Friday, December 8, 2023

Quenching the thirst of India

By SK Nag

The inadequacy in terms of both ‘quantity and quality’ can often be found typically in a developing country’s community water supply system. In developing countries globally, three out of every five persons live without an adequate supply of safe drinking water. Those three out of every four persons do not have any sanitation facilities. On an average day, more than 2500 people die due to in-adequacy in water supply and sanitation. The World Health Organization figures for the year 1980 indicate that an estimated 62% of the developing countries suffer from adequate water supply. We have gone through the decade of 1981-90, which was declared the ‘International Drinking water supply and sanitation decade’ without much achievements. However, the need was recognized by the United Nations implicitly indicates the intensity of the need to improve the health of the world’s poor. Though the success of the decade program is dependent on many requirements from the engineer’s point of view, the major requirement is the availability of an appropriate technology which will bring maximum benefit to the community at a cost which can be afforded by the community and their government and at the same time much also be simple in operation and maintenance. Much of the dramatic improvement in public health in the developed countries in the last century or so were attributed to environmental scientists and engineers, at least as much as to doctors. No doubt, the improved water supply and adequate sanitation led to those improvements, which have yet to reach the vast majority of the developing countries.

Problem statement:

The dimension of the problem faced by the engineers is too big due to the following basics reasons:

1. Majority of the possible beneficiaries of any program belong to rural areas.

2. The rural communities cannot be taxed for any implementation of such programs.

3. Authorities, in many cases, remain unaware of the low-cost solutions to the problems.

4. Keeping the great expenditures to implement conventional solutions in site, the agencies are usually very reluctant to pay any attention to the rural problems.

5. Absence of equitable allocation of funds for the overall development of the country.

Therefore, at the outset, it may be mentioned, efforts to be made to improve the general health conditions, especially by providing safe water and adequate waste disposal programs.

The drainage and sanitation should be considered contemporarily in the design of the water supply project. Water introduced into a community must be disposed of through proper sanitation infrastructure; otherwise, health conditions may deteriorate further without improving. 

Thus, water supply and sanitation solutions must be considered jointly because the introduction of a large quantity of water into a community without any provision for its proper disposal is an incomplete & irresponsible implementation plan.

The basic needs for water supply are to reduce infant mortality and adult morbidity and reduce the time required for fetching water. One of the program’s major problems is the health hazards caused by water-borne diseases like cholera, typhoid, diarrhoea, jaundice, amoebic dysentery, and bacillary dysentery etc. owing to insufficient and polluted water supply and poor sanitation. And for that reason, community awareness is essential: how water affects the health condition in various ways. Thus it reflects the need for ‘quality awareness,’ which is normally absent in rural areas. Women are mainly responsible for preparing food, cleaning utensils, washing children and houses, etc. They must know how dirty water brings sufferings, diseases, and deaths. So, it is of paramount importance that the community must be aware of the effect of quality of water they use regularly. Again, community participation is necessary for the maintenance of facilities after they are installed; since they are unable to pay for this, they may toil for the labour required for the project’s implementation. This project has a vast scope to adopt skilled and unskilled labour, which can easily be substituted by the rural people with or without mere training. Hence low-cost technology for water supply and sanitation requires increased emphasis on the development of human resources. Users can be trained to maintain and for preliminary repairing at the village level. To yield permanent improvement and to slow the deterioration of existing facilities, training is essential for operation and maintenance not only for village level technologies but also for sophisticated technologies. Thus a goal of the decade could be achieved by participation of the community.

As far as possible, the major portion of funding for implementing the program will be generated from the country’s resources. Sometimes the international agencies provide funds and some possible help to stimulate planning and execution of investment by sharing know-how or transmitting information from country to country on the applicable program. The program’s investment must rely on the limited national sources; hence, the developing countries must invest in and implement appropriate technologies to serve the most people with adequate and effective water supply and sanitation, rather than a few wasteful models based on in-appropriate foreign standards. The above-mentioned problems in rural areas of a developing country are totally different from that of a developed country. The decision on what standard of technologies to be used basically depends on affordability, population density, soil condition, local hydrology, and capacity to implement and operate. So, the applicability or low-cost technologies are very obvious because technologies enable the community to support it from their own resources financially. These are affordable, simple, and maybe financed and maintained by the community itself. Simple and safe facilities can be subsequently upgraded for the convenience of the people. We should keep in mind that the health of many should not be sacrificed for the convenience or luxury of a few.

