s estimated that in India between 40% and 50% of supplied water is lost due to leaking pipes and taps!
Climate change is also contributing to the increased pressure on water resources. Scorching droughts are becoming more common, as too are floods. Industrialization, urbanization, and population growth are some other factors that have immensely jeopardized the quality and availability of water in India. Although the country’s authorities are trying to address these issues, the problems are vast and time is running out…
The main challenges faced by much of the developing world are lack of safe drinking water, poor management of water resources and infrastructure, and pollution due to uncontrolled industrial activity. Insufficient adequately trained personnel, economic barriers to progress, and the lack of a holistic and inter-disciplinary approach make for a complex situation in terms of addressing water-related issues.
What are the top things we should be doing to address this situation?
People need to acknowledge the water crisis that is affecting many countries already, and that will affect the rest in the next few decades if solutions are not brought into action. At national level, governments must raise awareness about safeguarding water resources and re-using wastewater. Sustainable solutions for wastewater treatment need to be implemented, and more research must be conducted to provide inter-disciplinary approaches to water treatment and management.
"Climate change is also contributing to the increased pressure on water resources," says Amit Bhatnagar, Associate Professor of Water Chemistry at the University of Eastern Finland.
What can the academic community do to help?
Academics play a significant role in performing research on sustainable water-management practices and water-treatment technologies. However, in many cases, the know-how generated by researchers and scientists in academia does not reach the tables of policy makers.
In my opinion, this gap can be filled by increasing the frequency of communication between the two bodies. We need collaborative research projects between academia, governmental agencies and other stakeholders. This is the best way to create a common platform that can lead to the integration of scientific research into policies and frameworks.
What do you think Finland can teach the world when it comes to water management?
Finland is a country where people really care about nature and the environment, and try to preserve it for future generations. The country has had long-term water-management goals and strategies in place since the 1970s. Good governance and legislation, sound ecological knowledge, public awareness, and the use of advanced technology – these are the things that together make Finland a leader in water-management practices.
Thinking globally and acting locally is something that Finland can teach the world when it comes to water management. Finland can set good examples in terms of treating wastewater with eco-friendly methods and reusing it for different purposes, as well as using smart technologies that consume less water in everyday life.
"Finland is a country where people really care about nature and the environment, and try to preserve it for future generations," says Associate Professor Bhatnagar.
Is this part of what you teach in your degree courses at the University of Eastern Finland?
Yes, it is. I lecture graduates and undergraduate on water chemistry and related topics, as well as perform research in environmental sciences. I currently have five PhD students and a few visiting students in my lab who are pursuing their research on various topics. These include the use of microalgae in wastewater treatment and bioenergy production, and the application of nanotechnology and biomaterials like nanocellulose and biochar in water remediation. It’s all very exciting stuff, and I encourage anyone who is interested in studying water management to get in touch for more information!
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