Prioritizing drinking water

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The Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh had promised that his new government will be prioritizing power, drinking water and road connectivity in his recent budget speech. But one has to take the promise with a pinch of salt. Questions have been raised on the underlying meaning of the Chief Minister`™s statement. As we have seen in the recent past, almost all of the energies of the state PHED had been diverted to the Sewerage project, while neglecting the issue of safe drinking water. In the past, successive governments have ignored the importance of safe drinking water and the Public Health Engineering Dept (PHED) which handles the subject have always been relegated to a minor position in the government hierarchy. But it is not the state government alone which had neglected this crucial sector. Strangely, it is missing in public debate also, where the dismal power scenario gets all the attention. Although water is a state subject, the low priority given by the central government to this vital sector is reflected in the low allocations despite more than four-fold increase in urban population. Allocations to the urban water and sanitation sector have never crossed even 2 per cent of the Plan funds of the Government of India since independence. Despite constitutional mandates and official proclamations, India has lagged behind, among others, in the two most important concerns for the well being of people in any society which are poverty and access to clean drinking water. Water is a right. Ever since the original Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the right to water has been declared, explicitly or implicitly, as an essential component of right to life in particular and human rights in general in a number of international declarations over the years. The primary goal of the The UN International Decade for Action: Water for Life 2005-2015 is to promote efforts to fulfill international commitments made on water and water-related issues by 2015. Relevant commitments include the Millennium Development targets to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. The water target was reiterated at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, South Africa. Back home, the Supreme Court had reiterated that `the right to access to clean drinking water is fundamental to life and there is a duty on the state under Article 21 to provide clean drinking water to its citizens`. The State is duty bound not only to provide adequate drinking water but also to protect water sources from pollution and encroachment. A 2006 United Nations report focuses on issues of governance as the core of the water crisis, saying “There is enough water for everyone” and “Water insufficiency is often due to mismanagement, corruption, lack of appropriate institutions, bureaucratic inertia and a shortage of investment in both human capacity and physical infrastructure”. The capital city of Imphal is facing acute shortage of drinking water now, with the PHED starting to ration water. The general public is getting drinking water once in four days. Officials cite low water level at the Singda Dam water reservoir, as one of the main reasons of this scarcity. Yet, the department could feed the so-called VIP lines on a daily basis. The state government needs to be reminded of their obligations to protect access to water for all citizens. A resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in July 2010 recognises `the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right.` Why are we stressing on safe and clean drinking water. In developing countries, of the 37 diseases identified as major causes of death, 21 are related to water and sanitation. Water-borne diseases are causing more than 4 million infants and child deaths every year in developing countries. The issue of quantity and quality of water thus becomes a fundamental basis of life.

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