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High risk of water-borne diseases following the monsoon

Water-borne diseases such as cholera are a scourge to India all year round. The monsoon season, however, creates a greater degree of vulnerability due to the extent to which water sources are contaminated.


Copyright: ajijchan / 123RF Stock Photo
Floodwaters in the Kuttanad region of Kerala. Disasters such as flooding are likely to increase unless India steps up in the fight against climate change.

Only forty percent of India’s toilet waste is properly treated upon disposal. This fact alone is perhaps the most concerning driver of India’s struggle with water-borne disease. A number of diseases are present in fecal matter; cholera, typhoid, and hepatitis A to name just a few. Where this fecal matter is left untreated, any diseases present are transferred to the soil.

Under normal circumstances this is only an issue where fecal matter is left near groundwater sources. Where the practice of open defecation is common, water-borne infections are typically rife. 

The practice is most common in rural areas. Many of these areas still go without access to proper sanitation, with the efforts of Swachh Bharat largely offering no improvements. In many instances where toilets were built, they were never connected to a wider network of sewage systems, effectively leaving a hole in the ground where waste is still not properly treated. Almost sixty percent of toilets built under Swachh Bharat lacked a proper water supply, rendering them unusable. Forty percent are not connected to a proper drainage system.

As such, in many instances in rural, or geographically isolated areas, waste is not only disposed of improperly, but often left in close enough confined to water sources that drinking water supplies are often polluted. This results in village-wide outbreaks of diseases such as cholera, such as last year in Odisha.

The monsoon season presents greater opportunity for water-borne diseases to spread. As floodwaters rise there is a higher risk of any case of open defecation to contaminate drinking water sources. Risks even exist within urban environments where toilets are either connected to sewage lines or a septic tank. 

Flooding could cause poorly maintained sewage lines to overflow, creating a severe hazard to human health as exposed sewage begins to back up. Likewise, septic tanks need only be knocked over or damaged by severe flooding to begin spilling both waste material and their hazardous chemicals into the surrounding area. 

Precautions must be taken — more so during the monsoon season — many of which could potentially be life-saving. Boiling water that is obtained from unreliable sources is essential, fruits and vegetables must also be washed thoroughly, as many of the water-borne diseases can contaminate food. Diarrhoea is one of India’s most common infectious conditions, its capacity to be lethal cannot be underestimated, particularly in those with pre-existing conditions.

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