Citizens' Issues
New WHO guidelines for safer drinking water supply systems

Guidelines recommend strengthening water management and improving service to consumers to prevent fatal water-borne diseases

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued revised drinking water guidelines, urging governments to strengthen water quality management and asking water suppliers to improve their faulty service to consumers, in order to prevent often fatal water-borne diseases.

In a statement issued recently, the organisation says that despite significant progress made in recent years and the availability of many technically feasible and low-cost solutions, almost one in five people in South Asia still lack improved water resources.

Over two million people die due to water-borne diseases like typhoid and cholera annually.

In 2002, the World Bank estimated that in India 21% of communicable diseases were water-related. But the outbreak of water-borne diseases in both developing and the developed countries could be prevented by the implementation of 'Water Safety Planning'.

WHO's guidelines on water quality recommend:
> Drink only bottled water or other beverages (carbonated beverages, pasteurised juices and milk) provided in sealed tamper-proof containers and bottled/canned by known manufacturers (preferably certified by responsible authorities). Hotel personnel or local hosts are often good sources of information about which local brands are safe.
> Drink water that has been treated effectively at point of use (that is, through boiling, filtration or chemical disinfection) and stored in clean containers.
> Drink hot beverages such as coffee and tea that are made with boiled water and are kept hot.
> Avoid brushing teeth with unsafe water.
> Do not use ice unless it has been made from safe water.
> Avoid salads or other uncooked foods that may have been washed or prepared with unsafe water.

WHO believes that water can be a source of not only microbial, but also chemical or radiological hazards and consideration needs to given to other sources like food, air, person-to-person contact, consumer products, poor sanitation and personal hygiene.

It considers that in spite of difference in government structures and responsibilities, it is important that health authorities liaise and collaborate with sectors managing the water resource and regulating land use in the catchments.

The guidelines for water suppliers and regulators describe the need to check the points of contamination and act on the findings. These include,
> Instituting minimum procedures, specific guideline values and how these should be used.
> Modes of transport used by water vendors.
> Microbial hazards, which continue to be the primary concern in both developing and developed countries.
> Comprehensive risk management, water safety plans, sanitary surveys that include the water supply system and its operation.

People in Mumbai regularly suffer serious illnesses due to contaminated water, and this gets worse in the monsoon. Dr Nilesh Baxi, a senior physician says, "I was in the US for about 35 days and I drank water directly from the kitchen sink tap. The water was clean and required no filtering. But in India in spite of best efforts, after so many years, the only sure-shot way of getting clean water is to let it boil for at least ten minutes after it begins boiling."

In February, the Bombay High Court stated that providing clean water in Mumbai is the duty of the city civic authorities. In April, the Court directed the Brihanmumbai Mahanagarpalika to state the steps it would take to provide clean drinking water.

The initiative of the WHO is in line with the World Bank's its Millenium Development Goals to halve the fraction of the world's population that does not have access to water and sanitation by 2015.

The World Bank's website mentions that it has provided over $700 million in funds to India to provide more than 18 million rural households with sustainable access to drinking water and sanitation facilities.

The new guidelines were presented at the Singapore International Water Week, which brought together representatives working in this area from across the world, earlier this month.


ASCI: Good intent, strange delivery

The intention of the Advertising Standards Council to educate consumers on how to deal with repulsive advertising is to be applauded. But its advertisements confuse the viewer

The self-regulatory body of the Indian ad industry, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the so-called industry watchdog, has released a new TV campaign that encourages viewers to shoot out complaints in case an ad offends their sensibilities, makes misleading claims, or exploits women. I watched three ads, and each tackles one subject.

Now, I like the fact that ASCI is taking action to ensure that the ad industry is kept on an alert, and thinks before putting out mischievous adverts. I also applaud the watchdog for making efforts to inform consumers on what to do when they get repulsed by an ad. However, I must say I am a little flummoxed by the creative route. Anyway, let's first discover what happens in the ads.

Each ad is executed as if a creative person/team is presenting an over-the-top script to a client. The scene is from a boardroom marketer/ad agency meet. In one, a chap is presenting the creative for a bulletproof tonic. It involves a cop who is able to survive many gun shots because of the tonic. This one deals with exaggerated claims.

