Reverse-Osmosis water is claimed to be cheaper than rain water by a former NWSDM engineer!
Posted on December 25th, 2016

by Chandre Dharmawardana, Ottawa, Canada.

Engineer Harsa Kumara, a former Vice chairman of the NWSDB and General Manager of the water resources board has posted an article in the Lankaweb (Dec 14th, 2016) arguing his case in favour of

Reverse Osmosis (RO) machines to provide clean water to the farmers in the dry zone who are stricken with chronic diseases due to lack of clean water. He thinks that RO  water is cheaper than rain water!

He makes the contention that

  1. The Engineer says that “RO-water at 25 cts a liter is cheaper than providing rain water to farmers”.

If farmers were to build their own cement and brick tanks, or clay lined tanks, the cost of storage tanks would be minimal. But if they opt to buy a plastic tank it can cost Rs 50,000 to 70,000 per tank for a family of five to have 50 liters of water a day. Such a plastic tank will last 10 years or even more. But if we take it to last 10 years, and amortize the cost over ten years, it is easily calculated that the cost of a liter of water LESS THAN ONE CENT. My calculation was about 0.08 cts per liter. So how does this former NWSDB engineer claim that RO water at 25 cts a liter is cheaper than rain water which AT MOST costs LESS THAN ONE cent per liter?

At 25 cts a liter, 50 liters a day will cost the farmer Rs. 12.50. This adds up to Rs 4563 per year.

The rain water will cost at most (i.e., if the farmer uses a commercial plastic tank) Rs 182.50 per year, but virtually nothing if he were to build his own tank.

  1. The engineer claims that “SriLankan Soils does not originally carry Arsenic or Cadmium, but researchers have found the presence of such in water, food, agro fields and in the human body”

Why does this NWSDB engineer think that “SriLankan soils do not originally carry Arsenic or Cadmium…”?  He needs to consult a geologist to get his facts  right. Arsenic and Cadmium  are standard chemical substances (potential toxins) found every where in the soil in every part of the world, including in pristine forests like the Singharaja, not only now, but also in earlier epochs, as found in past  geological surveys.

Agriculture has the effect of plants concentrating the small amounts of  these potential toxins  (PT) found in the soil in parts per billion. For example,  the paddy plant and rice become  enriched with Cd and such other  PT.  When the paddy-straw  (“piduru”) is put back into the soil as composted manure, the accumulated Cd and such PT further increase in the soil. Also, nitrogen and phosphate in the soil get depleted. So, after a while the soil becomes poor. That is why the ancient people moved from one area to another, form one hena (Chena) to another hena (Chena), using a pattern of shifting agriculture. In fact even the seat of agriculture and government moved from the Yoda Weva region (pre-christain era) near Mannar to Anuradhapura, and then to Pollonaruwa and finally to the wet zone (after iron implements became available). It must be noted hat these movements were not entirely due to invasions, but   in fact largely necessitated by the depletion of the soil due to agriculture.

  1. This engineer claims that there was no kidney disease in the North central Province in earlier times!

There was a very small population of people in the NCP in the old days due to Malaria.  Colonists were introduced into the area after the control of Malaria, circa 1970, even into remote villages without direct access to the Tank or the irrigation canals for their water. Those colonists  had to use their backyard dugout wells. It is the stagnant water in these wells that are believed to be the problem.

The human body has two kidneys. But even one quarter of a kidney is enough for a person to live a reasonably healthy life. So, when kidney disease sets in, it does not show up unless they take annual medical examinations, until most of bith kidneys is debilitated. Rural people do not do annual medical tests. The disease goes undetected till almost the very end. In older times the disease was not diagnosed at all, even by Western clinicians. Even today, when you speak to farmers they ascribe the disease to snake bites, attack by hornets, allegedly caused by the wrath of God Dadimunda. The disease existed in earlier times as well, but not recognized until modern laboratory testing methods (for detecting albumin in the urine) became available to rural people.

It was recognized in the mid 1990s by Sri Lankan doctors who began using modern clinical testing methods.

  1. Eng. Harsha K says “Since scientists, in general, failed to live up to their boasted state of being scientists and failed to identify the cause for twenty-five years, some logical reasoning from public and involved professionals justifies the application of agrochemicals as the main contributor to CKDu”.

