Water is a basic necessity, and an important resource for sustaining life. The decline in water quality endangers the health of humans as well as the ecosystem. Clean drinking water, hygiene, and sanitation play an important part in maintaining health. 

Contaminated water causes many water-borne infections like diarrhoea, and also serves as a carrier for vectors such as mosquitoes spreading epidemics. Open defecation means no sanitation. It fouls the environment, and spreads diseases. According to WHO-UNICEF report (2010), India has the highest rate of open defecation. Access to safe drinking water and good sanitation are vital for family well-being. It results in control of enteric diseases, and boosts child health. A healthy child has better learning and retaining ability. Girls avoid going to school where there are no proper sanitation measures.

Sanitation makes a positive contribution in family literacy. According to a UNICEF study, for every 10 per cent increase in female literacy, a country’s economy can grow by 0.3 per cent. Thus, sanitation contributes to social and economic development of the society. Improved sanitation also helps the environment. 

Clean drinking water and good sanitation would not prevent infections without practicing good hygiene. A simple habit of washing hands goes a long way towards preventing diseases. The stored water supply may also serve as a source of infection in the absence of hygiene. 

In India, rapid urbanisation and the increasing population has placed a major strain on the existing infrastructure. It has affected the capacity of the government to provide clean drinking water, and effective sanitation measures. Though the government has tried to overcome this problem through urban development programmes like Clean India Campaign, the total costs required for successful operations continue to mar their efforts. Hence, the contributions of corporations, and other organisations is a welcome change.   

TERI University, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in association with Coca-Cola launched the ‘Strengthening Water and Sanitation in Urban Settings” initiative in short called “The WASH Program” in Kolkata. Wash stands for ‘Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.’

  • The program will support a WASH-related risk analysis of health impacts in the slums of Kolkata, and Chennai.
  • The risk analysis will help develop, and implement participatory inventory strategies in low-income settlements, and help towards adopting measures aimed at reducing WASH-related risks.
  • It will aim at building capacities of students and decision-makers, thereby promoting sustained development.

This is one-of-a-kind association which has never been done before that will lead to the healthy development of low-income settlements in the area. Through WASH governance strengthening activities, it aims to reach 50,000 beneficiaries in low-income settlements and over 300 professionals. It will also reach out to 2,500 students through 20 municipal schools across India through school WASH programs. To achieve optimum benefits of water, hygiene and sanitation measures, it is important to create public awareness of the link between poor sanitation and hygiene, and the diseases. The WASH program with its different levels of activities would be effective in this regard. 

Dr. Kiran Acharya is a dental surgeon, writer, and an unconventional philosopher.