- Together, We can make a difference
The health burden of poor water quality is enormous. It is estimated that around 37.7 million Indians are affected by waterborne diseases annually, 1.5 million children are estimated to die of diarrhea alone and 73 million working days are lost due to waterborne disease each year. The resulting economic burden is estimated at $600 million a year.
The problems of chemical contamination is also prevalent in India with 1,95,813 habitations in the country are affected by poor water quality. The major chemical parameters of concern are fluoride and arsenic. Iron is also emerging as a major problem with many habitations showing excess iron in the water samples.
The provision of clean drinking water has been given priority in the Constitution of India, with Article 47 conferring the duty of providing clean drinking water and improving public health standards to the State. The government has undertaken various programmes since independence to provide safe drinking water to the rural masses. Till the 10th plan, an estimated total of Rs.1,105 billion spent on providing safe drinking water. One would argue that the expenditure is huge but it is also true that despite such expenditure lack of safe and secure drinking water continues to be a major hurdle and a national economic burden.
On one hand the pressures of development is changing the distribution of water in the country, access to adequate water has been cited as the primary factor responsible for limiting development. The average availability of water is reducing steadily with the growing population and it is estimated that by 2020 India will become a water stressed nation. Groundwater is the major source of water in our country with 85% of the population dependent on it.
The 2001 Census reported that 68.2 per cent of households in India have access to safe drinkingwater. According to latest estimates, 94 per cent of the rural population and 91 per cent of the people living in urban areas have access to safe drinking water. Data available with the Department of Drinking Water Supply shows that of the 1.42 million rural habitations in the country, 1.27 million are fully covered (FC), 0.13 million are partially covered (PC) and 15,917 are not covered (NC).However, coverage refers to installed capacity, and not average actual supply over a sustained period or the quality of water being supplied which is the most essential part.
While accessing drinking water continues to be a problem, assuring that it is safe is a challenge by itself. Water quality problems are caused by pollution and over-exploitation. The rapid pace of industrialization and greater emphasis on agricultural growth combined with financial and technological constraints and non-enforcement of laws have led to generation of large quantities. WaterNet vision is of a world where everyone has access to safe water and sanitation.
- Drinking water quality
The problem is sometimes aggravated due to the non-uniform distribution of rainfall. Individual practices also play an important role in determining the quality of water.
Water quality is affected by both point and non-point sources of pollution. These include sewage discharge, discharge from industries, run-off from agricultural fields and urban run-off. Water quality is also affected by floods and droughts and can also arise from lack of awareness and education among users. The need for user involvement in maintaining water quality and looking at other aspects like hygiene, environment sanitation, storage and disposal are critical elements to maintain the quality of water resources.
The government policies and programmes has also undergone a series of transition ever since independence. To begin with, the emphasis was on setting up physical infrastructure in form of handpumps. Thereafter one has seen a transition from technology measures to a socio-technological approach seeking close participation of people. A national water policy was drafted in 1987 which was subsequently revised in 2002. For ensuring sustainability of the systems, steps were initiated in 1999 to institutionalize community participation in the implementation of rural drinking water supply schemes through the sector reforms project. Sector Reform ushers in a paradigm shift from “Government oriented supply driven approach” to “People oriented demand responsive approach”.
Water quality monitoring is now being considered an important part of the government programme. Since 2000, water quality monitoring has been accorded a high priority and institutional mechanisms have been developed at national, state, district, block and panchayat levels. The government has also outlined requisite mechanisms to monitor the quality of drinking water and devise effective Information, Education and Communication (IEC) interventions to disseminate information and educate people on health and hygiene.
The Government of India launched the National Rural Drinking Water Quality Monitoring and surveillance Programme in February 2006. This envisages institutionalization of community participation for monitoring and surveillance of drinking water sources at the grassroots level by gram panchayats and Village Water and Sanitation Committees, followed by checking the positively tested samples at the district and state level laboratories. One major problem when it comes to addressing the problems related to water is that the provisions for water are distributed across various ministries and institutions. With several institutions involved in water supply, intersect oral coordination becomes critical for the success of any programme.
When it comes to dealing with maintaining water quality, the users and in large the communities have to play a key role in maintaining hygiene near water sources. One has to improve the ways in which we collect and store water so as to avoid contamination while collection, storage and use. With the decentralization of programmes for water supply it is essential that communities and institutions like panchayats are actively involved in the planning, implementation and execution of programmes for water supply. These institutions will also have to undertake the monitoring of water sources and be made aware so simple remedial measures. It is true that this will require training and capacity building at a large scale.
There can be little doubt that water is a basic necessity for the survival of humans. There isinterplay of various factors that govern access and utilization of water resources and in light of the increasing demand for water it becomes important to look for holistic and people-centered approaches for water management.
- Water Resources and Utilizations
1. India has 16 per cent of the world’s population and four per cent of its fresh water resources.
2. Estimates indicate that surface and ground water availability is around 1,869 billion cubic metres (BCM). Of this, 40 per cent is not available for use due to geological and topographical reasons.
3. Around 4,000 BCM of fresh water is available due to precipitation in the form of rain and snow, most of which returns to the seas via rivers.
4. Ninety two per cent groundwater extracted is used in the agricultural sector, five and three per cent respectively for industrial and domestic sector.
5. Eight nine per cent of surface water use is for agricultural sector and two per cent and nine per cent respectively are used by the industrial and domestic sector.
6. While on the one hand the pressures of development are changing the distribution of water in the country, access to adequate water has been cited as the primary factor responsible for limiting development. The average availability of water remains more or less fixed according to the natural hydrological cycle but the per capita availability reduces steadily due to an increasing population.