Scientists started to look at the problem from about 2006, and they soon identified the cause of kidney disease to be the use of bad water. So, scientists did not fail, but they already solved the problem; but this was obfuscated and clouded by individuals who claimed that God Natha had explained to them the cause of the illness, namely, arsenic coming into the country via cheap imported fertilizers. The same fertilizers are used through out the country. But there is no kidney disease through out the country. The same fertilizer is used even within ONE SINGLE village, and one part of it may be full of kidney disease, while the other is not. For example, the Badulupura part of Ginnoruwa is full of kidney disease, but not the Saaragama part of Ginnoruwa. So by what “logical reasoning” does this Engineer Harsha Kumar indict “agrochemicals” acting only on one part of the village, on selected families?

Is the arsenic and cadmium selectively going into one part of the village and not the other?

How much of arsenic and cadmium are coming into the soil even from the worst agrochemical? I showed by a simple calculation (see my article in the Lanka web, 24 Dec. 2016) that this contribution from agrochemicals is only in nanogram quantities, i.e., a thousandth of a billionth part per part of the soil. This is much less than what comes there from the contamination from petroleum fuels and burning of household rubbish heaps.

  1. THe engineer says that “The same writer has also said that a 60 kg person can drink up to 12 teaspoons of glyphosate a day and yet not get sick!! This writer knows very well that it is not. Even I have shown him the UN report of IARC earlier, (International Agency for Research on Cancer, a WHO body) In their 2015 March report it says following about glyphosate, …. The report says glyphosate causes DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells and also says that there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals”.

Engineer Harhsa Kumar ignores what I (and also other scientists) have written him repeatedly, and he is being totally disingenuous. The IARC deals with HAZARD, and NOT health risk. The IARC classified glyphosate in the same class, i.e., class-II level of  hazard as eating beef (red meat), exposure to the sun, or use of cell phones. But the engineer does not understand toxicity, or the mandate of the IARC.  Stating the  health risk is NOT within the mandate of the IARC. That is the mandate of the Joint Committee of Pesticide Residues (JCPR) of the WHO and the FAO. Partly because of the misunderstanding caused by the IARC report,  the JCPR issued a report  in May 16th 2016 from which one can easily see that the chronic toxicity threshold for a person 60 Kg in weight is 60 milligrams intake per day. The Wikipedia gives twice as much, namely 120 mg per day. Experiments with farmers spraying Glyphosate even without gloves and goggles show that only microgram quatitites enter the body, as shown by urine tests. So, there is a safety factor of 1000 between microgram quantities and milligram quantities. When safe substances are banned, farmers resort to less safe alternatives.

So why ban such a safe substance?

The engineer has made the cardinal mistake of confusing  health hazard with health  risk. All flames are a fire hazard but not a fire risk, that is why we don’t ban all use of fire.

Countries like New Zealand use a factor of 1000 more agrochemicals than Sri Lanka, and there is no chronic disease arising from such use in those countries. So there is an ANTI-CORRELATION between chronic disease and agrochemical use .

  1. Engineer Harsaha Kumar proposes two moves: “Those are, to give purified water to people through RO technology and to stop agrochemicals being added to soil and water. RO technology specifically removes residues of agrochemicals”.

The Engineer has not mentioned the fact that his own water board engineers (Dr. Pathmakumar Jayasinghe  and his team) analyzed the input water to  almost all  RO plants so far installed, and showed that the input water was NOT POLLUTED and did not NEED the RO step. So this was public money wasted because the RO lobby did not even bother to analyze the input water to see if it needed RO purification. All that was needed was a simple filtration and perhaps chlorination step. Hence, continuing to advocate RO machines is like giving diabetes medicine to a “patient” even when the blood tests show no excess sugar in the blood.  It is   perhaps very lucrative to the RO companies and the engineers concerned?

The engineer has also failed to mention that no one has found agrochemical residues in the input water to these RO plants? So what is the RO doing? Removing non – existent  toxins imagined by some people to justify RO machine sales?

