Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects to economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Alex Kirsch makes this connection in Kolkata, India. This current event was reported in by the Global Water Forum online news, on September 23, 2012, under the title “Water supply and sanitation in India: Meeting targets and beyond”, by Dr. Sridhar Vedachalam. This is likely real news, based on the Indian Institute for Human Settlements in August 2015 providing an independent report on this current event online.

The news regarding efforts to improve the supply of water throughout India, and to cities such as Kolkata, relates to water resources engineering, specifically in the areas of water demand and pipe networks. The key message in this article is the lowered standards for water to be considered “safe” in India, which have led to overestimates of the percentage of population with adequate water access. The daily demand for water in Kolkata significantly exceeds not only the capacity of the city’s wastewater treatment facilities, but also the overall supply. Investments have been made to improve these conditions, but efforts have been hindered by a high poverty rate and scarcity of freshwater resources. Waterborne diseases have plagued many regions of India, and a history of underinvestment have created challenges which are difficult to overcome. In my critique of this news story, I would praise the author for including specific information regarding the supply and treatment for various cities compared with the consumption levels (Figure 1), though I also found that the article fails to make specific references to the actions taken to truly mitigate the issues faced. It is unclear how supply is expected to be improved, whether by addition of water sources, construction of additional treatment facilities, or improved pipe networks, as water pumps currently used simply draw untreated water from the ground (Figure 2).

Figure 1 Status of water supply and wastewater treatment in the 6 largest cities of India

Figure 2 Water Pump, India

Economic, environmental and societal issues play a tremendous role in the efforts to improve water supply in Kolkata. Clearly, major environmental concerns exist, since contaminated, disease-carrying water has been the greatest issue. The article points out that while water consumption typically increases with socio-economic status, this has not been observed in cities in India, as consumption has rather been uniform, due to supply constraints. Additionally, from a societal standpoint, gender and caste have been found to play a role in access to water and sanitation. Women are more likely to be responsible for fetching water in Indian society, and members of lower castes have historically been responsible for the handling of waste. I found that the impact of safe water scarcity on poorer societal groups was also reported by Worley (2014). Weakened immune systems due to malnutrition as a result of poverty have caused individuals to be particularly susceptible to diseases, such as those carried by water. Worley (2014) reports that a multitude of water-related issues have contributed to illnesses and fatalities in India, such as the lack of toilets, poor water quality, and lack of food. The cause-effect relationship occurs when children do not receive sufficient nutrition, and as a result contract diseases which their immune systems are unable to ward off.

References:

Vedachalam S, Water supply and sanitation in India: Meeting targets and beyond. Global Water Forum. http://www.globalwaterforum.org/2012/09/23/water-supply-and-sanitation-in-india-meeting-targets-and-beyond/. Published September 23, 2012. Accessed February 27, 2017.

Wankhade K, Balakrishnan K, M.J. V. Urban Water Supply & Sanitation in India. Indian Institute for Human Settlements. http://iihs.co.in/knowledge-gateway/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/RF-WATSAN_reduced_sized.pdf. Published August 2015. Accessed February 27, 2017.

Worley H. Water, Sanitation, Hygiene, and Malnutrition in India. Population Reference Bureau. http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2014/india-sanitation-malnutrition.aspx. Published September 2014. Accessed February 27, 2017.

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