Where does clean water come from?
And how do you keep it clean?
Good questions for any aspiring Master of Public Health student. We had a crusty old veteran - the snow-white-haired Dr. Eric Mood take us through our paces in seeking to solve the world's water problems. As I seem to recall - this hoary gent started out in a career in public health that took him places while still a young man just out of the military at the end of World War Two.
As students in wintry New Haven, with its wooded reservoir-fed public water system and not a diarrhoeal case in site, the tales of water-borne diseases that Dr. Mood had for us seemed somehow removed, distant.
Bombay blows all that away:
Asha is getting the same education we did - but with a twist. We see diarrhoea here all the time!
And she is being taught about this in 2nd standard.
Yesterday night she announced (after 9 PM) that she had a project that could only be submitted the next day. On safe water.
So we all stayed up late. And made the project together.
So here we have it:
The reservoir lakes that need protecting from people dumping things into them. With their dams they supply water to the great thirsty 16 million odd folks who camp out in the greater Mumbai area:
The dams collect the water, which is then sent through those long snaking pipes that bring the millions of litres of water into the city (across 60 kms) every day:
The problem is this - the water is not sent through the pipe all the time - but rather only at certain times. The pipes are also old and have holes. Many shanty-towns are built right onto the pipe lines since this is relatively 'free space' (as seen in Slumdog Millionaire). When the water pressure is high - the water spurts out of the holes - and is used by the people living next to the pipelines... Then the assorted muck seeps back into the water pipes... and is delivered via into your house via your tap! (note the blue and brown water puddles in the model above).
So what's to be done?
Well, according to Asha's school book - we need to boil and filter our water!
And so we have Asha's cooking set filling in for this important task.
This is part of the great irony of the city - how a place with so many dreams and aspirations can in the end have such a poor quality of life in so many ways. People in high-rise appartments are boiling their water - because all their money can't buy them safe water (and even they have to order water-tankers). For the vast majority of the others? Municipal water is usually taken raw. Its no wonder every monsoon the quacks who sell 'Jaundice cures' have such a roaring business.
Because, look what happens to those who do not take care to purify their water:
You are correct: "Water-borne diseases such as dysentry, thyphoid, jaundice, cholera" (this sentence is directly from from Asha's standard 2 notebook).
As you can see in the tasteful tableau above - the man on the left is firmly esconsed on his throne (probably meeting the porcelain every 2 hours) - while the gent on the right is managing a double - 'loose stools' behind and vomit in front.
Ah the joys of education.
But also how sad that we are still grappling with such very very very basic public health issues.