India is home to one of the world’s highest number of people who lack access to clean water, imposing a huge financial burden for some of the country’s poorest population. Over 60,000 children below the age of five lose their lives to diarrhoea caused due to unsafe water and poor sanitation.
The quality of water available to the country is in a very poor state. It is affected by sewage discharge, run-off from agricultural fields and urban run-off, and discharge from industries. Floods and droughts, in combination with the lack of awareness and education among users, affects the quality of water in a great way.
The World Bank estimates of 2015 show that in India 28.1 percent of the deaths took place due to communicable diseases. Evidently, these were linked to unsafe water and the lack of hygiene practices. These include parasitic and infectious diseases, nutritional deficiencies such as underweight and stunting, as well as respiratory infections.
The alarming condition of water quality is based on the fact that the lack of clean drinking water has put over 11.5 million people of India at a high risk of a bone crippling disease, fluorosis. The ministry of health and family welfare has identified 19 states severely affected by high fluoride content in drinking water, and at least 10 states suffering from arsenic contamination causing Arsenicosis – a disease that affects the lungs, skin, kidneys, and liver due to arsenic poisoning.
As a part of the government programme, water quality monitoring is being considered as an essential aspect. Since the last two decades, it has been conferred as a high priority measure, and the institutional tools have been developed at panchayat, block, district, state and national level.
WaterAid has been effectively involved in addressing the issue, and creating awareness about water borne diseases amongst the communities. While the government has outlined necessary tools to monitor the quality of drinking water and devise effective Information, Education and Communication (IEC) interventions, WaterAid’s endeavour is to ensure effective implementation at the ground level by joining hands with the government, key stakeholders and community members.
In recent times, the government has advised Field Testing Kits (FTKs) to be used for detection of chemical and biological contamination of drinking water sources in the communities. School teachers, Aanganwadi and ASHA workers, Gram Panchayat members and volunteers have been trained from time to time for water quality testing using FTKs. Unfortunately, the execution of such initiatives is not up to the mark. As a consequence, WaterAid has initiated some efforts to bring about a positive change, and improve the execution of water quality testing.
Additionally, WaterAid’s water quality management plan also aims at ensuring –
- Water safety plans in order to prevent any kind of contamination before it happens;
- Treatment of water with appropriate technologies (in arsenic or fluoride affected areas);
- Monitoring, surveillance and testing through FTKs; and
- Advocacy for adequate infrastructure and accountability at district and regional laboratories.
In order to maintain water quality, the communities play a key role in sustaining cleanliness and hygiene near the water sources. From collecting water from the water source, to storing it, attention needs to be paid at each step so as to ensure the quality of water. It is essential that communities and institutions like panchayats are actively involved in the planning, implementation and execution of programmes for access to clean water and regular supply. Also, these institutions will have to take charge of monitoring of water sources and be made aware of simple remedial measures.
Clearly, this requires training and capacity building at a large scale, for which WaterAid works along with the local partners. In light of the increasing water demand, it becomes mandatory to ensure holistic and people-centred approaches for effective water management.
In India, Groundwater provides 80% of India’s drinking water and nearly two-thirds of irrigation needs1. While rainfall is considered to be one of the primary sources of fresh water, it is not conserved in an appropriate manner, leading to scarcity of water across the country. Studies show that the water situation could be different if rainwater is harvested in an appropriate way.
The increasing decline in the level of groundwater, in many parts of the country, is leading to a lot of unsustainability. It has been observed that in some parts of the country the water levels are declining by over one meter each year. Additionally, lack of proper wastewater treatment from industrial, mining, and domestic sources is resulting in increased contamination of groundwater, leading to potential threats to humans as well as the ecosystems.
Irrespective of the proximity to a water body, there are states that still face water shortage. An evident example of this is Uttar Pradesh. Despite its close proximity to the Ganges, the state still faces water shortage due to lack of water conservation methods.
Water Conservation and WaterAid India
Water is a crucial resource for the country today. It is thus essential to not only conserve water but also use it effectively. Due to the growing population, increasing industrialisation, and escalating agriculture scenario, the demand for water has clearly increased over the years. Thus, water conservation is evidently the need of the hour. Although efforts are being made by building dams, wells, and reservoirs, there is still a long way to go.
If the situation persists, clean water is predestined to become one of the rarest commodities soon. So, the people need to be educated about the significance of storing, recycling and reusing water. WaterAid India’s initiative in making water, sanitation, and hygiene accessible for all, endeavours to address the water problems across some of the most marginalised areas.
WaterAid’s approach to conserving water focuses on –
- Building the capacity of local government and community members;
- Mapping of water resources and their usage;
- Motivating the communities to adopt water conservation practices, such as rainwater harvesting;
- Water budgeting2 and allocation;
- Improving access to water supply by leveraging government resources; and
- Advocacy for regulations of water use in water stressed areas and protection of groundwater.
WaterAid India also provides technical support to the local partners and communities across the areas of our work. Capacity building, preparing knowledge banks and behaviour change communication documents, joint impact monitoring and research for community based process are some of the highlights of our work.
The communities and its people are the backbone of WaterAid’s work. Thus, the key to drinking water security lies with the community. By promoting locally owned and managed drinking water sources, water issues are addressed at a larger scale. These plans are simple, and can be used, monitored and managed by the people and local governments.
1. Central Water Commission (CWC) and the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), 2016 Report.
2. Water budgeting refers to the calculated amount of water a household will require based on the size of the family, number and types of fixtures, and landscape needs.