AIIMS might be India's premier medical research centre and hospital, but it doesn't have something as basic as clean water to supply to its patients. A recent evaluation of drinking water in 10 locations across the institute - funded by its own centre of biotechnology and examined at its laboratory medicine department - found the samples to be contaminated with pathogens. This is alarming news. Health minister Anbumani Ramadoss regularly hits the headlines for various drives - against smoking, alcohol consumption or radiation caused by mobile phones. They are worthy causes but it's time the good minister sorted out his priorities. Maybe he would like to pay attention to this shocking situation at AIIMS. This instance only brings to the fore what we all know: much of what passes off as potable water in India - in urban as well as rural areas - is unfit for human consumption. For the first time, the World Health Organisation's Water, Health and Sanitation Programme has prepared a report that presents country-wise estimates of the burden of disease flowing from polluted water and poor sanitation. India's report card is bad. Poor quality water and lack of sanitation and hygiene account for 7.5 per cent of all deaths in the country. In other words, 7,82,000 fatalities could probably be prevented every year with safety measures in place. The 1991 Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission that got later included in the Bharat Nirman programme might have helped increase distribution infrastructure but there has been no parallel improvement in supply. In much of India, water and sewage pipes often run concurrently, leaching into each other because of poor maintenance. India needs to overhaul its water storage distribution infrastructure but the major culprit is distribution leaks and wastage. This needs to be addressed urgently. A meeting of experts and government representatives discussed water management at Singapore's International Water Week recently. Singapore's public utilities board won the 2007 Stockholm Industry Water Award for its approach to water resources management. It adopted a policy that addressed in particular three aspects of water management in an urban setting: reducing water losses, restructuring water pricing and access for more efficient use, using technology to find new sources of water through recycling and processing. India could perhaps take a leaf or two out of Singapore's experience. On another note, it's time we made people pay a fair price for the water they use instead of subsidising it heavily. Why should a scarce resource like water be given away almost free?
6 months ago