Why experts doubt municipal data on Mumbai’s infant deaths and garbage | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Why experts doubt municipal data on Mumbai’s infant deaths and garbage

mumbai Updated: Oct 08, 2017 22:51 IST
Manoj R Nair

(Picture for representation)

Last week, this newspaper reported on two important sets of data from the recently released Environment Status Report (ESR), a document released by Mumbai’s municipal corporation annually.

The ESR provides easy-to-understand data on the city’s population, land use, climate, health, roads and other vital information. The data is a handy way to track the progress, or the regression, made by Mumbai in health, education, sanitation, communication and air quality. But is it reliable?

The 2016-17 report was released by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) two weeks ago, but experts have pointed out what could be severe flaws in the data. The report indicates that Mumbai’s Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) — which is the number of deaths per 1,000 live births of infants younger than one — has dropped substantially in a year. According to the ESR, Mumbai’s IMR has halved in two years — from 28.05 in 2014 and 23.16 in 2015 to 12.96 in 2016.

For a comparison, IMR ranges from 12 in Kerala to 54 in Madhya Pradesh and Assam. In 2013, Maharashtra’s IMR was 24, according to NITI Aayog. The World Health Organisation, in 2015, said the rate ranged between 10/1000 in Europe to 55/1000 in Africa.

The data on Mumbai’s IMR should have brought cheer to government and private agencies trying to reduce the number of infant deaths as the figures suggest that Mumbai has brought down its IMR to levels found in advanced nations.

Public health experts, however, see no silver lining in the data.

“A drop of that extent is more likely to take place over a decade than a year. To achieve this kind of progress, there have to be sustained efforts and programmes. In the absence of those, this kind of drop is suspicious,” said Abhijeet More, convener of Jan Aarogya Abhiyan, an association of public health organisations in the state.

Municipal health officials said the IMR dropped sharply as the number of infant deaths have fallen by more than 50% between 2014 and 2016. The ESR says 4,883 infants died in 2014 and 4,575 in 2015, but only 1,982 infant deaths were reported in 2016.

Public health experts have said that the drop of 2,901 infant deaths between 2014 and 2016 could be the result of loopholes in data collection, rather than results of an effective implementation of public health schemes.

Dr Kamaxi Bhate, associate professor at the Department of Preventive and Social medicine, KEM Hospital, a large public hospital, said this kind of drop in infant mortality is not possible. “Either there is a calculation error or the denominator has not been put properly. It is not possible to reduce infant mortality by half in a year,” she said. “It needs to be corrected.”

Bhate said that Mumbai has a peculiar demography because nearly half of its population lives in slums and other unorganised housing. “We have four medical colleges. The city also attracts referrals – difficult cases from other parts of the state.

When HT spoke to senior municipal officers, they said they would re-evaluate the data.

Another set of ESR data that HT evaluated could also be problematic. According to the document, 73% of the 9,400 metric tonnes of garbage that Mumbai produces is food waste. The figure is important because Mumbai’s three municipal garbage dumps are fast filling up. Food waste is 70% water by weight, and if this garbage is composted near its source it can save the BMC in transportation costs.

Experts are sceptical of the food waste figures too. Almitra Patel, member of the committee that drafted the Municipal Solid Waste Management rules, 2000, calls the data ‘questionable’. Even if you consider that waste management at source is poor in Mumbai, organic (food) waste cannot be more than 10-12%, scientists told HT.

The ESR puts construction debris as 17% of the city’s waste. This figure is probably low as the average for construction waste is 30% in a city comparable to Mumbai, said Patel.

Advocate Godfrey Pimenta, who has pointed out mistakes in the recently modified Development Plan (DP) — the planning blueprint for the city — said data collection by the municipal corporation has been a problem. “Even after the DP was modified, there are mistakes galore,” said Pimenta, whose Watchdog Foundation has pointed out glaring mistakes in the DP.