By ANINDITA DAS
Photographs by Anis Ul Haque
A day will come when the famous Amitabh Bachchan dialogue will change and people will say, “mere paas paani hain”. Radio jockey from Red FM, RJ Mandy steered the fun-filled and informative conversation on “Let’s talk about water” on March 20, 2015, in collaboration with UNICEF Assam in Maria’s Public School, Guwahati.
Can we ever imagine our planet without water? What does water actually mean for us? Can we live without water? — these issues were raised in the Thumb Print Conversation titled “Let’s talk about water”. RJ Mandy moderated the conversation, making it extremely lively with her witty comments and humorous interactions. Two short films made on the occasion of World Water Day 2015 were also screened, which emphasised on the need, scarcity and importance of water.
The discussion had been very informative and enlightening with the members of UNICEF, teachers and students of Maria’s Public School, and a host of eminent denizens of the city deliberated on the topic. A group of young and enthusiastic child reporters from rural Assam were also the part of the conversation.
Everyone agreed that water has always been a matter of concern in every household of Guwahati. Snigdhamenon Das, a denizen of Guwahati city said that nowadays people primarily inquire if water is available while searching for a rented house in Guwahati. They are ready to pay much more for a house in a locality where there is no scarcity of water. Anjan Gogoi, Vice-Principal of Maria’s Public School threw light on the hilly areas like Halflong where water is so scarce that they have to use it very judiciously.
Rushabh Hemani, WASH Specialist, Assam Field Office, UNICEF spoke about the analogy between water and equality. “It is imperative to have access to water. In places like Rajasthan the girls cannot go to school as they have to fetch water from far,” he said. He also focused on the importance of the quality of water. He has been living in Assam for four years and expressed his concern about the climate change that he has witnessed in the place, which according to him is a reality to ponder upon. Variability in rainfall has big bearing on water. “If we don’t think today, we will have to suffer tomorrow”, he thus said.
Archana Goswami, an academic and social worker said, “Everywhere you go, the issues concerning water are different. The fluoride content in water is harmful. In Rajasthan the choice is limited, people have limited options. It is for the reason that they have to consume contaminated water and their bones become very weak. Till now in Assam there is no record of arsenic content in water as in Bengal and Bihar. Earlier we used surface water, but the Government installed tube wells under the schemes which had adverse effect”. She further mentioned that the milk the children drink is also harmful as the plants are contaminated by water and the cows eat those plants. “It is a viscous cycle”, commented the Principal of Maria’s Alpana K Phukan.
Nripendra Sharma from the Public Health Engineering Department said that we should be aware of three things — drinking water security, water accessibility and water safety. “When is the last instance that you have washed your water storage? We all use different kinds of water filter. But the question is how often do we clean them? It is very important to keep the water storages clean to prevent all kinds of water borne diseases. In every six months they must be washed.” He also talked about the erratic food habits of the children, who are fond of junk food. If the children do not have enough nutrition they are more likely to be affected by the fluoride content in water. They should be careful while using their toothpaste, which should not contain extra minerals. Use of black salt in food also aggravates the fluoride, he remarked.
Kula Saikia, senior IPS officer and writer said that in India we do not drink water everywhere as all water is not suitable for drinking. But in America there is no such difference, all water is drinking water there. Moreover, he said, we cannot imagine our planet without water, as it is life. As a short story writer, he remembers his childhood when the river Borolia could not be crossed, though a bridge was being constructed since then in his native town of Rangia. For him the river itself was a bridge as he could cross it in a boat to meet his friend on the other side. It thus tells us how significant is water and the water bodies for us.
However, the discussion also centred on the packaged water. Rituparna Roychoudhury, a lawyer made the distinction clear about mineral water and packaged drinking water. We have the wrong notion or ignore the fact that they are different. The bottles containing water when exposed to the sun become harmful. It is our lack of awareness that we tend to consider such water to be suitable for drinking.
The students found the conversation very educative. The young reporters, who had been surveying their nearby areas, are trying their best to highlight the problems by writing to convey their message. The lack of proper drinking in the rural areas, absence of filtration process and latrines, and many other hygiene related problems prevail in those places. A student of Maria’s raised a very pertinent question asking whether there is any probability that their next generation will have to face any war for water.
“The disputes regarding the rivers have always been a concern, and there is strong probability that some kind of intensive stirring might take place,” responded Archana Goswami. She also expressed her concern over the matter of urbanisation. The apartments built all around the city are exhausting the resources. The numbers of water plants in the city have not increased since the days of the British, which is quite an amazing fact that came out from the conversation.
The entire discussion on water thus brought forward some new insights regarding water. It has been observed that people in the city are self-centric. They think everything is fine as they do not have any problem concerning the issue. They are indifferent to the broader scenario, and scarcely think about the consequences. It is very necessary to make people aware not to waste water and also to drink safe water. The young people’s concern over the inefficiency of the government to carry on the plans associated with the river made it apparent they are thoughtful and responsible about the happenings around them. A young girl expressed her apprehension about the economically lower class of people who drink filthy water.
Anjan Gogoi, the vice-principal said that the children should learn to respect everything — right from the pencils, erasers, papers they use to water. Trees are cut to make paper. RJ Mandy viewed that everything is interconnected, right from defecating in the open to the education of girl child and the scarcity of water.
Everyone went back home brimming with new thoughts about water, something that affects their everyday lives. The managing editor of Thumb Print Teresa Rehman pointed out that Guwahatians fail to appreciate the fact that they live by the banks of this lovely city which is located on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra. “It’s a pity that we have not been able to harness the water of the Brahmaputra and there is so much scarcity of water in the city,” she said. She urged the young children to form their own groups in their communities or the virtual media and draw attention to issues related to water. And hopefully, the conversation over water will keep flowing.
Both Anindita Das and Anis Ul Haque are members of The Sanitation Scribes.