TURN­ING THE RIGHT TAP ON

There is a need for more so­phis­ti­cated meth­ods to en­sure safe drink­ing wa­ter

India Today - - HEALTH SPECIAL -

Wa­ter is an es­sen­tial part of food. We need at least two to three litres of it ev­ery day. But it is still a daunt­ing task to pro­vide ac­cess to clean, safe wa­ter not just in vil­lages but to all liv­ing in cities and towns.

Though ac­cess to drink­ing wa­ter in In­dia has in­creased over the past decade, ad­verse im­pact of un­safe wa­ter on health con­tin­ues. The World Bank es­ti­mates that 21 per cent of com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases in In­dia are wa­ter re­lated. Of th­ese dis­eases, di­ar­rhoea alone killed over 700,000 In­di­ans in 1999. The high­est mor­tal­ity from di­ar­rhoea is in chil­dren un­der the age of five, point­ing to an ur­gent need for in- ter­ven­tions to pre­vent di­ar­rhoea dis­ease in this age group. Di­ar­rhoea is caused due to in­ges­tion of pathogens in wa­ter and food. Eighty- eight per cent cases of di­ar­rhoea are due to drink­ing un­safe wa­ter. Dis­eases such as cholera, ty­phoid and dysen­tery are re­lated to oral fae­cal trans­mis­sion.

Be­sides con­tam­i­na­tion of wa­ter with harm­ful bac­te­ria such as Escherichia coli and viruses, wa­ter sources are mixed some­times with in­dus­trial ef­flu­ents, heavy met­als, pes­ti­cides, ni­trates, ar­senic, cad­mium and flu­o­ride. Drink­ing wa­ter con­tain­ing heavy met­als can re­sult in dam­age to the kid­neys and the ner­vous sys­tem. Ex­cess flu­o­rides in wa­ter can cause yel­low­ing of teeth, dam­age to the spinal cord and crip­pling dis­ease af­fect­ing the func­tion­ing of limbs. In In­dia, the most com­mon cause of flu­o­ro­sis is flu­o­ride present in wa­ter— par­tic­u­larly wa­ter from bore wells. As many as 17 states have been iden­ti­fied as ‘ en­demic’ ar­eas for flu­o­ro­sis with an es­ti­mated 25 mil­lion peo­ple af­flicted and an­other 66 mil­lion at risk. The dis­ease af­fect­ing the teeth is known as den­tal flu­o­ro­sis and that af­fect­ing the bone is known as skele­tal flu­o­ro­sis.

A knowl­edge, at­ti­tude, be­hav­iour, prac­tice sur­vey re­ported by the National In­sti­tute of Nu­tri­tion ( NIN) ob­served that only one in three peo­ple have pro­tected wa­ter sup­ply. The sur­vey also re­vealed that 40 per cent of the house­holds pu­rify wa­ter at home us­ing meth­ods like strain­ing through cloth. Other meth­ods used are boil­ing wa­ter, chlo­rine tablets and wa­ter fil­ters.

The stan­dards for potable wa­ter are pre­scribed by the Bureau of In­dian Stan­dards ( BIS). How­ever, adop­tion of BIS stan­dards is vol­un­tary, not manda­tory. Pack­aged drink­ing wa­ter is reg­u­lated by the Food Safety and Stan­dards Au­thor­ity of In­dia Act, 2006.

Most wa­ter that is avail­able is pack­aged drink­ing wa­ter and not min­eral wa­ter. The pack­aged wa­ter is that which is safe for hu­man con­sump­tion. In con­trast, min­eral wa­ter should con­tain cer­tain es­sen­tial min­er­als in the stip­u­lated val­ues as it is in­tended to of­fer some ther­a­peu­tic ef­fect. There are a few brands that pro­duce min­eral wa­ter but th­ese are ex­pen­sive when com­pared to pack­aged drink­ing wa­ter.

What needs to be un­der­scored is that clean, healthy wa­ter does not have to be pure but potable and of such qual­ity so as to keep healthy those drink­ing it. There is a need for more so­phis­ti­cated meth­ods of en­sur­ing safe drink­ing wa­ter while still re­duc­ing the need for chem­i­cal treat­ment and iden­ti­fy­ing po­ten­tial haz­ards more quickly.

Graphic by RAHUL AWASTHI/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

Di­rec­tor, National In­sti­tute of Nu­tri­tion, Hyderabad

Dr Kal­pagam Po­lasa

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