Thursday, June 25, 2009


Widely publicized efforts to persuade the residents of the City of Venice in Italy to drink tap water in stead of bottled water reflect the genuine concern of at least some people regarding the mindless indulgence of western countries in a habit, not considered either logical or justified, of depending entirely on packed water for regular drinking. This is in spite of the guaranteed safety of water that flows through the public supply net work involving regular scientific monitoring of the quality of processed and sanitized water.

It is interesting as to how awareness about the wasteful practice of buying packed water started dawning on the people. Venice has poor road infrastructure and trash collection became cost prohibitive because of cost of manpower inputs necessary for the task becoming enormous without recourse to mechanical handling. More than 10 tons of plastic waste generated every day need to be collected, sorted and recycled calling for high energy consumption and increased CO2 emission. The civic promotional program envisaged branding the tap water and highlighting the safety and quality of tap water for daily consumption. They branded their piped water with a fancy name "aqua verita" to compete with famous brands of packed water! Italians are known to consume more than 200 liters of bottled water in an year and in the process, generating a trash of about 5 kg of plastics! Persistence and incentives from the authorities reduced use of packed water by 10% in less than an year. The experience of Venice offers an abject lesson to other western countries in taking up similar programs for cutting down on plastics use and convince their citizens about the advantages of consuming water from the public water lines, considered completely safe.

In India such a situation may not arise in the near future because there is no guarantee about the quality and safety of water supply infrastructure established in most of the urban settlements. While quality is wholly suspect, even the minimum quantity needed by a citizen is not assured. According to WHO about 7 lakh deaths occur in India due to water borne diseases caused by consumption of contaminated water. Water supply service by any organized public body must ensure continuous and uninterrupted supply, quality and safety as stipulated by WHO and adequate water pressure to perform various house hold activities. Any protected water supply system must have sufficient facilities to treat the sourced water to remove suspended solids, bring down dissolved solids to less than the permitted levels, sanitize it with chlorine or UV rays to kill pathogens and bring down total microbial load to safe levels.

None of the 35 urban entities with more than 1 million population in India enjoy 24 hours water supply with Chandigarh boasting of maximum duration of 12 hours a day. Average duration of supply is 4.3 hours in a day with Rajkot in Gujarat reportedly getting water only for 0.3 hour a day! Water quality is no body's business in this country with BIS dabbling with it for some time and then FSSAI coming into the picture. Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution Act) 1974 and Environmental Pollution Act 1986 both coming under ' the 'authority' of Central Pollution Control Board are supposed to lay down parameters for water safety which are yet to be finalized. It is painful to read reports that in the 100% literate state of Kerala, 99% of tap water supplied by the government is polluted or has bacterial level greater than that laid down by WHO!. History tells us about out-breaks of water borne illnesses beginning 1854 involving cholera, hepatitis A, cryptosporidiosis, fluoride toxicity, campylobacteriosis, gastroenteritis, giardiasis etc and still this country seems to be oblivious to all these dangers!. The only ray of hope is the newly launched grandiose scheme under "JNURM" for urban renewal where water supply has been given some priority and one can only wait and watch, probably with a prayer on the lips, to see such miracles still happening under the domestic tap.


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