Dengue is in full swing, even in Delhi, where 384 people stand diagnosed in this season. There are several other cases across the country, many of whom we may not know about because of the lack of diagnostic facilities. But think once about dengue as a by-product of the recent history of water policy in our cities.
One of the commonest breeding grounds of the Aedes mosquito are places where we store fresh water-in most part, overhead water tanks. Most of us maintain these tanks because all over Indian cities, we suffer from an even more acute water shortage.
Our municipal supplies come to us only for a few hours a day, and we have to pump it all up into these tanks. Pumping up ground water is difficult, because tables have fallen so low. What could be an alternative scenario? In the last decade, cities could have done three things to increase water security.
First, made water harvesting mandatory, so that precipitated water was stored underground, and boosted water tables. Second, create decentralised sewage handling facilities so that secondary treated water could be made available locally and less expensively for many applications, such as gardening, substituting portable, or drinking quality water.
And third, set up incentives to use less water so we wouldn’t need to store several tankfuls.
Such steps would have reduced our urban water insecurity, water tanks would have been less commonplace and this alone would reduce the incidence of dengue.
Missing animal life
It’s been a wet August, but it’s been a sterile August in many parts of urban North India. Despite a robust monsoon, several people report not seeing the stream of animal life so typical of the season. There are hardly any earthworms crawling out and invading balconies, only the occasional insects. Snakes in any case indicate lost habitat. And none of the red velvet bugs that stuck out like jewels just a few years ago. What’s with our soil? Has all the landscaping removed older ecosystems or is there something more serious?