Ensure safe drinking water for all

| | in Oped

More than two billion poor people around the world have no other option but to drink unprocessed water that, apart from containing toxic impurities, also has traces of human and animal waste. This needs to change

Human survival is increasingly becoming difficult in an unsustainable, polluting world. Clean air, water, flora, fauna, non-toxic vegetables, poultry, milk and meat are all going scarce.  Safe food is becoming expensive and unaffordable, not only for the poor but also a vast majority of the population. In a TV show recently, one of the world’s richest men and the co-founder of Microsoft, Mr Bill Gates drank processed sewage water and underlined a pertinent message to the world: Sewage is bad. It causes a lot of diseases because people don’t have good sanitation systems.

The omniprocessor machine that Mr Gates was promoting converts sewage water into drinking water. It can also help increase the availability of potable water. There is no denying that more than two billion poor people around the world have no other option but to drink unprocessed water that, apart from having toxic impurities, has traces of raw human and animal waste.

The poor people are faced with Hobson’s choice: They cannot afford to buy processed water but by drinking dirty water, they can get fatal infections. Alas! there is no easy solution to the most complex issue of human survival in a rapidly becoming unsustainable world. If immediate measures are not taken to prevent the deterioration of the environment, buying oxygen cylinders may become a reality.

Many people suffer from food poisoning from toxic vegetables and fruits and hormone-injected meat and fish. Heavy use of insecticides, pesticides, chemical fertilisers, unhealthy agrarian practices and hazardous environment are the cause of many health issues. Environmental deterioration leads to climate change and frequent natural calamities.

A recent report by the United Nations World Water Development discusses how water is inextricably linked to economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable living. Though more than 2.3 billion people in the world have gained access to drinking water between 1990 to 2010, still about 748 million people are deprived of potable water.

The report further states that the world’s slum population is expected to reach nearly 900 million by 2020. And an annual investment of $53 billion for a five-year period will be required for universal provision of access to water and sanitation facilities. The UN water report will be discussed at the 69th session of the UN General Assembly. The discussion will focus on finding solutions to the increasing competition for water between water uses and water users. Inter-State, inter-regional international water conflicts and confrontations are going to increase in the future.

The report gives valuable insight into water management and water governance. It states that provision of drinking water is essential for poverty reduction, inclusive growth, improved health, food and energy security, urban and rural livelihood and better agrarian practices. Fresh water resources are to be equitably governed. New technological solutions like the sewage water converter can help enhance the availability of drinking water, but affordability of the processed water by the vast majority of the people is a critical issue.

What is more important is that the Government, in collaboration with private enterprises, non-Government organisations, community leaders and villagers, work towards the preservation of the ecological systems, the flora and the fauna. They should de-pollute and clean the water bodies. There should also be an increase in the availability of pure air, water, food and

sustainable environment. Water harvesting, wastewater re-use, water efficient power plant cooling systems, increasing capacity of wind, solar and geothermal energy are the key determinants of a sustainable water policy for the future. By 2030, the world is projected to face a 40 per cent global water deficit when population grows to 9.1 billion by 2050 with an urban population of 6.3 billion. Collaboration between natural resource managers and health, agriculture and industry is essential to bring an appropriate policy formulation.

India has only four per cent of the world’s renewable water resources with more than 18 per cent of the world’s population and 2.4 per cent of the world’s land area. As the country is affected by frequent floods and droughts, there is a possibility of deepening water conflicts. Access to water for sanitation and hygiene and lack of sewage treatment are serious national problems. A holistic and inter-disciplinary approach to address water-related problems is the need of hour. Comprehensive water policy and legislation for optimum development of inter-State rivers and river valleys will ensure scientific planning of land and water resources.

(The writer is former Director General, office of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India)

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