OPINIONMAKERS@THE HUSH POST: The eighth world water forum will be held in March 2018 in Brazil. The mission statement speaks about promoting awareness, building political commitments followed by actions to facilitate efficient conservation, management and use of water on environmentally sustainable basis. This is a laudable goal. But is it just a utopian sounding target or will the world community especially the people is South Asia reach anywhere near it?
In India, roughly half of the population and that is a staggering more than 522 million defecate in open. The World Bank estimates 21 per cent of the communicable diseases in India are linked to unsafe water and lack of hygiene. Nothing explains it better than the incident which took place in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh which was in news for the death of over 50 children because of shortage of oxygen in the hospital.
If one goes beyond the immediate reason which is intricately chained to the incident, is what brought children to the hospital? The answer is, of course, it is the water borne diseases. According to the Gorakhpur Environment Action Group (GEAG), hundreds of children die every year because of it in the city. The resilient Gorakhpur document quite elaborately explains the challenges in management of water which eventually leads to contamination and killing of the children. Even the intended national determined contributions (INDCs) of the Indian government at COP 21 laid stress on the provision to provide potable water to people and the daunting task ahead. Not a surprise that India ranks 120th in 122 countries on water related issues.
But water is a state subject in India which means according to the three-tier administrative structure of governance, water happens to be the subject managed by the state governments and only inter-state water issues are under the national government, ambits which is called the union list.
Interestingly, water is distributed either by the parastatals or in some places by the local bodies mainly the larger municipal corporations. However, the management of septage and municipal solid waste is mainly with the municipalities. Except in a few cities there is hardly any connect or integration in between the septage management and the water supply and distribution. This leads to a situation where everyone is responsible but no one is held accountable. The water does not come from the virgin sources into the city. The water comes from the surrounding aquifers and in India nearly 80 per cent of the supply is from groundwater unlike the mountains where still surface water remains potable. In such a scenario there is complete integration of septage and ground water with hardly any integration at the management level. These aquifers get polluted and the resultant is the staggering figure of water borne diseases and deaths.
The ICLEI under the integrated urban water management programme is practiced in four cities, two in Rajasthan and two in Maharashtra where capacity building of the local bodies is being done to enhance their resilience in the governance and management structures. In this direction another interesting intervention happens to be the formation of the greater Shimla water supply and sewerage circle (GSWSSC) in the city of Shimla where a complete integration of the water supply, distribution and the sewerage management has been done. This has started bearing results.
So, as we get prepared for the world water forum in Brazil we have serious challenges but we also have these rays of hope not in despair but with commitments and actions. (The writer is a former Deputy Mayor of Shimla and leading the urban forum)