The crisis of plumbing, where are the skilled plumbers?
Everyday miracles occur in our homes and apartments daily and yet we are oblivious to it. You open the tap in the kitchen sink and fresh clean water flows from it to wash the vegetables for cooking. You go and use the toilet and the flush takes away the waste from your sight cleanly and into a vast underground network of pipes which hopefully will then clean it up in a sewage treatment plant somewhere at the end of it. If anything distinguishes a civilized world from a less civilized one, it is plumbing. The provision of treated piped water inside homes and the taking away of waste-water has been the single largest lifesaver ever, decreasing mortality , increasing life span , reducing morbidity and improving quality of life overall. The great cities of the world are those which have built water supply networks bringing potable water home and underground sewers capable of handling all wastes including for a growing population. The invention of the flush toilet, which many regard as one of the world’s greatest inventions, also called for skilled plumbers to connect them to the sewage systems emerging.
From the days of Harappa and Lothal circa 2500 B.C.E or thereabouts, when the cities had a good sewerage and drainage system, to the current day’s plumbers seem to be a non-formal, ‘learn on the job as you apprentice’ trade. Great cities were built in the past and disappeared into the mists of history. Presently a construction boom grips our cities and yet one of the most crucial jobs that of providing water remains in the hands of a trade where there is no formal training institution and which has not professionalized itself. The most expensive fittings in the market for taps , showers , baths and flushes are put in place by untrained hands.
While it is true that skills not necessarily have to be learnt in formal institutions yet that there is no single poly-technic which teaches plumbing as a formal course to those wanting to enter the job market looks like a missed opportunity for the construction sector. There is also a great need to improve the skills of those who are already in the trade and who would want to take their income earning opportunities to the next level , perhaps even as as contractors or entrepreneurs.
Skill training for plumbers will improve the efficiency of design of buildings, improve water and sanitation handling abilities, ensure fire-safety and ensure the increased life of buildings since leaking water and sanitation lines are one of the biggest culprits for the reduction of life of buildings. Leaking pipes cause fungus and mold to develop and directly impact the health of the occupants. Blockages of pipes and sewers are a nuisance taking tremendous efforts to repair once a problem occurs.
Meanwhile Babu goes about his work in putting in place a new plumbing system for the house recently expanded and a first floor built. He has been in the trade for 13 years. He uses the crudest of methods to heat and join pipes. He has no idea on say putting a siphon type rainwater drain-out pipe which can reduce the diameter of the pipe and thus reduce cost for the owner. He has no clue on how to build a rainwater harvesting system which can collect at least 100,000 litres of rainwater for the building annually. The joints of the drainage pipe are reasonably well done but he has no idea how to have a dual pipe system which can reuse grey-water from the building and recycle it. The building owner and the contractor trust him completely and therefore are condemned to a sub-optimal design for the rest of the life of the building.
Needed-Training institutions and skill up-gradation courses for plumbers
The Indian Plumbing Association, a newly formed body, has brought out its own code for plumbing including a Green Plumbers Code. It is valiantly trying to bridge the skill up-gradation and capacity building gap. They need the assistance of many a poly-technic and the skill up-gradation council of India to develop and deliver a special course to bring trained plumbers into the market. The construction sector will only benefit from such an effort as well as employment opportunities for the young in a trade which is life saving and very important. Water wisdom demands that society invest in skilled plumbers. That time is now.