In 2019, the World Economic Forum’s Risks Report indicated that a global water crisis is the fourth most impactful risk and the ninth likeliest. The Urban Climate Change Research Network forecasted in 2018 that 650 million people living in 500 cities will be vulnerable to reduced freshwater availability in the 2050s.
According to the World Bank in 2019, India specifically is one of the most water-stressed countries globally, and NITI Aayog found that many Indian cities were on track to run out of water in the next few years, if not already in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
For communities to become self-reliant, they must invest in sustaining availability and access to the resources that define their existence-namely, water and sanitation. While the challenge may seem daunting, the Government of India has introduced programmes over the past few years-such as Jal Shakti Abhiyan, Swachh Bharat Mission and Jal Jeevan Mission-which seek to prioritise solutions that improve water security and supply and sanitation access, with a focus on drought-prone regions of the country. These programmes do not only address needs in terms of resource management, but also in terms of the potential to provide livelihoods to a ‘bulging youth’ population aging into a demographic that is ready to work, contribute to the economy and improve social cohesion.
India comes with many strengths that can be leveraged to invest in these convergent, multi-scheme initiatives: a large population with ready human resources interested in skilling and entrepreneurship, strong and numerous local grassroot organisations that understand the needs of their communities, state governments with experience and the ability to fund locally contextualised approaches and, finally, the resilient communities themselves who have shown time and time again that when they take problems into their own hands, they are able to advocate for and implement solutions that work and generate further livelihood opportunities for their people.
The following case studies highlight how leveraging the above assets in Bihar and Odisha provides new pathways for employment that contribute to building a self-reliant India while ensuring water and sanitation services for years to come.