Water in Kolkata #india – how it works.. or doesn’t..

I recently met with a guy called Aaron, he’s been in Kolkata for 15 months or so and works for a water company Splash!

http://splash.org/

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Splash’s purpose is

“To change the lives of vulnerable children in impoverished urban areas by providing clean, safe drinking water to orphanages, schools, children’s hospitals, street shelters, and rescue homes.”

I spoke to Aaron about the water system in Kolkata to get a better understanding of how issues can occur regarding the cleanliness of water, here’s what I Learnt. (he says that it is probably very similar in many other cities in India).

Below is probably the reason why it’s suggested that you drink bottled water (unless the tap supply is filtered or you don’t care or have taken necessary precautions). If you do drink bottled water and buy it from local small vendors, be sure to only buy the bottles that have a plastic casing around the bottle top as often bottles can be salvaged once used and refilled with potentially dirty/unsafe water.

I’m aware that there are companies at the moment that have started to convert sea water into bottled drinking water, and whilst that’s an interesting piece of technology and arguably a necessity if you want everyone in the world to be on an even playing field it worries me, as I dread to think of all the unintended or known (but untold) damaging consequences it has to our already fragile ecosystem.

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The northern gyre, an area of sea the size of Texas full of various pieces and a large collection of plastic waste, which is accumulating and having disastrous effects on the planets oceans and marine life.

We’re abusing our seas and what it provides for us a lot as it is without a necessary strategy in place or a sustainable and widely actively enforced protection strategy in place. I know the EU have brought in fishing guidelines which fishermen should adhere to, but I’m also aware that in various places around the world there may not be rules, and if there are they’re very possibly being disregarded as people need money to live, with the most noticeable case I’ve come across involving illegal fishing of Tuna in the Mediterranean.

Anyway on to the water issue in Kolkata.

The municipality water is only on between 4-6 hours a day.

A lot of houses in Kolkata and especially the cities do have running water available 24 hours a day, but this is only because a lot of buildings are now built with bore-wells which are huge storage tanks based under the buildings that store enough water to be used throughout the day.

But that is apparently where a lot of the issues come from.

Water, apparently, in general around the world is normally treated (by governments) in a simple manner which includes filtration of the water through sand, and then the disinfection of the water through chlorine (hence why whenever you have tap water in the UK and you think it tastes chlorinated you’re probably right- although a lot of the time it will have dissapeared by the time it gets to the tap).

This is done in India as well, but the issues stem from the storage of water due to the limited hours a day that the water is on and what happens in the piping due to the water not being on throughout the day (plus the source it normally originates from).

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With 24 hour water comes a 24hr water pressure. What this does is it maintains the standard of water that much more than if it’s turned on sparingly. Whilst there will always seemingly be cracks within piping or leakages, 24 hour water pressure (with chlorine running through it) allows this to seep through and not accumulate creating a much less intense threat to an individuals health and also allowing the threat to be treated in a more efficient manner by the chlorine as the amount of chlorine will almost always be enough to contain any small amounts of contaminants that do get into it.

This though doesn’t happen in India, what will happen is the leakages that do occur allow for big bacteria build ups, so when it’s all swept up at the same time it’s harder for the bacteria to be eliminated by the chlorine as there’s so much more of it.

Water is also contaminated again whilst waiting in the storage units of buildings. All are found under or around the building in question but often are exposed and can be found at times with animal faeces around them which can seep into the ground and subsequently into the water itself, which means if the water isn’t maintained obviously creates even more health hazards.

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This is dependent on the individual buildings filtration system from then on.

Regarding each individual building I’ve been told that the water is, through a pressurized system, pumped up to the top of the building to another tank where through gravity it then proceeds to fulfill all the needs of the building.

Aaron mentioned though that when he went to visit around 50 govt run schools in Kolkata he took water samples and found that 70% of the water he tested had choliform bacteria in the water and around 51% had ecoli both of which are signs that the water has been contaminated since its initial treatment and could mean that diseases are in the water or that it has come into touch with fecal contamination. These can be got rid of by boiling but often the water is drunk straight from the tap.

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