  1. Another commentator named Lionel (commenting on my article on 23rd Dec, on RO water) says: ”
    Dear writer,
    I do’t know about your background. If you have lived in a village in your childhood, you could have seen the changes happened to the environment during your lifetime. What happened to those beautiful yellow butterflies migrated in thousands through villages once a year? What happened to the fish called Teliya, found in hundreds in paddy fields? Please don’t promote pesticides saying people can even drink them like coke. That is ridiculous. Every pesticide does some sort of harm to the environment and people. Yes we know it is difficult to grow crops without using chemicals now days. But if Sri Lankans can do without Glyposate let them do it. Don’t compare using Glyposate in vast farm lands in countries like USA or Australia to a tiny island like Sri Lanka. The impact is totally different.

My background is that I was a Professor of Chemistry and Vice Chancellor of the University currently known as Sri Jayawardenapura University (formally Vidyodaya University). During my period we introduced food science nutrition science, toxicology and related topics and a post-graduate diploma course that developed in the very first University department of food science. Currently I work at the University of Montreal, and the National Research Council of Canada, but in subjects related to physics and nanotechnology and unrelated to agriculture or agrochemicals.

Glyphosdate has no toxicity to butterflies, bees, beetles, moths  and other (non-plant) living organisms, especially under the circumstance used in agriculture. But you can test this yourself. Take a few earth worms, and put them into a big glass jar and cover them with water containing

glyphosate. Do the same in another jar, but with only water and no glyphosate. You will find, at the end of the day, that both sets of earth worm remain equally unaffected. You can do such experiments with beetles, butterflies, fish like Theliya,  etc. Such experiments have been done and glyphosate is harmless. Even better, if  soils containing lots of Cadmium where no earth worms survives are taken and then mixed with glyphosate, you soon find that the soil is remedied (glyphosate binds the cadmium) and earthworms begin to thrive. This experiment was done by Chinese scientists using soil in southern China which is some 3000 times more polluted with cadmium  than a typical Sri Lankan soil.

So what has led to the reduction of butterflies in the countryside. The most likely culprit is diesel and petroleum fumes from lorry-bus-tractor-motorcar congestion  on Sri lanka roads, as well as burning of plastics in backyard bonfires. In earlier times rural areas were NOT congested with humans. The biggest environmental factor is the vastly increased presence of humans, and they also discharge in their urine and excreta, the aspirin, dispirin, thippili drinks, asamodagam drinks, cortisones, tetracyclines  and other medications that they consume. Their effect on vulnerable fish species can be serious in the long term. We cannot indefinitely expand the number of human beings living on a finite land mass, especially at such a speed that the environment cannot adapt to it.

Given that some of our water board engineers (and even a past general manager) think that RO water at 25 cts a liter is cheaper than rain water falling free of charge from the sky, one wonders whether common sense has also left Sri Lanka ‘s shores, looking for less cranky climes elsewhere?

A sinhala language discussion of these topics may be found in the Pethikada broadcast (Sisira TV) dated 23.12.16 that may be accessed from the internet.

10 Responses to “Reverse-Osmosis water is claimed to be cheaper than rain water by a former NWSDM engineer!”

  1. S.Gonsal Says:

    Glyphosdate(sic) has no toxicity to butterflies, bees, beetles, moths and other (non-plant) living organisms, especially under the circumstance used in agriculture. But you can test this yourself. Take a few earth worms, and put them into a big glass jar and cover them with water containing glyphosate. Do the same in another jar, but with only water and no glyphosate. You will find, at the end of the day, that both sets of earth worm remain equally unaffected.

    Strange experiment ! Not in my sense book ! I have never studied biology and I don’t know whether the creatures mentioned above have kidneys , but who says kidney decease is caused by a single day of Glyphosate contact ?

    I would like to ask a simple but logical and very serious question from the writer.

    Are you ready to drink a bit of Glyposite ( mix with water) publically to demonstrate non-toxicity than using innocent creatures did not harm to us ?

  2. Lionel Says:

    Dear Writer,

    I am sure Sri Lankans appreciate your contributions to the acedamic world. I am looking at from an ordinary Sri Lankan villeger’s point of view. Two examples I mentioned in my previous comment, disappearing of yellow butterflies and most of the native fish species were mainly due to the use of all sort of pesticides, not only Glyposate. Other factors like loss of vegetation due to expansion of settlements may have played a major role in reduction of the butterfly population but I strongly believe the disappearance of fish from the paddy fields were mainly due to the addition of millions of litres of pesticides to the environment. I have seen thousands of dead fish floating in waterways in Sri Lanka after mass scale spraying of Paraquet (or similar product) to eradicate Salvinia few decades back.

