Is your water really safe?
"Water water everywhere
Nor any drop to drink"
The situation in various urban pockets in India and around the world replicates this famous couplet from 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which tells the tale of how a sailor on a becalmed ship, is surrounded by salt water that he cannot drink. While in the poem, the sailor was surrounded by sea water, here on land we have polluted groundwater unfit for drinking.
Water being one of the essential factors for life, is often consumed widely in a substandard quality.
According to WHO, "The safety and accessibility of drinking-water are major concerns throughout the world. Health risks may arise from consumption of water contaminated with infectious agents, toxic chemicals, and radiological hazards. Improving access to safe drinking-water can result in tangible improvements to health."
Matter of a social concern
Access to safe drinking water is important as a health and development issue at a national, regional and local level. In some regions, it has been found that investments in water supply and sanitation can yield a net economic benefit, since the reductions in adverse health effects and health care costs outweigh the costs of undertaking the interventions. Interventions in improving access to safe water favour the poor in particular and can be an effective part of poverty alleviation strategies, studies have found.
Providing access to safe water is one of the most effective instruments in promoting health and reducing poverty.
As the international authority on public health and water quality, WHO is on a mission to prevent transmission of waterborne diseases, by promoting health-based regulations to governments and working with partners to promote effective risk management practices to water suppliers, communities and households.
The report of a research study on 'Policy and Enabling Environment for Urban Small Water Enterprises' (USWE) conducted by Safe Water Network and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), captures "the prevailing policy and enabling environment for urban small water enterprises in cities with a focus on slums and is based on the water delivery assessment studies conducted in the cities of Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi and Vishakhapatnam."
With rapidly expanding cities in India and "with nearly 17 per cent of the urban population (65 million people) living in slums, pipe water supply infrastructure has not been able to keep up with the growing demand. While urban local bodies (ULBs) continually endeavour to upgrade the water supply infrastructure to meet the growing demands, water utilities are unable to keep pace with the rate of expansion. This leaves a large population (more than 50 per cent of urban poor families) without access to piped water," notes the report.
This gap in supply is often met by ULBs through the provision of community-level standpipes or tankers. But the quality of water from these sources is usually poor, predominantly because the water is not treated before distribution. The report suggests that small water enterprises have the potential to complement piped water supply and provide decentralised safe drinking water access to urban poor in India transforming their lives.
"There's an opportunity for USWEs to provide high quality treated water, complementary to piped water for potable water needs. The study of four cities in India has found that "virtually all piped households in slums depend largely on alternate sources of waters such as stand posts, tankers, and groundwater to supplement their daily water needs," notes the report. A conducive enabling environment is required to ensure USWEs can grow and contribute to improved water service provision in urban India.
In the current scenario, to include USWE in the policy and planning framework, reform measures at the Central and the State level are needed especially to shift the focus from large infrastructure piped water schemes to rapid, decentralised, small investment solution provided by SWEs. There is a requirement of "properly structured tenders, to include criteria critical for sustainability, appropriate pricing, and funded incentives to attract organisations that have the capabilities to deliver sustainable and affordable water solutions." Also, there is "a need to establish the performance of USWEs to ensure that implementers are operating to standards and that water is safe, reliable and affordable. Performance standards would allow for regulated induction of USWEs into the formal urban water landscape. This can be achieved by the induction and adoption of mutually acceptable recommended USWE performance standard against which USWEs can be measured for performance by ULBs/rural water schemes (RWSS). The standard can be tracked to monitor service delivery and consumer satisfaction."
Proper household water and sanitation practices can also help decrease the possibility of getting affected by waterborne diseases. Energy-efficient water infrastructure and water conservation measures can also decrease the burden of waterborne diseases, states WHO.
Delhi Jal Board's endeavours
Delhi Jal Board being India's largest and world's second largest public utility is responsible for Delhi's water and wastewater management. "With 21 lakh registered retail consumers in its water supply ambit DJB supplies water a population of 1.6 Cr," said a senior official of DJB. According to the official, DJB is continuously trying to give safe drinking water to the citizens; but being a large city, some corners of Delhi are yet to get access to safe water.
The state government inaugurated its ambitious pilot project to provide 24x7 potable water to residents earlier this year. The idea of introducing quality potable water, which residents would be able to drink straight out of the tap without additional filtering or decontamination, was described by the Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia as a "dream" that was being fulfilled while inaugurating the project.
The official said that the DJB cannot provide any guarantee for the packed drinking waters out in the market. "Even though there is a norm to get the certification but many of these providers do not follow that," he clarified. DJB along with the health department, try to carry out tests of water quality once a year tying up with many NGOs.
Since taking over the Water department, development of unauthorised colonies in Delhi has been a thrust area for Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. To this end, sources in Delhi government said that Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has started working on connecting the water lines to unauthorised colonies. The government has found that many such colonies do not have proper water connections. In some colonies, water is supplied at fixed times, while some others are dependent on tap water.
The Reverse Osmosis (RO) mechanism
Reverse Osmosis, commonly referred to as RO, is a process to deionize water by pushing it under pressure through a semi-permeable Reverse Osmosis Membrane. The process has been particularly famous with households in the past few years. "There are some disadvantages of RO water filters and purifiers. It requires high water pressure and if there is not enough pressure in your pipeline then a small electric motor is required to pump the water to a high pressure. So, RO water purifiers are dependent on electricity to work efficiently. Secondly, RO purifier wastes some water in its reject stream which carries all the concentrated impurities that were there in the water originally. But the benefits of RO water purifiers far outweigh these minor problems with RO water purifiers," clarified the DJB official.
Water-related diseases are the most common cause of death in the country. The scarcity of clean water for domestic purposes has led to the increase in the death toll in both the urban and rural parts of most developing countries. Deaths due to water-borne diseases in India are in the range of nearly 80 per cent. Some of the most deadly water-related diseases that occur in India are diarrhoea and cholera, both of which contribute to a significant amount of deaths per year. Let us make a resolution this new year to aware more people about the importance of access to clean water, and take an initiative to have them access to clean drinking water across the country, in order to a attain healthier lifestyle free from diseases.
There is no safe drinking-water and almost 1 billion people lack access to an improved supply.
2 million annual deaths due to diarrhoea attributable to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene
More than 50 countries still report cholera to WHO.
Emerging challenges: increasing use of wastewater in agriculture is important for livelihood opportunities, but also associated with serious public health risks.