Water, said the Greek philosopher Pindar, as early as the fifth century B.C., is the best of all things. It may perhaps be an overstatement, but it is certainly not surprising, especially when it is considered that it has been one of the most precious commodities throughout man’s recorded history. Water makes life – human, animal or plant – in the biosphere possible, and without it, life and civilisation can not develop or survive. Wars have been fought in the past over the availability of water, and even now relations between several countries are strained due to disputes over management of shared water resources.
The magnitude and complexity of water resources development and management problems in the early days were not complex. Population was small, per capita demand was low and water was plentiful. When there were water-related problems like droughts or floods, man simply migrated to a better location. Pollution loads were low, mainly of an organic nature, and water courses assimilated whatever load that entered without serious deterioration of water quality. Thus, right from the beginning man tended to treat water as a gift from God – a “free” resource – and his birthright to use and squander as he saw fit. This freewheeling concept, until recent times, did not pose serious management problems. Hence, until the early twentieth century, the demand for water, its efficiency of use and its quality were generally secondary issues.
By Asit K. Biswas, 1977. Article published in Water International, Volume 2, Number 4, pages 1-5. DOI: 10.1080/02508067708685783