•  In India the provision of clean drinking water has been given priority in the Constitution, with Article 47 conferring the duty of providing clean drinking water and improving public health standards to the State. United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) has rightly themed this year's Water Day as 'leaving no one behind'. This goes on par with the promise on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

  •  The Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030, a successor to Millennium Development Goals, include Goal 6 for dean water and sanitation for ensuring their availability and sustainable management. Goal 6.1 specifically says that by 2030, countries including India should 'achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all'.

  •  According to global reports released by the United Nations, 2.1 billion people live without safe drinking water at home and 80 per cent of those who have to use unsafe and unprotected water sources, reside in rural areas.

  •  Further, more than 700 children under five years of age die every day from diarrhoea due to unsafe water and poor sanitation. This report also makes a mention that in eight out of 10 households, women and girls are responsible for water collection. Nearly two-thirds of the world's population experiences severe water scarcity at least for 31 days per year. The intense impact of water scarcity could displace 700 million people by 2030.

Water Availability in the Rural Areas

  •  India is among the world's most water-stressed countries. In 1950, India had 3,000-4,000 cubic meters of water per person. Today, this has fallen to around 1,000 cubic meters, largely due to population growth. Water resources are not evenly distributed. Half of India's annual precipitation falls in just 15 rain-soaked days, making floods and droughts a fact of life in the country. Rural India has more than 700 million people residing in about 1.42 million habitations spread over diverse ecological regions.
  •  According to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) (2011-12), about 88.5 percent households in rural India had improved source of drinking water and among these, 85.8 percent had sufficient drinking water. Further, 46.1 per cent of the rural households do not have drinking water facilities within their premises. A person in rural India has to spend, on an average, 20 minutes to fetch drinking water. The country has already spent an estimated Rs, 1,105 billion on providing safe drinking water since the First Five Year Plan launched in 1951 yet thousands of crore are still spent on controlling water-borne diseases, indicating that the problem needs to be addressed from different perspective. India loses 73 million working days due to water-borne diseases.

Government Initiatives

  •  The Central Government has also come up with a Rs. 6,000-crore World Bank-aided Atal Bhujal Yojana with community participation to ensure sustained groundwater management in overexploited and ground water-stressed areas in seven states. It has been found that 1,034 blocks out of the 6,584 assessed blocks in the country are overexploited.
  •  The quality of water supplied is also a major issue, According to one study in The Lancet, 105,000 children lost their lives in 2015 to water-induced diarrhoea. Official NRDWP data reveals that around 60,000 of all habitations are exposed to water contaminated by arsenic and fluoride. In March 2017, MDWS started a new sub-programme under NRDWP known as the National Water Quality Sub-Mission (NWQSM).
  •  The sub-programme aims to address the urgent need for providing dean drinking water in already identified 28,000 arsenic and fluoride affected habitations. Between FY 2017-18 and 2020-21, it is estimated that Central Government will provide Rs. 12,500 crore for the scheme. These funds will be taken from the water quality component of overall NRDWP allocations.
  •  To enable the rural community shoulder the responsibility in management, operation and maintenance of water supply systems at village level, decentralized, demand driven, community-managed approach in the form of Swajal Dhara have been adopted.
  •  To further strengthen community participation in the drinking water sector for sustainability, National Rural Drinking Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance Programme has been launched in February, 2006 under which 5 persons in each Gram Panchayat are to be trained to carry out regular surveillance of drinking water sources for which 100 per cent financial assistance including water testing kits, are provided by the Government.

Challenges and Future Initiatives

  •  According to a recent report by the Britain based charity Water Aid, nearly 163 million of India's population lack access to dean water dose to home. As per the report submitted by the Committee on Restructuring the Central Water Commission (CWC) and the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), 2016 if the current pattern of demand continues, about half of the demand for water will be unmet by 2030.
  •  In addition, climate change poses fresh challenges as more extreme rates of rainfall and evapotranspiration intensify the impacts of floods and droughts. Moreover, 60 per cent of our districts face groundwater over-exploitation and with 251 cubic kilometre (cu km) annual groundwater extraction rate, our country is the world's biggest consumer of groundwater.
  •  The Central Government is working on a master plan envisaging construction of about 23 lakh artificial recharge and rainwater harvesting structure in rural areas and 88 lakh in urban areas and the Central Ground Water Board has prepared a conceptual document entitled 'Master Plan for Artificial Recharge to Ground Water in India'. There are many success stories in India which draw their success from our ancient traditional knowledge and wisdom.
  •  In 2001, the Tamil Nadu government made it compulsory for each household to have rainwater harvesting infrastructure and the results are now reflected in the improvement of overall water quality within 5 years.
  •  A similar experiment has been tried out in the cities of Bangalore and Pune, where housing societies are required to harvest rainwater. There are number of such initiatives in Uttarakhand, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and other States. The efforts by local communities in India to improve water availability have been lauded in a UN report that highlights the importance of finding nature-based solutions to meet global water challenges.

Way forward

  •  Overexploitation of ground water is a major concern in India. There is need for regulatory  mechanism by the State governments to check the overexploitation of this resource. Excess digging of wells should be avoided or restricted in severely affected areas.
  •  There is need for more role of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in making the drinking water supply schemes functional. Presently, the role of PRIs is minimal. Partnership between village communities, NGOs and the government as the facilitator and co- financing has worked successfully.
  •  Empowerment of PRIs with more resources is a viable and sustainable option for scaling up the decentralized service delivery model. We need to remember that to widen the access and availability of drinking water in rural areas, we need to make every effort to preserve and use the water judiciously with active participation of the village communities.

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Courtesy: Kurukshetra