Gastro-enteritis rears its head due to contaminated water in Bangalore

S.Vishwanath on the recent incidence of gastro-enteritis due to possibly sewage contaminated water in Bangalore

There is a spurt of gastro-enteritis in the city today. Residents think that it is the contaminated mains supply from the BWSSB that is the source of the gastroenteritis. The Bangalore water supply and Sewerage Board thinks it is water bought by residents from the private water tankers that is the cause but then seems to change its mind. An Engineer has been suspended for carelessness and the residents are demonstrating in front of the Head Office of the service provider the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board. It is feared that the cause may be the mixing up of sewage and water and its absorption into the water lines. The real problem It is the complete inability of the institution (BWSSB) to keep the water lines fully pressurized and available 24 hours a day. It is also the lack of accountability of the institution for the quality of water delivered with a residual chlorine levels as specified,which creates the problem. A re-look is needed at the entire structure of water supply in the city and the endemic problems addressed else we will face the same issue time and again. The leakage in the old water pipes is enormous and of the order of 40%. Pipes have not been replaced or upgraded in many places. The sewage system is defunct. Neither is it collected properly nor is it fully treated. People are not paying the true price for water and sewage collection and treatment and subsidies are mis-targeted. Imagine, it costs the BWSSB Rs 18/- to produce a kilo-litre of water and it supplies the first slab at Rs 6/- a kilo-litre to even the richest houses in Bangalore. If the rich don't pay the true price for water ,the poor will pay with their health as in this particular outbreak suggests. More money will be spent on water filters and assorted treatment devices for water than in setting the system right.

Unregulated private water supply:In the video picture above is a private water tanker supplying water on the 28th of January 2008 in another part of Bangalore. A tanker load of 4000 litres costs Rs 150/- (approx US 4 $).The leaking tank comes and delivers water untested for quality as an expectant family looks on.The family has to buy water because there is a function in the house and the BWSSB supplied water has run out. A sump tank built to receive the BWSSB water, which comes once in 2 days for 2 hours, is all set to receive the tanker water this time. A bore well about 525 feet deep is the source of the tanker water. It has a 7.5 H.P pump and it takes 15 minutes to fill the tanker.The tankers operate in a zone of 2 km.. The firm has 3 tankers and altogether on an average day they supply 30 loads in a day making for 120,000 litres daily.The first borewell that the firm dug went dry and so the second new one -deeper of course- supplies the water. The tanker water provider has no system of checking for water quality. There is no regulation of tanker water by any authority. It is necessary that tanker owners and operators are educated on the methods for checking water quality and adopting simple chlorination to the water they deliver. Even people who buy this water can chlorinate it using bleaching powder and a simple chlroscope to check for residual chlorine. Spreading such water literacy is crucial to the public health of our cities.

Key questions emerge: Why should not the BWSSB supply enough water for the citizens of Bangalore? Why should not the water come 24/7 in our pipes and with sufficient pressure to reach higher floors? Why don't citizens demand better service from their service providers? Even when we have gastro-enteritis in the city why do we not look for structural improvements in water supply and sanitation for the whole of the city ? Bangaloreans - please wake up and smell the coffee !!

More: News article in the Hindu: What is gastro-enteritis ? Short film on how to chlorinate your water:

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