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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Water safety blueprint on the anvil

A study sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) has pointed out that the standard of drinking water and sanitation in rural West Bengal is not good enough to prevent water-borne diseases. The situation might change for the better with Sulabh International Academy of Environmental Sanitation deciding to prepare guidelines on water safety plans for rural India with the help of various agencies.

"Water-borne diseases kill 782,000 people in India every year. There is an endeavour to improve drinking water supply and sanitation in Kolkata and some other cities under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) scheme," said A K Sengupta, national professional officer of WHO's Sustainable Development and Healthy Environment. The guidelines prepared by the Sulabh academy might be implemented through the JNNURM scheme.

Sengupta said a study was conducted in Hyderabad to check how the city's sanitation and drinking water supply system was working. "It was a thorough study involving collection of field data, which was then used for GIS mapping to create a complete recordable data," he explained.

Chairman of the arsenic task force, state expert appraisal committee and professor of Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, K J Nath, said a guideline on a water safety plan could act as an early warning system that can help prevent water-borne diseases. It would be a national guideline for all cities and rural areas to follow," he said.

Chandan Sengupta, chairman of the task force on total sanitation campaign and member of the arsenic task force, said the national rural drinking water supply programme, which was scheduled to be implemented from 2008 to 2012, got under way in April 1 this year. "In West Bengal, only 35% of the rural population has been covered by 1,150 piped water supply schemes, while the remaining 65% is covered by around 5,00,000 spot water sources like tube wells. By 2012, 50% of the rural population is likely to be covered by piped water supply schemes," he added.

NGOs need to be involved in providing an alternative safe drinking water supply system, he said, adding, "We have to ensure coordination between the bodies at the state level to further develop the system."

In Bengal, particularly in North and South 24-Parganas, a water safety plan is badly needed as many areas of both districts are affected by arsenic. Besides, the amalgamation of sewer and water supply lines in many places has created serious problems, particularly in rural areas.

Experts concede that there were no proper data and guidelines available with government bodies like the public health engineering and panchayat samitis to develop a drinking water supply and sanitation system.


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