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Invest in India's water and sanitation sectors

world Updated: Jul 30, 2010 12:25 IST

Noting that 12% of India's over 1.2 billion people still lack access to safe drinking water, the US has asked donors to make targeted investments in India's water and sanitation sector.

"Targeted investments, even very small ones, in the water and sanitation sectors can have indisputable economic and public health benefits," Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, said at India Donor Roundtable on Thursday.

Citing World Health Organization estimates, he said every US $ invested in water and sanitation in developing regions generates an economic benefit of $5 to $28.

"Businesses, academia and civil society have a lead role to play in developing and refining technologies to improve water quality in India, and around the world," Blake said.

The magnitude of India's water needs cuts across income levels, urban and rural populations, and all industrial sectors, he said noting almost half of India's 626 districts were drought stricken in 2009.

Yearly monsoons supply more than 75% of India's annual precipitation over a period of less than three months, making storage and transport capabilities critical.

The challenges go beyond drinking water and sanitation. Approximately 80% of India's water is used in agriculture, Blake said. However in many parts of the country farmers are still without reliable access.

For example in Maharashtra state only 16% of the state's cultivable lands are under irrigation, leaving the remaining farm lands reliant on seasonal rains.

"This lack of access to water, compounded by inefficiencies in canal irrigation, can pose threats to India's food security," he said.

India's continuing population growth and the predicted impacts of climate change, including shifts in precipitation and glacier melt, make this challenge one that cannot be addressed by governments alone, Blake said.

While the Indian government must address its own water challenges, it needs help from donor groups working in partnership, he said. "It is through these partnerships that we will find new ways to address India's water challenge."