Fighting water borne disease at the household level

This article provides a background of the water quality situation in India and initiatives that can be undertaken to tackle it

Being the second most populous nation in the world with 1.22 billion people, India is all set to take the first position, replacing China by 2030. As per the present population growth rate of 1.58%, India is expected to be a 1.53 billion plus nation by 2030. With almost 17.31% population of the world calling India home and facing a number of problems related to education, poverty, crime, and what not, availability of proper drinking water to citizens is a major challenge for the government. Right to clean water is an essential attribute of the right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

The large population has put an enormous pressure over the country’s natural resources, including water. Major sources of water are rainwater, sea water, river water, lake water and underground water. Ground water is the major source, with almost 85% of the population depending on it. Most water resources are contaminated with industrial, sewage and agricultural runoff. The rural population of India is more than 700 million people living in about 1.42 million habitations spread over 15 ecological zones. With such high density, the propensity to be affected by water borne diseases is extremely high. Almost 37.7 million citizens are affected by water borne diseases annually. Every year, 1.5 million children die of diarrhoea.

What’s worse, only 14% of the rural population has access to proper sanitation services. Hand washing is also low, which further causes spread of diseases. In order to fight the diseases caused by contaminated drinking water, proper sanitation and hygiene must be encouraged. Nearly 73 million working days are lost due to water borne diseases every year, putting a large economic burden on the country. Not surprisingly, by 2020, India is expected to become a water stressed nation.

Government initiative

The government has taken a number of steps to keep a check on providing safe drinking water to citizens. Institutional mechanisms have been formed at the national, state, district, block and panchayat levels. The National Rural Drinking Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance Programme was launched in 2006 to help gram panchayats and Village Water and Sanitation Committees in monitoring and surveying drinking water sources, followed by testing of water samples at the district and state levels. The Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme (ARWSP) uses 20% of its total funds to tackle problems related to the quality of drinking water. The Government has also sanctioned more than 400 laboratories at the district level, out of which more than 250 had been set up by the year 2005. Further, the Government has allocated enough funds to the states and union territories to tackle the drinking water problems.

Citizens' awareness

Though the Government is trying hard to address the issue of poor quality of drinking water, citizens should also take necessary measures to tackle the problem on their own.

Two of the very basic requirements for drinking water are: it should be clear and odorless and it should be devoid of any unpleasant taste.

  • For those of us who can afford a decent lifestyle, we should use only bottled mineral water when we are travelling.
  • Sometimes when travelling to rural areas, only local brands of mineral bottle water are available. Make sure that the seal of the bottle is intact, and the water should look clean when viewed in clear light.
  • Also look for the ISO and BIS logos on  the bottle. If they are missing, kindly inform the authorities, because selling bottled water without conforming to set standards is illegal.
  • When visiting restaurants, always order for bottled water. Never drink water from roadside vendors. These days, water is  often seen sold in polythene pouches at bus stops and roadsides. It is advisable to avoid drinking it.
  • At home, use proper filtration systems and Reverse Osmosis (RO) systems. Getting them serviced on regular intervals is important.
  • It is equally important to use only food-grade plastic bottles to store water.

Traditional methods of water filtration

Citizens, particularly those belonging to rural areas, have to be really cautious about drinking water. Hygiene is very important. There are a number of traditional methods being used across the country:

  • Strychnos potatorum (kataka seeds) are used as natural coagulants in the purification of muddy water.
  • Morenga oleifera (drumstick) seeds inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi.
  • Vetiveria zizanioides (khas) are placed at the bottom of clay jars which has holes at its bottom and the water is filtered through this bed of roots. The filtered water is clear and has a pleasant smell.
  • Clarity of water can also be improved by dusting it with plant ashes, earth from termite hills, paddy husks or crushed seed coats from elaichi (Elettaria cardamomum).
  • Ocimum sanctum (tulsi) is a water purifier with antibacterial and insecticidal properties.
  • Copper or brass pots do not let bacteria breed in the water stored in them.

Apart from the traditional methods, the container used to store water should be properly washed. The containers should be properly covered. It is always advised to never use a container that previously contained toxic materials such as pesticides, solvents, chemicals, oil or antifreeze. Cloudy water should be filtered before boiling and adding bleach. Water filtering can be done using paper towels, cheese cloth, or cotton plunge through a tunnel. Boiling is the safest way to purify water.

To conclude, while governments both at the centre and at the state level are making efforts to provide clean and safe drinking water to citizens, it is also the responsibility of each citizen to ensure that they always consume clean and safe drinking water. This basic vigilance can go a long way in ensuring that our population and society is disease-free to a great extent.




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