WATER, SEWAGE SYSTEMS AND MANY THINGS PEOPLE TAKE FOR GRANTED

MANILA, OCTOBER 20, 2003  (STAR) By Luzi Ann R. Javier  - A lot of people in Philippines, particularly those from the lower-middle to the upper brackets of the economic strata, often take a lot of things for granted. They recognize the importance of water only when it stops flowing out of their faucets.

But in a country like India with a population of 1.03 billion as of 2001 and still growing, the mission of delivering even the most basic services like water and electricity, seem like a gargantuan task that the government finds extremely difficult to undertake without the help of such multilateral agencies as the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

"The Philippines is better off than India in terms of infrastructures," said ADB urban development specialist Alex Jorgensen in an interview during the press tour ADB hosted for 12 international journalists, including two Indians.

This, he said, is the reason why the focus of ADB projects in the Philippines is more on introducing reforms in the system, rather than setting up infrastructures.

In a country like India where 30 percent of the population are living below the poverty line and 28 percent are residing in slums, ADB had to refocus its priorities to better address problems of poverty.

Take the case of Rajasthan state in India, where about 50 percent of urban households do not have individual latrines in their compounds, while only five percent of the households are covered by the sewerage network.

Only five percent of households have septic tanks and soak pits and only one sewage treatment plant could be found in the entire state of Rajasthan.

With a population of 54.6 million, over two-thirds that of the Philippines, Rajasthan also faces an acute scarcity of water, with less than 70 percent of its people residing in all cities, serviced by saved piped water supply by the Public Health Engineering Department.

This means over 30 percent of the 54.6 million people in the state get their water either from private vendors or unsafe surface water sources.

The state also faces a great problem in managing its solid waste, with no segregation at source and no treatment plant available in the entire jurisdiction.

Worse, the state has no proper treatment and disposal system for bio-medical, industrial and hazardous waste and has insufficient machinery and equipment for solid waste management.

This is the reason a huge chunk of the $1.67 billion loans extended by the ADB are earmarked for urban social infrastructures including the setting up of water supply system, sanitation, sewerage and waste management.

"This includes improving the standards of public health and hygiene, urban environment and better management of urban services through sector reforms," said Sudipto Mundle of the ADB mission in India.

This, he said, is meant to help address social development and reduce human poverty in India, through direct and indirect routes.

Given that the conditions are much worse in slum areas or the settlements of urban poor, which serve as the homes of 28 percent of the total population of India, ADB has also given this part of the Indian society a special emphasis.

Kuderemala is one such settlement site in the state of Karnataka in India, which is also the home of 118 families belonging to the so-called "sweeper caste, the lowest in the caste hierarchy."

In a country where the caste system still exists in the new millennium, the poor find it even more difficult to escape poverty, given the restrictions in their movements and the prohibition for them to mingle with members of other castes or what is known as the social classes in other countries.

Pappathi is a 24-year old mother of two who is living in a Kuduremala along with a number of other Indians employed as ragpickers, toilets cleaners, coolie workers and scavengers in other parts of Mysore.

Like many others in underdeveloped countries, Pappathi dreams of sending her children to the United States, hopeful that they would find a better future there.

But with a monthly income as a domestic helper of only 700 rupees, combined with another 700 rupees earned by her husband, such a dream is nearly impossible.

This is where help from multilateral agencies like the ADB comes in. They help provide funds for microfinancing that allows Indian women from slums to start a small business, while giving them the technical know-how to allow their small money to grow.

In Kuderemala, ADB has been working with the Rurbal Literacy and Health Programme (RLHP), a non-government organization (NGO) which has been coordinating with the Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Development and Finance Corp. (KUIDFC).


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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