Image for representation. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Image for representation. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

India unveils 2200 ‘life-saving’ water-testing labs

Public health officials say the new facilities will help improve health outcomes, especially in children.
By Zia Haq
PUBLISHED ON AUG 28, 2021 04:19 PM IST

An app-based digitised platform for testing water quality for standard safety parameters, launched under the flagship Jal Jeevan Mission, is now functional in 2,200 water labs across the country, an official said, requesting anonymity.

Public health officials say the new facilities will help improve health outcomes, especially in children, and also help private individuals, public health engineering authorities and panchayats where piped drinking water has been provided, to monitor water quality.

“Anyone can submit a sample and source coordinates of piped water supply will also be captured. The water-quality testing reports thus generated will be delivered online to the person giving the water sample and also feed a central database for continuous monitoring. This can prove to be life-saving in areas with high contamination,” the official said.

The digitised platform has been developed with health inputs and safe-water parameters from the Indian Council of Medical Research, the official said. The samples are tested for a range of chemical, bacterial and other pathogenic contamination.

According to estimates from the Indian Council of Medical Research, water-borne rotaviruses cause 8,72,000 hospitalisations of mostly children annually and an estimated 78,000 die from it in India.

The software platform, Drinking Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance, has been developed by the state-run National Informatics Centre.

Unsafe water is a major drag on the country’s public health. “Our healthcare focus has been tilted towards child and maternal health, which also is by no means adequate. Unsafe water is a major cause of child disease burden,” said health economist Arup Mitra of the Institute of Economic Growth.

The country’s flagship programme to provide rural households with piped drinking water by 2024, the Jal Jeevan Mission, has expanded to cover more than 10 million homes in 61 districts notorious for Japanese Encephalitis-Acute Encephalitis Syndrome, a brain fever in children that needs a multi-pronged approach to tackle, according to health experts.

The Jal Jeevan Mission prioritises the provisioning of tap water supply to water quality-affected habitations. Thus far, of the 27,544 arsenic and fluoride-affected habitations, states have made provisions of potable water supply in 26,492.

Under the mission, local communities are also trained to lead water-quality surveillance. “Locals are being trained on water quality testing using field test kits too,” the official cited in the first instance said.

Nearly 820 million people in 12 major river basins of the country face “high to extreme” water stress. Getting to a water source is a long haul in rural India. According to a National Sample Survey Organisation survey, in Jharkhand, it takes women 40 minutes one way, without taking into account the waiting time. In Bihar, it’s 33 minutes. Rural Maharashtra clocks an average of 24 minutes.

The piped water mission, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019, aims to change this. The programme has entered a critical stage, as officials race to meet the deadline amid a disrupting Covid second wave.

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