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The Hindu on : UNICEF, water supply council experts support Narmada project

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Friday, November 19, 1999

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UNICEF, water supply council experts support Narmada project

By Manas Dasgupta

AHMEDABAD, NOV. 18. The Gujarat government may have found important allies in Dr. Richard Jolly, Chairman of the global Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) of the United Nations, and Mr. Gourishankar Ghosh, head of the Water and Environmental Sanitation of the UNICEF, who are supporting the cause of the disputed Narmada dam.

The support from Dr. Jolly and Mr. Ghosh would cheer up the State Government and help it fight against the critics of the ``Lifeline of Gujarat'' with renewed vigour.

It has been concerned at attacks from environmentalists from various parts of the world.

While Dr. Jolly was convinced that the problem of rehabilitation of the people affected by the Narmada dam project was not unsurmountable and could be taken care of by Gujarat and other State Governments concerned, Mr. Ghosh was more emphatic that the Governments and the people should support every ``structure'', small or big, which conserved water and save the precious commodity from running waste into the sea.

Formerly an IAS officer of the Gujarat cadre, Mr. Ghosh saw no justification in delaying the implementation of the project that could solve many problems of the water-starved State and of the rest of the country.

Water, he felt, should be treated as a national subject and in solving all the water-related problems the state barriers should be taken. ``But I am no longer in the service of the Government of India and am in no position to suggest things,'' was his comment.

Both Dr. Jolly and Mr. Ghosh were in Gujarat along with some 60 other national and international experts to participate in a two- day discussion on ``Vision 21'', global answer to the problems of water, sanitation and hygiene by the year 2025.

The draft proposals approved at the end of the deliberations will form part of the world resolution on ``Water for People'' to be presented during the World Water Day celebrations at the World Water Forum in The Hague, Netherlands, in March, next.

The international teams working on the requirements of water for agriculture and industrial purposes will also present their reports.

As Dr. Jolly said the Narmada dam issue was discussed ``only briefly'' at the meeting but was ``convinced'' that the project would bring more benefits than the losses on account of displacement of the affected.

``I am told that about 50,000 people are affected by the project and I have confirmed the fact that they are being taken care of by the Gujarat and other State Governments concerned,'' was his response to the query on the WSSCC's stand on the Narmada.

The State authorities will also be pleased at the emphasis laid in the ``Vision 21'', drafted originally at Stockholm in August, on the preservation and conservation of every drop of the ``sparse precious commodity'' cautioning the world about the possible water-related conflicts.

``As population and levels of industrial development have grown, competition among users for limited water resources has increased. In some areas this competition has taken the form of disputes between domestic, environmental and agricultural water users...History shows us that water scarcity contributes to political instability and to local, regional and inter-State conflicts and war.

As population growth continues and largescale environmental problems worsen, water-related instability will increase.''

``Vision 21'' does not talk of large or small dams but the Gujarat Government's stand on the ``human right to water'' in relation to the Narmada dam finds an echo in its draft resolution.

``As population increases and the pace of development accelerates, integrated water management must ensure adequate supplies of drinking water.

Particularly in circumstances of scarcity, water for basic needs should be reserved acknowledging the human right to water.

A strategy of prioritising water to fulfil basic water and sanitation requirements will achieve this if underwritten by adequate legislation,'' says the draft of ``Vision 21''.

It has noted with concern that despite industrial progress and technological advancements in the last two decades, nearly a quarter of the developing world's population is still denied a healthy environment for living.

Nearly 1.4 billion of the world's citizens still lack safe drinking water, almost three billion have no adequate sanitation.

About three million children die each year from water-related diseases. ``Vision 21 offers the promise of a world by 2025 in which each person will know the importance of hygiene and enjoy safe and adequate water and sanitation.''

People's role needed

To achieve this, it would need the participation of the people at all levels, and more importantly women who are more concerned about hygiene of the family.

It surely would need an enormous sum of funds, about $11 billions a year for the next 10 years, Dr. Jolly pointed out, in addition to the matching amount the developed and developing countries are already spending on water and sanitation at present.

But the funds would be no problem if the developing countries allocated 20 per cent of their public expenditures to basic social services and the donor countries 20 per cent of the annual aid budgets to support the same sectors.

And why not, it was more economical than the social cost of not providing safe drinking water and sanitation, particularly considering that the people in Europe spent about $11 billion only in ice-cream each year, an enormous $105 billions on alcoholic drinks and together with the people of the United States about $17 billions on pet foods!

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