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Corruption sucks supply dry

While China has corrected course, India yet to cleanse system, says UN report.

india Updated: Mar 22, 2006 01:46 IST

India and China may have been the star pegs of this year’s international reports, but UNESCO’s much-awaited triennial World Water Development Report uses the two countries as case studies for water corruption and mismanagement.

Entitled Water, A Shared Responsibility, the report points out that even though there is plenty of water, distribution is hindered by the imbalances between availability of water and population density.

At present one-fifth of the world population (some 1.1 billion people) do not have access to adequate supply of drinking water and almost 40 per cent (some 2.6 billion people) do not have access to basic sanitation. Most of them are either Chinese or Indians.

The report notes that in India, instead of the government, corrupt bureaucrats and misplaced priorities continue to decide who gets how much water.

A survey conducted for the report showed that 41 per cent of Indians had paid bribe at one point or another to falsify their meter readings to ensure low water bills, some 30 per cent confessed to have paid to speed up repair work and at least12 per cent claim to have paid to accelerate new water and sanitation connections.

While China, a co-accused in the report seems to have woken up; India continues to be in a deep slumber.

Plagued with water shortages causing economic losses averaging 280 billion yuan ($35 billion) each year, China had recently passed a new regulation on water management, updating its system of use permits and stipulating charges for water consumption in agriculture. The move is expected to enforce water-saving measures in irrigation and motivate farmers to economise water use. The regulation will take effect on April 15.

In India, underhand dealings have resulted in poor water quality. While 66 million Indians rely on groundwater alone, it is contaminated with fluoride content exceeding WHO norms, leading to bone deformities and other health hazards.

The report notes that the South Asian region (particularly India) accounts for 34 per cent of diarrhoeal deaths and 63 per cent of dengue deaths. Around 400-500 million Indians are already at risk of soil–transmitted worm infections.

The Indo-Gangetic plain is identified as an area where human water use (domestic, industrials well as agricultural) exceeds average water supplies annually.

India also found mention among the countries where atmospheric contamination from industrial plants and vehicular emissions lead to acidic conditions in surface water and ground water sources.

Since, the capacity to meet future water demand depends on “good governance”, India needs to get inspired from reformed offenders, like China, to swim against tide of corruption.

First Published: Mar 22, 2006 01:46 IST