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Wastewater management can help arrest mosquito-borne diseases

New Delhi : Globally, at least two billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces and waterborne diseases - diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, polio - are affecting people. Every year, 502000 diarrhoeal deaths take place.

Unfortunately, in India 70 per cent of its surface water and a growing percentage of its groundwater reserve are contaminated by biological, toxic, organic and inorganic pollutants and hence many water bodies and aquifers are either sick, dying and biologically dead.

Therefore, there is hardly any water body in this nation with pure water including the holiest Ganga. Hence, surface and groundwater sources have been rendered unsafe for human consumption and for many activities mainly in India and in many nations because of sewage, excreta and waste. The Ganga is now holy only by faith and not by purity even after spending over Rs 20,000 crore according to a 2012 Central Pollution Control Board report.

The above pollution sources affect the sanitation of the nations and the excreta mixed sewage become mosquito-breeding habitat, since the mosquito larvae is safe in the sewage even with toxins and breathe air at the water's surface through a specialized siphon. In many nations, both mosquitoes and water-borne diseases affect the health of people. The poor health of people hinders their personal earning capacity and therefore, the economic growth of the nations is affected.

Access to drinking water is the basic need of people. According to 2013 figures from the world Health Organization, some 780 million people do not have access to safe drinking water, while 2.5 billion do not have proper sanitation. United Nations reported that India’s water quality is poor - it ranks 120th among the 122 nations in terms of quality of water available to its citizens.

The international charity WaterAid says 75.8 million Indians, or 6.06 per cent of the country's 1.25 billion population is forced to consume contaminated water by sewage, excreta and chemicals. However, in the drought years, this figure is more than three times.

As per WHO and UNICEF findings, globally 2500 million people defecate in the open but in India alone, 597 million practice open defecation, the highest by any country. Far more people in India have access to a mobile phone than to a toilet. If people know that one gram of feces contain 10,000,000 viruses, 1,000,000 bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts and 100 parasite eggs (Source: World Health Organization), primarily many Indians could stop open defecation.

The present global, Indian and Tamil Nadu sewage potential is 2,212 Cubic kilometre (km3), 44.63 km3 and 2.15 km3 per year respectively. In the Ganga and Yamuna river basins, the present wastewater generation is 14.75 km3 and 9.63km3 respectively.

However, globally only 24 km3 of sewage is treated to the acceptable standard. Assuming that 1 litre of wastewater pollutes 8 litre of freshwater, the present burden of pollution may be up to 12,000 km3 (423,774 TMC) worldwide according to the UN World Water Report. This is the main reason for the shrinkage of freshwater resources in the hydrologic cycle.

While people at the global and regional level are already unable to get access to clean drinking water and sanitation, the huge volume of wastewater generation, open defecation and dwindling freshwater resources in many nations are likely to further enhance complicated diseases and affect the health of the people in future. If the above pathetic scenario is allowed, our future generations are likely to be affected more severely than what we experience now.

It is estimated that a lack of safe drinking water costs 443 million school days a year throughout the world. Poor sanitation and drinking water supply result in global economic losses estimated at $260 billion annually and in developing countries, the GDP loss is over 1.5 per cent of their GDP.

Poor water quality, sanitation, and hygiene result in the loss of 30.5 million disabilities adjusted life years in India. The World Bank has estimated that open defecation costs India $54 billion per year or $48 per head and the health-related economic impacts of inadequate sanitation at Rs 1.75 trillion ($38.5 billion).

By improved sanitation, India can gain about Rs 1.48 trillion/$32.6 billion, which was the equivalent of 3.9 percent of GDP in 2006) and the per capita gain is Rs 1321 ($29).

There is a big outcry about the ongoing dengue fever deaths across India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. In India from 2010 to 2017, the dengue fever death figure was 1348, with the highest being 245 in 2016 for the total 129,166 people infected by the disease, according to the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme.

Rising number is not a problem unique to India. Globally, dengue incidence has increased 30-fold over the last 50 years, says the WHO, with 50-100 million infections reported annually in over 100 endemic countries, putting almost half of the world’s population at risk.

However, the present dengue fever menace and the unexpected loss of life is awakening the public and the government to find a permanent solution to arrest both mosquito and water borne diseases in India.

Papaya leaf extract has been used to stop bleeding by clumping and clotting blood vessel injuries in some dengue patients. Nilavembu Kudineer (Ayurveda and Siddha Medicine) is supplied to the people to treat/control this disease in Tamil Nadu, Singapore and Malaysia.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in April 2016 endorsed the world’s first-ever vaccine ‘Dengvaxia’ for dengue fever.

Papaya leaf extract and Nilavembu Kudineer (Ayurveda and Siddha Medicine) are likely to give immunity to people and it is not likely to cure after the dengue fever attack. Similarly, the ‘Dengvaxia’ vaccine is not able to give anticipated result to cure the disease.

Therefore, the above treatments are temporary but permanent measures to arrest mosquito and water-borne diseases are - treating and recycling the sewage and wastes of all origins to the acceptable standard, stopping open defecation, clearing the breeding sources of mosquitoes and providing one toilet with water in each home. There should be a standby source of basic demand of 50 litre of clean water per head per day to the people in drought years.

The standby sources may be desalination, treating & recycling sewage water to advanced stage so that to use for drinking (people in Singapore, Australia and Namibia, and states such as California, Virginia and New Mexico of USA are drinking the treated water to the advanced stage) and from any other source in drought years.

To arrest water miseries, each country and particularly India should frame a ‘Policy’ aimed at supply of sustainable water resource to all sectors, prioritizing in the order - domestic, agriculture, ecology, industry, energy, navigation by an “Action Plan”.

Without the above exercises, arresting mosquito and water-borne diseases will remain a pipe dream.

Who is going to bell the cat?

In the pre-election speech to mark the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi on October 2, 2013, Narendra Modi as the Chief Minister of Gujarat said “My image is of Hindutva but my real thought is to first have toilets and then temples. It is a sad situation that our mothers and sisters have to defecate in the open".

Modi as the Prime Minister of India told the Lower House of Parliament in June 2014, “By 2022, no Indian should be without a home, without clean water, without electricity and without a toilet”.

Again, in the 70th Independence Day address, he said, “When the country celebrates its 75th anniversary of Independence in 2022, all people, mostly poor, would have houses, toilet facilities, power and schools in nearby areas”.

This mega scheme can only be achieved by a concrete “Action Plan”. Let us hope, the promises are made real for the common man in the 75th Independence Day.

(The author is former Member, State-level Expert Appraisal Committee, Government of Tamil Nadu and former Director of Centre for Climate Change, Periyar Maniammai University, Thanjavur.)

(Disclaimer: India Water Review does not take any responsibility for the views expressed in the article. The article published also does not in anyway reflect the opinion of India Water Review.)

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