Water scarcity and stress: Leaving no one behind

-Dr BK Mukhopadhyay and Dr Boidurjo Mukhopadhyay
Contd from previous issue
In India, accessibility to drinking water has increased considerably during the last decade in particular. However, around 10 percent of the rural and urban population still does not have access to regular safe drinking water. The available annual utilizable water in our country (surface as well as ground) stands at 1100b cubic meters. World Bank data shows that the total cost of environmental damage in India mounts to 4.5 percent of GDP and of this 59 percent results from the health impact of water pollution! What is more a cause of anxiety is the fact that the adequate availability of safe drinking water is far from being satisfactory. Though water contains organic and inorganic impurities, the main source of diseases are the organic impurities enter into the water through the soil from cesspools, through manure, or through sewers emptying their contents into the rivers - from which many cities, in particular get their drinking water supply.
Additionally, the very piping system into the home, unclean water tanks, improper drainage, and waste disposal systems, also contribute to impure or contaminated water.
Again, presence of excessive inorganic matters (iron, lead salts, etc.) leads to diseases like constipation, dyspepsia, colic, paralysis, kidney disease and sometimes even death. Dangerous bacteria produce deadly diseases of jaundice, cholera, typhoid, diphtheria, kidney problems, nervous system problems and even lead to increased risk of cancer. Contrary to popular perception, hardness of water is not a risk to health so long it does not contain disease causing pathogens and bacteria. Especially, during summer and rainy seasons the position goes from bad to worse-waterborne diseases become rampant. Extreme hot and humid environment are favorite bacteria breeding seasons. The immediate need is thus there to invest in timely, reliable, proven and advanced water purification system that guarantees the public-in rural and urban areas-safe and pure drinking water at all times.
Efforts to enhance drinking water supply must move at a greater speed so as to cover all of villages with adequate potable water connection and supply. Technology plays a colossal role in such contexts to meet people’s basic needs in a sustained manner. Naturally, protecting fresh water reserves, watershed development, chemical treatments following the safety norms, tackling the arsenic and fluoride contamination, among others, could give rich dividends.
Ban Ki-moon once said, Òwe need to begin thinking about better strategies for managing water – for using it efficiently and sharing it fairly. This means partnerships involving not just governments but civil society groups, individuals and businessesÓ. True. A realistic approach-obviously not by hiding in conference rooms and observance of world water day – could mitigate the incidence.
The responsibility lies equally with the Government as well as private sector – checking the unrestricted exploitation of ground water, encouraging planned urbanization, optimization of use, restricting the flow of effluents from industrial units to the rivers, with stricter governance.
Nurturing new scientific knowledge to understand the evolution of water systems that involve the relationship between man and nature; to integrate local knowledge into scientific research to address user needs; and to put in place more effective mechanisms to translate scientific knowledge into societal action. The challenges in addressing the water-food-climate change nexus could be mitigated if collaborative approaches are taken up backed by political will, market mechanisms and innovative technology.
For example, market forces could work well under a cap-and-trade approach similar to those applied to carbon dioxide. Favouring market forces to play a role in the management of scarce water-defining the value of water-positively aids to take a big leap forward. Developing an inclusive institutional structure to establish multi-stakeholder dialogue and cooperation is essential to ensuring equitable access to sustainable water supply and sanitation services. When governments’ role is geared towards policy setting and regulation, the actual provision of services is carried out by non-state actors or independent departments. Well-functioning accountability mechanisms help institutions with sufficient capacity fulfil their mandates to monitor and enforce the obligations of service provider.
Dr BK Mukhopadhyay is Professor of Management and Author of the book ‘India’s Economy: Under a Tinsel still Tough’
Dr Boidurjo Mukhopadhyay is International Development and Management Economist based in London, UK