80% of India’s surface water may be polluted, report by international body says
The report, based on latest data from the ministry of urban development (2013), census 2011 and Central Pollution Control Board, estimates that 75-80% of water pollution by volume is from domestic sewerage, while untreated sewerage flowing into water bodies including rivers have almost doubled in recent years.
This in turn is leading to increasing burden of vector borne diseases, cholera, dysentery, jaundice and diarrhea etc. Water pollution is found to be a major cause for poor nutritional standards and development in children also.
Between 1991 and 2008, the latest period for which data is available, flow of untreated sewerage has doubled from around 12,000 million litres per day to 24,000 million litres per day in Class I and II towns.
The database defines Class I towns as those with a population of more than 1 lakh, whereas towns with population ranging between 50,000 to 1 lakh are classified as Class II.
The report, titled ‘Urban WASH: An Assessment on Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) Policies and Programmes at the National and State Level’, is likely to be released next week.
According to the report, inadequate sanitation facilities, poor septage management and a near absence of sanitation and waste water policy framework are primary reasons responsible for the groundwater and surface water pollution in the country.
Experts say there are glaring gaps not just in treatment of sewerage water but also in case of water treatment itself, used in supply of drinking water as well as for kitchen use etc.
“Though there are standards, the enforcement is very low. Even the amount of water, which is treated, is also not treated completely or as per standards. And there is no civic agency accountable or punishable for that because we do not have stringent laws,” says Puneet Srivastava, manager policy- Urban WASH & Climate Change at WaterAid India.
Findings of the report show nearly 17 million urban households, accounting for over 20% of total 79 million urban households, lack adequate sanitation.
“Among those with access to improved sanitation facilities, a vast majority relies on on-site sanitation systems, such as septic tanks and pit latrines. Today, these septic tanks and pit latrines have become a major contributor to groundwater and surface water pollution in many cities in the country,” the report said.
However, the report acknowledges that India has of late started focusing on the problem of septage management, which is one of the most immediately implementable solutions to address urban waste water.
But there is an urgent need to focus on infrastructure as well as enforcement, says Srivastava.
“Most of the sewerage treatment plants are performing under their capacity as these utilities do not have enough money to run full capacity,” says Srivastava pointing at dearth of human resource, improper management etc.
Estimates show there were 269 sewage treatment plants across the country, with 211 in Class I cities, 31 in Class II towns, and 27 in other smaller towns.
“At the policy level, sanitation was not prioritized until the early 1990s and became an important policy concern only around 2008. It was not until the inception of the National Urban Sanitation Policy (NUSP) in 2008, that urban sanitation was allotted focused attention at the national level,” the report said.