The next one addresses sexual exploitation of women. A dotcom recruitment agency team presents a script that features a woman exposing her cleavage to net a job. In the third one the creative team tries to sell a script for a brand of chocolate. This one features children behaving in a dangerous manner on city roads.

So, all the correct triggers are being pulled out here. But there's a serious problem with this route. As a lay consumer, who has no idea what goes on behind the making of an ad, this approach leaves me confused. I am left scratching my head and wondering, "Eh, who are these jokers? What are they saying? Who are they talking to? What the bloody hell is going on?"

Here's what I suspect happened: ASCI is, quite unwisely, trying to kill two birds with one stone. They attempt to speak to both, the consumers AND the various ad agencies simultaneously. Now because the setting is a creative presentation, the ad folks will get these ads, but the consumers will be left confused. So the purpose of the effort is defeated.

What beats me is this: Advertisers and ad agency personnel can easily be targeted through direct marketing. And digital media can be used to reach them. Why on earth would ASCI use the mass media to target such an ultra-niche segment? And worse, compromise the mass consumer in the process. Quite bizarre.

I am planning to write a complaint letter to ASCI. Against its own confused advertising.


Another interest rate hike by RBI, borrowers to feel the pinch

All loans, including auto, home, personal and other corporate borrowings, are expected to cost more following the RBI's decision. Expectedly, industry expressed its disappointment over the sharp increase in interest rates, saying the move would harm the investment sentiment

Mumbai: Personal and corporate loans will become more expensive, with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) today raising key interest rates sharply for the third time in the last three months, by 0.50%, to arrest price rise.

The central bank, in its quarterly review of the monetary policy, has also revised its fiscal-end inflation projection to 7% from 6% earlier. Meanwhile, it has retained the growth project for the current fiscal at 8%, reports PTI.

With a 50 basis point (bps) hike, the repo rate (at which the RBI lends to banks) would be 8% and the reverse repo rate (at which it borrows from banks) to 7%. However, the cash reserve ratio (CRR), the amount all banks need to park with RBI, remains unchanged at 6%.

All loans, including auto, home, personal and other corporate borrowings, are expected to cost more following the RBI's decision.

Expectedly, industry expressed its disappointment over the sharp increase in interest rates, saying the move would harm the investment sentiment.

"We thought it would be 25 bps. The RBI has seen something which industry has not... investment sentiments will be muted in the next six months," Ballarpur Industries chairman Gautam Thapar told PTI.

The stock market also reacted sharply, plunging by over 300 points within minutes of the RBI's policy announcement.

"Notwithstanding signs of moderation, inflationary pressures are clearly very strong... inflation continues to be the dominant macroeconomic concern. On the basis of this assessment, it has been decided to increase policy repo rate by 50 bps from 7.5% to 8% with immediate effect," RBI governor D Subbarao said while unveiling the monetary policy.

Inflation, currently hovering above 9%, he said, would continue to guide the policy stance in future. The RBI's next review is scheduled on 16th September.

The RBI admitted that the cumulative impact of past actions to curb demand and anchor medium-term inflationary expectations will curtail growth in the near term.

Bankers are of the view that the increase in key policy rates by the RBI will definitely have an impact on interest rates, leading to loans becoming more expensive.

"The hike is more than expected and it will push interest rates by up to 50 bps," said Oriental Bank of Commerce executive director SC Sinha.

Within an hour of monetary tightening by the RBI, private sector YES Bank hiked its base rate or minimum lending rate by 50 basis points.

The bank hiked its base rate by 50 basis points to 10.25% with immediate effect, making new loans more expensive by at least 0.5%.

In its annual policy meet on 3rd May, the apex bank had increased policy rates by 50 basis points, which was followed by a 25 basis points hike at its mid-quarter review in June.

Sounding hawkish, the governor said, "Going forward, the monetary policy stance will depend on the evolving inflation trajectory, which in turn will be determined by trends in the domestic growth and global commodity prices."

Admitting there has been a moderation in growth, the governor maintained his previous estimate of 8% GDP growth for the current fiscal and identified the downside risks to growth as global commodity prices, the uncertain global macroeconomic environment and the Centre's inability to meet the fiscal deficit target of 4.6% on the back of a rising fuel subsidy bill.


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