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Access to clean water means good health for all

What is the most important thing for the survival of human beings? The answer could be: oxygen, water or food! Indisputably, water is the second most important thing after oxygen for humans. Yet, water stress is affecting over 4 billion people worldwide and2300 people die every day from water-related diseases globally. What can municipalities and communities do to ensure supply of safe water

Water has been considered a great equalizer for centuries because all citizens of a city, whether a king or general public, drank the same water but this is not so anymore in most of our cities. Elites of our society are opting for ‘premium water’. Virat Kohli, Indian Cricket captain, was in news recently for his choice of drinking water that costs almost Rs 600 a litre and the bottled drinking water is imported from France. The water may be hyped a lot but the water is free to the public at the spring’s source location in Evian-Les-Bains, France.But the people in other part of the world are not so lucky.
Another company, Beverly Hills Drink Company, introduced their series of luxury drinking water to the Indian market. Their diamond studded white gold water bottle costs around 65 lakh rupees. Headquartered in Beverly Hills, California, USA, the bottled water is named Beverly Hills 9OH2O and it features superior spring water from 5000 feet up in the pristine southern California Mountains.Jon Gluck, Co-founder and President, Beverly Hills Drink Company says, “The taste of Beverly Hills 9OH2O is silky smooth, incredibly crisp, and remarkably light.”
I am not writing this article to promote the use of ‘premium’ water but just want to draw attention to the fact that our relationship with water is witnessing a great change. A necessity for survival is becoming a luxury for many. People in most of our cities do not trust drinking the ground water or the municipal supply. People have either installed water purifiers or use bottled water. But a large population in the country still relies on the municipal supply for their daily use of water. Wherever you are in the world, it’s the poorest and least powerful who are most often without clean water. In a welfare state like India, governments need to think about the impacts of the water-stressed situation on the marginalised sections of society.
Around 60 per cent of the human adult body is made up of water.And, most of the fatal diseases are water-borne. This underlines the significance of the requirement of clean water. The recent report by WaterAid ‘The Water gap: The State of the World’s Water-2018’says, “around 289,000 children under five die each year of diarrhoeal illness directly linked to dirty water, inadequate toilets and poor hygiene…Diarrhoea, skin conditions, infections, river blindness and trachoma can all be linked to dirty water, alongside poor sanitation and poor hygiene. One in four newborn deaths is due to infections and sepsis that might have been prevented had the babies been delivered in places with safe water, decent sanitation and good hygiene. Some 844 million people are now struggling to access life’s most essential requirement – almost 200 million more than previously counted.”…Water is becoming scarcer in the Arab States and in the African Sahel, where it is already in short supply, and may start disappearing in Central Africa or East Asia, where it is currently abundant. These regions could see declines of as much as 6 per cent of GDP by 2050 because of water-related impacts on agriculture, health and income…”
India has initiated the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan that is gradually bringing about a change in people’s perception on the significance of cleanliness and sanitation. This will certainly have an impact on reduction in numbers of deaths caused by water-borne diseases. However, India needs to work on the same because over 163,105,959 people do not have access to clean water and this is a worrying sign and needs a lot of work. However, India is also among the top two countries which have improved their situation and reached out to people.

Why this situation
The collective effects emanating from growing populations, expanding cities, increasing agriculture and industrial activities are causing rise in the demand for water exponentially, while supply becomes more erratic and uncertain for millions of people. All of us also need to judiciously decide water tariffs for household use, agriculture and industrial use so that the water is not wasted and at the same time, does not become unaffordable to common people. In India, agriculture accounts for almost 80 per cent of
water requirement.
There is a need to think about smart agriculture techniques to conserve water. Policy level changes in allotment of water to farmers can also be thought of. This shall also ensure equitable distribution of water to everyone. For example, the electricity supply to farmers is at a fixed price in many states and water pumps keep running even after the required use because the ecosystem of using water is not incentivised or penalised for extracting more water than required.
Municipal governments and other bodies which are responsible for providing adequate supply of water to households need to prioritize their plan of action for sustainable use of water in their respective territories. Many a times when the problem arises in a town or city, the blame game begins that clearly reflects lack of coordination between different agencies.
Access to water is about national, regional and local governments choosing to make water a priority, and dedicating funding and expertise accordingly. When governments don’t prioritise basic human needs for water, uneven distribution and shortages are the result.

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