India is home to 63.4 million rural people without access to clean water, the highest in the world. Rural populations in poor and geographically isolated areas face particular challenges in terms of accessing clean water. And extreme weather events and climate change make such challenges more acute. Despite being one of the world’s fastest growing economies, ensuring water security for its growing population is one of the main challenges facing the country. In this photo story, we look at the struggle of vulnerable rural communities to access clean water in Bundelkhand and explore how improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene services can change their life.
Photos: WaterAid/Mansi Thapliyal
75.8 million Indians lack access to safe water. Majority of these people come from impoverished communities and are forced to collect dirty water from open ponds and rivers or spend most of what they earn buying water from tankers. India loses 2-4% of its gross domestic product each year because of unclean water.
Woman and girls are at a higher risk for infections due to their frequent contact with unsanitary water. With 167 maternal deaths per 1,00,000 live births and 28 newborn deaths per 1,000 live births, India has one of the highest rates of maternal and infant mortality. 1 out of 5 newborn deaths could be prevented by ensuring access to clean water.
Sheela, 35, lives with her five children in the village of Kubri, Bundelkhand region, Uttar Pradesh, India. Here, three consecutive droughts have pushed millions of people into a vicious cycle of hunger and poverty. “I spend half of my day in fetching water as a minimum of 12-13 rounds are required for this big a family. Each round takes around 20 minutes. My body aches because of carrying this heavy weight every single day. Even after all this my kids keep on falling sick as I can’t clean them for days due to water shortage”, says Sheela.
Women are typically saddled with the burden of being water providers for their families. In rural India, women travel a few kilometers daily carrying up to fifteen litres of water in each trip. The pressure creates back, feet, and posture problems and robs them of the much needed time to earn an income or take care of their children.
Sheela, 35, carries water from a village hand pump in Kubri Village, Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh. Here, three consecutive droughts have pushed millions of people into vicious cycle of hunger and poverty.
Chhoti, 50, lives with her children in the village of Kubri, Uttar Pradesh, India. Here, three consecutive droughts have pushed millions of people into vicious cycle of hunger and poverty. “In this far off village, there is no source of livelihood except farming. Due to scanty rainfall in the last few years, we are almost dying of hunger. Whatever little we were able to sow, we are consuming it cautiously as we can never be sure of rainfall in the next season,” explains Chhoti. In India, 63.4 million people in rural areas live without access to clean water while it ranks in the top 38% of countries most vulnerable to climate change and least ready to adapt to climate change, according to the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index.
Adolescent girls often miss out on school or college to fetch water for their families in rural India. Lack of access to drinking water in school affects the learning environment for both students and teachers.
“My daughter Munni (15) is not of marriageable age but I am getting her married as there is nothing to eat in the house because of scanty rainfall in last few years. Had the rains been normal, I would have waited for her to attain legal marriageable age”, says Rani. Rani, 45, lives with her three kids in Bhikhampur village in Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh. Here, three consecutive droughts have pushed millions of people into vicious cycle of hunger and poverty.
Chunkawan, 60, is a farmer in Gidurah, a small village located in the Bundelhkand region of Uttar Pradesh. “Last year, there was no rainfall and my land dried up. Though the land here is very fertile, yet no one could sow anything because there was no water for irrigation. There is only one well in this village. Whatever little water we got, we had to consume it for cooking, drinking and feeding our cattle”, Chunkawan explains.
Though the primary collectors of water are women, decision-making power lies with men. Women’s involvement in decision-making about water resources is critical, as programmes that include women at all stages of planning, implementing and monitoring are more efficient, effective and sustainable.
Usha, 35, lives with her three kids in Bhikhampur village in Uttar Pradesh. In 2015, a mini piped water supply system was implemented in the village with support from WaterAid India and each household was provided with a tap connection. “I am really happy because of the tap connection as now we get water within the house. Earlier, I used to spend around 2 hours per day to fetch water”, says Usha.
Vidya, 40, lives with her family in Bhikhampur village in Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh. In 2015, a mini piped water supply system was implemented in the village with support from WaterAid India and each household was provided with a tap connection. “I feel very relaxed because of the tap connection as I own two buffaloes. Feeding water to animals is a big deal if you have to run to a well every time”, explains Vidya.