`Safe` Drinking water

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Reports are pouring in of private operators supplying untreated water collected from rivers and nullahs to gullible customers, taking advantage of the acute scarcity of water in Imphal city. In fact, IFP reported on some private operators pumping water from the Nambul River near Iroisemba. Another daily reported on some private operators pumping water from the nullah near Porompat water supply point. This is matter of concern for us. The health burden of poor water quality is enormous. It is estimated that around 37.7 million Indians are affected by waterborne diseases annually; 1.5 million children are estimated to die of diarrhoea alone and 73 million working days are lost due to waterborne disease each year. The provision of clean drinking water has been given priority in the Constitution of India, with Article 47 conferring the duty of providing clean drinking water and improving public health standards to the State. The state is not only responsible for supplying safe drinking water to the people, but it also has the responsibility of monitoring private operators engaged in water supply, not only in times of crisis. The government has undertaken various programmes since independence to provide safe drinking water to the rural masses. Till the 10th plan, an estimated total of Rs.1105 billion spent on providing safe drinking water. The 2001 Census reported that 68.2 per cent of households in India have access to safe drinking water. According to latest estimates, 94 per cent of the rural population and 91 per cent of the people living in urban areas have access to safe drinking water. Data available with the Department of Drinking Water Supply shows that of the 1.42 million rural habitations in the country, 1.27 million are fully covered (FC), 0.13 million are partially covered (PC) and 15,917 are not covered (NC).However, coverage refers to installed capacity, and not average actual supply over a sustained period or the quality of water being supplied which is the most essential part. While accessing drinking water continues to be a problem, assuring that it is safe is a challenge by itself. Water quality problems are caused by pollution and over-exploitation. The problem is sometimes aggravated due to the non-uniform distribution of rainfall. The Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) is responsible for supply of safe drinking water. But the department is highly dependent on three other departments. The other departments are Power, IFCD and Forests. The various water supply schemes in the state need regular supply of power for pumping, water treatment and pressure for distribution, and we all know the power scenario in the state. Secondly, PHED depends on the Irrigation & Flood Control Department (IFCD) for water sources. Thirdly, Forest Department has a very important role to play with regard to the protection and conservation of catchment areas. We are of the opinion that drinking water is too fundamental and serious an issue to be left to one institution alone. It needs coordination between the said departments and also the awareness level of the general public needs to be increased while seeking their cooperation with regard to conservation of catchment areas and pollution of rivers and various water bodies. But first, we need a Water Policy in the state. Secondly, we need a strong Water Supply Act for ensuring regular supply of safe drinking water and for pulling up officials who usually turn a blind eye to water theft and unauthorized consumers who are mainly responsible for leakages in the water pipelines. Last but not the least, we need to revive traditional water conservation structures like lakes, ponds and tanks. These served as sources of water for people by capturing rainfall and surface runoff. It had vanished in the recent past due to population pressure in the urban areas. The usefulness of these structures still holds good and there has been initiatives across the country for revival of such systems.

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