From Diarrhoea to Nerve Issues: Here’s What Bad Water Does to You

A report by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) that monitored water quality in major cities in India was revealed on Saturday by Union Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Ram Vilas Paswan.

The report had damning results for the Capital: Delhi fared last in water quality among the 21 cities surveyed, and surprisingly Mumbai came in at first place.

Now the results of the survey are being contested by Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and this issue is sure to get mired in political controversy - but what does drinking bad quality water do to your health? How does it affect young children who belong to homes without water purification or RO devices?

FIT spoke to Dr Amitabh Parthi from Fortis Hospitals and Dr Ashwini Setya to help us break down the domino effects on our health from consuming poor water.

Dr Amitabh Parth“Now it depends on the particular make-up of the water and what contamins are there at what level but yes, drinking contaminated water creates several health issues like irregular bowel habits, bad digestion, toxicity, stomach cramps, and nausea.”

Delhi’s water samples failed on 11 of the 19 parameters tested, including odour, TDS, PH, turbidity, colour, nitrate, ammonia, chloride and aluminium.

According to India Water Portal, the parameters tested by BIS were: colour, odour, pH, total dissolved solids, hardness, alkalinity, elemental compounds such as iron, manganese, sulphate, nitrate, chloride, fluoride, arsenic, chromium, copper, cyanide, lead, mercury, zinc and coliform bacteria.

The quality of potable tap water was collected from 11 localities in Delhi, all of which showed poor water quality levels.

Dr Ashwini Setya added that, “Water gets contaminated in several places, from the rusty or fungal infested pipes to the unclean storage drums. There are also high chances of it being infected with sewage water so all kinds of infections abound from hepatitis A+B to acute gastritis to diarrhoea. Now, fungal problems don’t usually affect the general population, only those with low immunity. But there is a high risk of water-borne infections.”

It is important to know exactly what the contaminants are in the water. “Too much lead can cause lead poisoning, if the water is too acidic it can lead to stomach issues and gastritis, too much arsenic or cyanide is a huge problem too,” says Dr Parthi.

He adds that contaminated water can cause several issues from dysentery to brain damage, neurological damage and more.

Besides, water-borne and communicable diseases are a scourge to many, with issues like dengue and malaria common to India.

Unequal Access: Most Delhiites Cannot Afford RODr Amitabh Parthi“The same water being consumed by adult populations who can tolerate more toxins is also consumed by children who are more at risk.”

Besides, most Delhiites cannot afford water purification systems so what happens to them? Their children? Their growth and development is potentially stunted.

But then, is RO water really the answer?

To this Dr Setya adds, “RO doesn't come out without a price.”

People who drink RO water are drinking pure water, stripped of its pollutants and toxins yes, but also of its essential minerals.

Dr Setya“It is no wonder that people are exhausted all the time. People who have been drinking RO water for the last 20-25 years are missing the essential trace elements in water.”

He adds that it is very difficult to say that everyone who drinks poor water will fall sick, but the population at large is at risk. “Of course rumour-mongering and blowing this out of proportion is bad too - think about the vested commercial interests in this, especially of water purification companies.”

So if RO is not the best way out, what are we to do?

“The state the government is duty-bound to provide potable water otherwise it is a violation of our fundamental right. Of course NGOs and other civil society organisations need to fight for this.”

“The simplest solution for now, with the current poor quality water, is to boil the water. This is the best way out.”

He adds that there may be a slight “silver lining” to this: herd immunity. “The immunity of the general population does improve when they are exposed to small quantities of offending elements. The body develops resistance to various bacteria. But of course, beyond a certain limit the viruses and bacteria would cause a lot of problems. The body can only take a certain limit."

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