Doctors and experts suggest hand washing and social distancing as effective ways of preventing the transmission of coronavirus, but the question remains whether Indians, particularly the poor, have access to adequate clean water for washing.
“At a time when the entire world is fighting with its back to the wall against coronavirus, it is appropriate to ask a pertinent question. Do we have enough access to clean and safe water, considering the fact that hand washing has emerged as one of the most effective ways of controlling the virus spread?” asked Centre for Science and Environment Director General Sunita Narain.
A 2014 WHO report, ‘Preventing diarrhoea through better water, sanitation and hygiene’, said that around 1.9 billion people across the world used non-potable or faecally-contaminated water for drinking, cleaning and other activities. As per Indian government’s own submission in the Lok Sabha in 2018, diarrhoea is the leading killer among water-borne diseases, accounting for about 60 per cent of all deaths.
Manish Mishra, who had launched a campaign Right To Water (RTW), said that India had been lucky so far that the virus had not spread to rural areas.
“If coronavirus reaches villages, it would be catastrophic. They (villagers) do not have access to clean water. They drink contaminated water and wash hands with the same. Their level of hygiene is no secret. The situation in water scarce area like Bundelkhand could be more pathetic,” he said.
Convenor of Jal Jan Jodo Abhiyan, Orai, Dr Sanjay Singh said that on an average, a person used 70-75 litres of water in urban areas and the demand could go up to 125 litres.
“We have carried out a survey in Jal Nigams and Jal Sansthans of Jhansi, Kanpur, Banda, Fatehpur, Prayagraj, Agra, Bareilly and Lucknow and found that demand for water has gone up in these areas,” he said.
Senior Director of Water and Wastewater Management, Suresh Rohilla, said, “Going by the WHO’s prescribed measures, to get a germ-free hand, a person takes 30-40 seconds and uses approximately four litres of water with a flowing tap and two litres when the tap is closed. Assuming each person in these days needs to wash hands at least 10 times a day, a family of five would need 100-200 litres water every day just to wash hands!”
Sunita Narain added, “There is another concern – the increased use of water will naturally lead to generation of more waste water. Keeping in mind that 85-90 per cent of water used in a household gets discharged as waste water, the more water we use, the more sewage we discharge. And bulk of waste water is not intercepted or treated or cleaned. We are adding to the pollution challenge of our waterbodies. It will mean higher cost to clean water for drinking.”
Narain pointed out that coronavirus spread had taught that humans were as weak as the weakest link in the chain. “The contagion needs us to ensure that everybody has access to public health so that nobody is left out and nobody can be the virus carrier. Providing access to clean water is the biggest preventive health measure we can take,” she said.
Experts like Dr Sanjay Singh said that 70 per cent of water was used in agriculture, 15 per cent in industry and 12-15 percent was put to domestic use.