The Twelfth Five Year Plan focuses on fast, inclusive and sustainable growth. Growth in agriculture, growth in GDP, new work opportunities, improving infrastructure, road connectivity, welfare services, banking services, poverty are few of the agendas of the plan. Another major area of concern is to solve the water and sewage problem especially in urban areas. It is believed that water and sewage are the gravest problems in urban areas and need urgent attention. Hence urban water and waste management is one of the key proposals made in the plan.
It has been found out that only 47% of urban households receive water through connection and the rest depends upon water tanks or underground water. So affordability and sustainability are the two major strategies that have been focused in the Twelfth Five Year Plan.
We all know that shortage of drinking water is a major issue in urban India. Presently not only the quantity of water but its management as well as supply is a problem. Leakage, faulty pipelines, bad management and distance increase the overall cost and lead to the wastage of water. Leakage results in the contamination of water. Thus water entering to the homes is not only less in quantity but lacks quality also. It is estimated that near about 40-50% water is lost is the distribution system. Another amazing thing is that 30-50% of electricity is used in pumping water to household. The loss is hence two fold – one is of electricity and another is of water wastage and its contamination. Also distance to which water is distributed increases the overall cost of water. This includes building and maintenance of pipe line and the distribution system. Government has become helpless and unable to supply water to every household. Poor and lower strata are always the worst hit segment of the society.
Another problem is the contamination of water at two levels one due to inefficient sewage system and another is due to lack of it. In case of inefficient sewage system, the waste is poured in natural water bodies like river, ponds etc making the water unfit for drinking. Many cities have nullah carrying waste which is dumped in nearby river and in most of the cases in an untreated form. In second scenario, for each home septic tanks are built under the ground. Untreated biological waste in these contaminates the underground water making it unfit for use. Sample surveys of underground water are really shocking. The water is completely laced with high amount of biological contamination. It has also been proposed that there should be efficient water recycling and waste management. Four years back I got the underground water of Uttam Nagar, New Delhi checked from lab and they refused to give me the exact result but said that the sample water was highly contaminated and even unfit for washing.
Defecating in open is also a problem in India leading to water contamination. It is estimated that near about 50 million urban Indians still defecate in open making the problem quite grave. So efficient and affordable sewage system is the need of the day. Water problem can never be solved in case sewage problem remains untapped.
Less number of sewage treatment plants as compared to waste produce is another issue in urban areas. Moreover some of the plants do not work properly. Hence mixing of treated and untreated sewage also leads to water pollution. In addition to this, sewage treatment plants are also not built properly. These plants do not dispose of the treated effluent appropriately.
Everyday about 32,000 people are added to the urban India. This increases the pressure on natural resources and their efficient management. The gargantuan population is adding waste every day and poses a big question – Where will the waste go? Close to half of the sewage and garbage is treated and the rest is ended as raw, untreated sewage in water bodies and wetlands.
In order to address the problem of water, both water and waste management must come under prime focus. Pipes containing water and other such infrastructure must be checked thoroughly and any leakage and contamination during supply should be checked. Local water bodies should increase in number in each city to solve the water shortage problem at city level. In case this happens it will reduce the distance that water pipelines cover. Hence leads to less of loss. Under one solution, the solid waste must be reduced in size first. This can be achieved by burning it. The energy generated in this way can be used for other purposes. But care has to be taken so that nothing harmful goes to our environment.
If we do not have sufficient processes in place then we can learn from other countries that are doing this efficiently. One such example is Singapore where there are four waste-to-energy plants that are running 24×7. The ashes left are then transported to Semakau Island, a man-made landfill site. The plants are very efficient and emit carbon monoxide less than a thirtieth of the permissible limits. The plant has the capacity to handle 3,000 tonnes of waste every day.
Also managing water resource is one of the main challenges. Under Twelfth Five Year Plan there is a proposal to expand Watershed Management Programme. Also it has been stated that agriculture practices must be improved because 80% of water is used in agriculture.
Waste management at city level must be given priority as it is polluting drinking water, underground water and also polluting other natural resources. Groundwater is a precious resource of water and must be protected. Government should take necessary steps towards this.