Needed: 24×7 access to safe water
|Wise policies and pioneering initiatives are a must in the urban water supply and sanitation sector|
Useful: RWH has multiple benefits
A strong, policy-led initiative is the best way to bring a structured approach to an issue. Let us take the example of some such initiatives in Bangalore. The State Government has long back incorporated rainwater harvesting as a system to be encouraged and brought into action in both urban and rural areas. While this remained a statement of intention, it was translated into action by the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board through a legislation which made it compulsory. The institution not only legislated but it also rolled out an implementation deadline, thus setting a clear target for the end user.
This in stark contrast to what the Corporation did. The BBMP made RWH a law as early as June 2004 as part of the amendment to the building bye-laws and promptly forgot about it. There was no target set, no Minister backing the initiative, no commitment from the staff of the organisation and therefore it was a comprehensive failure.
The BWSSB decision spawned a series of changes on the ground. According to the law, a target was identified for the number of buildings that would have to implement RWH to be in conformity. This was understood to be around 54,000 buildings. Assuming that each of these could harvest around 200,000 litres, a staggering 10,800 million litres could become harvestable and available to the city of Bangalore. This from a mere 54,000 buildings, while the total number of property in the city is estimated at one-and-a-half million.
There are around 1,000 plumbers and well-diggers now carrying out RWH works all over the city. Assuming that on an average each structure will cost around Rs. 50,000 since many of the buildings are large, the local economy would have seen a spurt by Rs. 2,700 million. This would have also created employment among plumbers, helpers and well-diggers to the tune of Rs. 90 crore of wages, not a bad amount for a project.
The policy and its implementation has also spurred a lot of creativity. New designs have emerged especially for rainwater filters ranging from Rs. 300 to Rs. 10,000. Over time, recharge structures have also stabilised around the recharge well and well-diggers have found employment. All this has been achieved at virtually no cost to the organisation since this is all private investments.
The urban drinking water and sanitation policy formulated as early as 2002, on the other hand, is an abject failure because it simply failed to set outcomes and milestones.
Currently the city needs a clear-cut universalisation policy which will set out targets as to by when all households in the city will be connected to water supply and sanitation.
A pro-poor policy needs to articulated too which will talk about the financial barriers for the poorer households to access water and how to overcome them through steps such as waiver of initial connection charges and provision of community standposts in localities as well as overcoming legal barriers if any in the poor accessing connections.
The city has been a forerunner for many pioneering initiatives with regard to water supply. It was the first to use steam engines to pump water, the first to use electricity again to bring water from Hessarghatta, the first to establish universal volumetric metering, the first to pay for ecological services and the first to have a specialised water supply and sanitation institution. It would be entirely appropriate if it would be the first to formulate a universal, pro-poor policy and ensure access to safe water and safe disposal of sanitation by all households.
A clear policy initiative in this regard is awaited as is the water wisdom that is needed for sustainable water and sanitation.