Since the people’s voice from the rural areas is very low, or they don’t have the capacity to be united to move forward with their problems at hand, they have been suffering from the problems traditionally remaining unsolved. Government should step forward with a positive attitude to solve it with proper implementation of the program. A Problem-solving attempt is needed without neglecting it. Though these seem to be much costly, they will prove to be less money-consuming than previously thought.

Suggestion and discussion

Normally, certain rural areas have a few shallow wells, deep tube wells, and dug wells where groundwater is adequate. But if we look at these from a wider perspective, especially the deep tube wells need sophisticated machinery to sink, which may be available in India but not in all developing countries. Despite these sorts of technical drawbacks, there are some geological criteria, often found to be a problem. Water tables in many places are at a greater depth; water cannot easily be available even in deep tube walls. This can be substituted by bringing the water from the irrigation canal if available throughout the year; after preliminary treatment, it can be distributed to the community. But the moot point is that there is no such perennial canal available abundantly, which can provide necessary support throughout the year. The irrigation canals normally run short of water except in monsoon. And the rivers are also not perennial, so, if the water can be stored in the reservoir during its full-flow thereby taken to the community through big conduct after simple and preliminary treatment may lead to a positive result with a sigh of relief to the rural community. Dug wells are widely used due to its advantage of construction and ease of use; these are easy to construct and maintain if the conditions are right. Usually, no special equipment or skills are required for this, and the water can easily be treated by the usual way of pot chlorination to remove pathogenic contamination. The infiltration gallery may be a means of groundwater withdrawal, making the aquifer accessible from the surface. They are also constructed easily by manual effort or with mechanical equipment. Groundwater collected by this method may be subject to pollution, bacterial contamination, and algal growth. Rainwater harvesting has been an old practice, and some have been continuing to this day too. Rainwater is collected as it runs off roofs or over natural ground or specially prepared catchment areas. Roman villages and cities early Buddhist monastic cells in India planned to take its advantage for drinking purposes. However, this is especially the case where the groundwater is unavailable or costly to develop, and where rainfall is heavy and has considerable consistent intensity. The collected water will be subject to treatment before distribution, which is simple, low-cost treatment but not conventional.

If there is no other source, then a turbid and polluted river can be brought under treatment by a low-cost treatment method. Plain sedimentation is less costly, but it will be better if other, easy options are available, consisting of horizontal flow roughing filtration and slow sand filtration. Horizontal flow roughing filters have been operating successfully ahead of slow sand filters at several water treatment plants. The turbid river water can be pre-treated effectively in developing countries by a horizontal flow roughing filter, which acts as a multi-store sedimentation tank. The removal efficiency of this is 60 to 70% of water turbidity. Infiltration, suspended particles are removed from water using porous media, usually made up of sand. Slow sand filter is used effectively in improving the aesthetic and bacteriological quality of water. Since the very fine grain sand is used in this method, the suspended matter present in raw water is largely removed.

This above-mentioned filtration process is simple, affordable, and easy to operate and maintain. So, these may be preferred by the authority to achieve faster penetration.

Sometimes it is neither feasible nor necessary to establish complete treatment of the water. Disinfection can protect public health from this type of pollution. Theoretically, chlorination disinfection can give better results, but in practice, chlorination is an unreliable process. This method’s major problem is the non-availability of chlorine and people’s ignorance about the amount of chlorine to be used. The use of an excessive amount of chlorine may affect the taste and the appearance of the water supply. A certain amount of chlorine is required for a fixed time interval to remove particular contamination.

Moreover, in rural areas, no water distribution through a pipeline connection to each house is necessary. It should be distributed through communal stand posts, situated near the population, which might help solve water’s real problem in rural areas.

The rural water supply problem in developing countries and it is clearly understood that financial help is essential for successful implantation. At the same time, motivation must be accompanied by the program: so, community participation to accelerate the program cannot be ignored.

(SK Nag is Chartered Engineer, Energy Expert and industry mentor. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected] )

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