To achieve water and sanitation security, learn from earlier programmes
In the wake of water shortages across India, the Union government in May announced the creation of the ministry of jal shakti (MoJS) for integrating the management and service delivery of water resources. However, to succeed in achieving its twin goals, MoJS, the ministry will need to facilitate the revamping of institutional roles at the state level, reorganise roles between the state and local government, build on the progress of past programmes, and incorporate new ways of doing business, based on an understanding and recognition of geography-specific challenges.
With nearly 2,000 Billion Cubic Meters (BCM) per year, India is among the top 10 nations when it comes to endowment of water resources (Central Water Commission, 2019; UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2003). However, a non-uniform spatial and temporal distribution, rising population, rapid urbanisation, economic growth, and climate change are putting pressure on many basins, especially the ones on the western and peninsular regions that are already water-scarce. Each basin, state/district and city, poses different challenges and each of these specificities need to inform the MoJS approach while it refines its water-related plans. Along with providing piped connections to each household, water demand management, conservation and storage and supply augmentation, the ministry must make wastewater management and recycling part of a portfolio of solutions and customise according to the local needs.
For instance, a city like Warangal or a district like Coimbatore, which are located in water-scarce regions, and have good access to in-house piped water supply but low penetration of sewerage infrastructure, should focus on water demand management before augmenting supply, and also prioritise integrated Fecal Sludge and Septage Management, gray water (that already has been used domestically, commercially and industrially) management and recycling.
Along with deploying these water management strategies as part of their service delivery efforts, cities also need to put in plans to reuse waste water. Such projects can potentially provide additional resource capacities of 22 BCM (100% treatment by 2025) annually in urban areas, which translates to nearly a third of the projected annual national industrial or also domestic water demand.
This is where the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and the National Rural Drinking Water Programme will be important. For instance, while SBM produced rapid gains in access to toilet facilities, latrines do not mean safe management of wastewater, and they don’t enable reuse of waste water because the majority of urban and rural households depend on on-site sanitation systems.
A recent study by the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), ‘Unearthed – Facts of On-Site Sanitation in Urban India (2019) finds in a survey of 10 cities that less than 2% of these comply with the governing technical standards, posing a potential risk to existing water supplies. While low-maintenance twin-pits were widely promoted during the SBM, a second CPR study, ‘Sanitation in Large and Dense Villages – The Last Mile and Beyond (2019)’ shows that they comprise only 26% of the sanitation technology mix in these rural areas. These findings underscore the compelling need to safely manage faecal waste at and beyond the household-level across geographical scale from the household, neighbourhood, village/city and regional levels.
While these may seem micro issues compared to the national goal of the MoJS, they are critical local issues that will shape the success of the efforts of the ministry and its programmes.
To better prioritise and leverage among the viable and sustainable alternatives to the conventional asset-centric solution, new institutional arrangements that allow for local determination of approaches will need to be put in place across the water resources to treatment and reuse cycle. It is only by pursuing the principle of subsidiarity that water and sanitation security, as well as, the goal of MoJS will be achieved.
More of these issues and options would be deliberated and discussed during a National Workshop, “WASH Futures: Subsidiarity for service delivery”, being organized by the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) in partnership with UNICEF, WaterAid India and GIZ India on 14-15 November 2019 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. More information about the event can be found at cprindia.org