Massive Water Woes Will Add to COVID-19 Pandemic Crisis

 

B N Kumar

We keep saying water, water. But we have forgotten the ways to conserve it

From Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Amitach Bachhan advocate frequent washing of hands to protect oneself from COVID-19. UNICEF also issues comprehensive guidelines for washing hands at least ten times a day. All these measures require water, running water.

NITI Aayog mentions that India is undergoing the worst water crisis in its history and nearly 600 million people are facing high to extreme water stress. The report says India is placed at 120th amongst 122 countries in the water quality index, with nearly 70% of water being contaminated. Statistics apart, it is a fact that the nation faces severe water shortage – almost throughout the year in many rural areas and during summer months in urban areas. Water is still rationed.

It is in this context that we must consider the explosive situation arising out of the COVID-19 crisis. Along with face masks and other PPE, water has become an essential part of coronavirus care. Everyone says we must wash our hands at least four times under running water. This is obviously in addition to the routine washing before and after meals etc.,

Respiratory viruses like coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread when mucus or droplets containing the virus get into your body through your eyes, nose or throat. Most often, this happens through your hands. Hands are also one of the most common ways that the virus spreads from one person to the next, says UNICEF

During a global pandemic, one of the cheapest, easiest, and most important ways to prevent the spread of a virus is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water.

Per UNICEF guidelines: In the context of COVID-19 prevention, you should make sure to wash your hands at the following times:

After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing

After visiting a public space, including public transportation, markets and places of worship

After touching surfaces outside of the home, including money

Before, during and after caring for a sick person

Before and after eating

In general, you should always wash your hands at the following times:

After using the toilet

Before and after eating

After handling garbage

After touching animals and pets

After changing babies’ diapers or helping children use the toilet

When your hands are visibly dirty

For this, we need water in large quantities. Estimates are that one needs at least a litre and half per handwash which works out to 15 litres per head and 75 litres per family of five – that too for handwash alone.

Municipal water supply is limited to couple of hours on the morning and evening nearly half of Mumbai which lives in slums does not have the luxury of overhead storage facility. This is exactly why you find crowds doing their wash during those water supply hours during non-summer days. The situation is grim during the summer months when even housing societies are forced to go for tankers with no guarantee of the source of drawing water. I have seen office complexes in Mumbai having no water and the staff running to nearby hotels to wash.

We keep saying water, water. But we have forgotten the ways to conserve it.

Now, let me bring up some official data into focus. The government has identified eight crore migrant labour to be covered Under Atma Nirbhar Bharat package, for distribution of 5 Kg of food grains per month for two months. There are some other stats which speak of 14 crore migrant labour. This equals 7 Mumbais. Imagine the city crisis multiplied by 7 times.

We are told that close to 15 lakh migrants have just been transported to their native places. They need 2.25 crore litres of water per day for hand-wash alone. And we are talking about numbers as of May 15. The Home Ministry said about two lakh migrants have been transported daily so far and the figure will increase to three lakh-a-day.

What is the solution? Good question. Our planners are notorious for not planning! Else, the migrant crisis of the gigantic seize would not have erupted. Delhi, Mumbai and then Surat gave us enough warning signals about the volcanos called migrants. We ignored. But now that we are trying to grapple with the situation, let us look at some possible solutions.

The cities might have been able to save some water commercially due to the lockdown series, but then the domestic consumption did increase. There could have been some saving on the industrial water consumption that could be judiciously diverted for coronacare. Water kiosks wherever possible – say near railway stations and bus depots in small towns is another idea that one can work on.

Most importantly, I think water-for-hand-wash should be the part of corona relief. As we try to ease pressure on the PDS when we distribute food items, we most look at putting up had-wash kiosks/facilities pan-India.

Remember, sanitisers with alcohol do have side-affects. You are supposed to rub your hands even with sanitiser drops for full 20 seconds for desired effect. Their usage can cause skin dryness and lead to nail ailments. My dermatologist told me to avoid hand sanitiser. I can afford it because I have the running water facility. Millions don’t.