Safe drinking water
and sanitation must for health
WATER is not merely essential for human existence but is the very essence of life. Most civilisations have grown along the rivers of the world like the Ganga, Indus, Nile and Rhine. Our planet has life because of the presence of water and air and any scientific explanation of the origin of life would be traced to the sea where possibly the first living molecule would have originated. Two-third of the surface of our globe is covered with water. It is a very interesting coincidence that 2/3rd of our body also consists of water. Apparently there is enough water around when you take the mighty rivers and the oceans into consideration but it will be a gross mistake to take the supply of water for human use for granted. A recent United Nations document on this issue warns of a very bleak picture in the foreseeable future.
According to this
report, by the year 2032 over half the world population will be faced
with water shortage resulting in serious health consequences. The
report goes on to point out the serious consequences of exploiting of
natural resources, population growth, global warming and unlimited
urbanisation. The report points out that 1.1 billion people in
developing countries still have no access to safe drinking water and
nearly 2.4 billion (more than 1/3rd of the world population) lack
adequate sanitation facilities. This combination of unsafe water and
poor sanitation is responsible for 4 billion cases of diarrhoea with
2.2 billion deaths every year. Intestinal parasitic infections,
trachoma and schistsoma infection devastate a large population in
developing countries. Nearly half of the world’s rivers are drying
up and more and more population is becoming dependent of ground water
supply which is also decreasing. The worst-effected area will be West
Asia where over 90 per cent of the people will face water shortage.
A water supply and sanitation programme was initiated in 1954 for the supply of adequate safe drinking water and sanitation for the entire urban and rural population. In 1972 an accelerated rural water supply programme was started and the decade of 80s was declared as the drinking water supply and sanitation decade. A minimum of 40 litres of safe drinking water per capita per day was stipulated for the entire population. The Union Cabinet has recently raised this limit to 55 litres a day and efforts are being made to provide this to the entire urban and rural population. We are nowhere near providing sanitation to the population. The report of the State Council for Science and Technology published in 1995 paints a very discouraging picture of the situation in Punjab. The amount of industrial discharge and urban sewerage which enters the Sutlej after the Gobind Sagar at Nangal makes this river seem like a sewerage drain. The river supports over 50 aquatic species in the Nangal Dam, but soon after the effluent from various industrial units and Budha Nala of Ludhiana enters the river, it is unable to support any life at all. The picture of rivers Beas and Ravi is a little better. Most of the towns in Punjab are dependent on ground water which is also a cause of concern. In many districts the ground water recharging is less than 50 per cent and, therefore, the ground water level is gradually going down. Toxic waste slowly permeates the upper level of the ground water and is full of pollutants like heavy metals, minerals, nitrogen compounds, detergents, bleaching agents and dyes. These compounds will affect the population directly through the water and indirectly by affecting the vegetation. Presence of fluoride above accepted level in some districts of Punjab is another hazard to superficial ground water.
Hazards of unsafe water
Unclean water is a major cause of concern for the public health authorities and is known to carry water-borne diseases. Water-borne infections manifest themselves in the summer and rainy seasons as diarrhoea and dysentery. These include various virus infection like hepatitis, bacterial infection like typhoid, dysentery, Cholera and the common bacteria E.coli, protozoal infection like amoebiasis and giardia and worms like round worms hazards from the toxic effluent from industries become evident over a longer period of time and might even be responsible for the spurt in cardiovascular diseases like coronary artery diseases and hypertension. Their role in causing cancer has always been a cause for concern.
I have no doubt that
both the central and the state governments and the public health
departments are conscious of this problem and are trying to cope with
the situation. The problem is rooted in the twin factors of a growing
population and urbanisation. The municipalities and the gram
panchayats must be made responsible for providing safe drinking water
and at least minimum sanitation. A visit to any slum area in
Chandigarh is an eye-opener. It is difficult to ignore the sanitation
problem in these colonies, legal or illegal. Their presence in towns
like Chandigarh, Delhi or Mumbai is a reality and the fact is that
they serve vital needs of these towns. To meet their minimal needs of
health and sanitation is the responsibility of the society they serve.
Is the Human Rights Commission listening?