What is water quality and what is the quality of water available in India?

WaterAid/ Dieter Telemans

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.