By Pratap Kaul:
India has a population of almost 1.2 billion people. 55% of this population (nearly 600 million people) has no access to toilets. Most of these numbers are made up by people who live in urban slums and rural areas. A large populace in the rural areas still defecates in the open. Slum dwellers in major metropolitan cities, reside along railway tracks and have no access to toilets or a running supply of water. The situation in urban areas in terms of scale is not as serious as rural areas. However what escalates problems in urban areas is poor sewerage systems and highly congested living conditions.
Sewerage systems, if present at all, suffers from poor maintenance which often leads to overflow of raw sewage. Today, cities are highly populated. Over 20 cities have over a million residents, including the metropolises of Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata. In these places the existing sewerage systems, built to serve a population of around 3 million people, can’t handle the wastewater produced by an average of 12-14 million residents.
What makes matters worse is that the existing infrastructure isn’t suited to cater to the needs of an exponentially growing population. Wastewater treatment facilities are inadequate- India neither has enough water to flush out city effluents, nor does it have enough sewage treatment plants. A report suggests that only 30% of India’s water is treated. The rest of the water makes its way into streams and rivers inducing another major problem-water pollution. According to the country’s tenth 5 year plan, 75% of India’s surface water resources are polluted and 80% of this is due to sewage alone.
Needless to say this has a severe impact on human health. The water pollution aids the transmission of oral-fecal diseases like diarrhea and other intestinal infections such as round worm and hook worm. Diarrhea alone accounts for over 535,000 deaths in children under 5 years of age. Several malnutrition cases in children due to contaminated water have also been reported. Polluted water is also breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes, carriers of diseases like Malaria and Dengue fever are responsible for another 300,000 deaths in our country annually.
In addition to health issues, poor sanitary measures set India back by billions of dollars every year. Illnesses are costly to families, and to the economy as a whole in terms of productivity losses and expenditures on medicines and health care. The economic repercussions are also evident in other areas like fisheries and tourism which are also hit by water related problems. As per World Bank statistics India’s nominal GDP stands at 1.3 Trillion dollars and we are currently ranked 11th in the world on basis of nominal GDP. If we could cut down expenses incurred due to illnesses and lack of productivity due to illnesses, our economy would get the impetus it needs to flourish even more. This in turn would enable governmental agencies to improve sanitation standards and medical infrastructure which would in turn help improve living standards of people. Overcoming the demons of poor sanitation and addressing health issues arising out of the same will surely help us become a global superpower in a holistic sense.