    You are saying Glyposate is harmless to any living organism other than plants. But even the producer, Monsanto in thier safety data sheet for Glypostae states “toxic to aquatic organisms. May cause long lasting harmfull effects to aquatic life”.

    The experiment you suggested for me to do with Glyposate reminds me (though it is the opposite) how one of the Kalpitiya farmers tried to convince me the insecticides they were using were not strong enough to kill the insects. He put few bugs into a plastic cup filled with insecticides direct from the bottle and showed me how the poor creatures were swimming in the insecticide for a while. These farmers were expecting insects to die instantly once they come into contact with the insecticide. They didn’t have any idea about how long it takes to absorbs the insecticide and works thorugh the insect’s nervous system. I have seen a documentary where solidiers were dusting thier body with DDT to get rid of body lice during one of the world wars. No body got killed instantly, effects were visible many years after.

    When Glyposate kill all the living plant life, say in a paddy field, it affects all other living organisms in that environment. Any kid can understand it. Apply Glyposate (add Metsulfuran to big trees!) and kill all the plant life in your own backyard and see what happens before telling others Glyposate is harmless.

    We all know it is difficult to do commercial agriculture nowadays without chemicals, as we have used to it. But when Sri Lanka is trying to do thier farming without Glyposate, let them do it. This is a good experiment to the whole world. When DDT was banned, there was a big outcry and some scientists got shocked. But world survived without DDT. Same thing can happen in Sri Lanka!

  3. Ananda-USA Says:

    Guys, no point in beating this horse to death!

    Use either or both Reverse Osmosis depending on your local availability and the size of your purse!

    I sparingly use glyposate by the brand name Roundup for killing weeds growing in gaps in my driveway concrete, but I don’t use any pesticides and/or herbicides in my vegetable garden or fruit trees. For pests I use ladybugs, setting ladybugs to eat aphids etc.

    Given the prevalence of CKDU in North Central Sri Lanka, and its established relationship to water contamination, it is a no-brainer to AVOID using that untreated water for drinking, cooking and washing the body. However the problem of using that water for agro use, and the possible uptske of the responsible contsminants by food crops, remains to be resolved.

    That being so, it behooves the govt to immediately provide subsidised assistance to citizens living in the area to deploy rainwater utilization and/or RO methods.

    But, the govt is too busy massaging the Constitution to please the separatists and supervising the USD 80,000 Giant Christmas’s tree to get Sri Lsnka into the Ripley’s BELEIVE it or not!

    Apparently, publicity in Ripley’s records will help usher in a new sprit of Reconciliation with the Tamil Separatists!

    That is good to know; we Sinhala Modayas will wait with bated breath!

  4. Ananda-USA Says:

    Oops! I meant to say “use either or both rainwater collection and Reverse Osmosis ….”

  5. S.Gonsal Says:

    “But when Sri Lanka is trying to do thier farming without Glyposate, let them do it. This is a good experiment to the whole world.” -Lionel

    Such experiments are always sabataged by big multi-nationals. They hav ebig money to throw around. They will even resrt to “contract killing”. There is a plenty of material available on the web.

  6. Lorenzo Says:


    Time to lift the glyphosate ban and PUNISH TE terrorists.

  7. Fran Diaz Says:


    Statements such as the one above must be PROVEN as it is a very serious accusation.

  8. Lorenzo Says:


    More research should go into it.

    But there is INDIRECT EVIDENCE.

    Please read.

    There is a weed called BIRTHWORT known as ISWALAMULI in Tamil and SAPSANDA in Singhala. Its flowers and parts are poisonous and causes CKD.

    This plant is found in abundance in VANNI and JAFFNA. Did TEs drop these into wells?

    Jaffna Tamils have a HISTORY OF WELL POISONING to DEPOPULATE non-Tamils in SL.

    Here is evidence.

  9. Lorenzo Says:

    Glyphosate is certainly NOT the root cause of CKD.

  10. Lorenzo Says:

    Many groups have used WELL POISONING as a war tactic.

    Tamils also have a history of using WATER was a weapon.

    I will be totally surprised if they did NOT do it.

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