Despite govt efforts, water still out of reach of disadvantaged groups
Despite huge investments to improve access to urban water supply and sanitation by the Union and state governments, urban slums and informal communities have fallen out of its ambit, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic when the focus on hand-washing facilities and overall physical hygiene was utmost to keep the viral infection at bay, experts said on Tuesday, while speaking at the 2021 edition of the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) India’s annual flagship event, Connect Karo.
The five-day conference seeks to highlight ways and the need for making cities inclusive and resilient, have access to water, sanitation, hygiene and healthy spaces. Hindustan Times is the media partner of the conference.
In the session “Water Tales: Inclusion Stories from the AACO (Accelerating Access Coalition) Services”, experts discussed how the lack of access to WASH (safe water, sanitation and hygiene) services is impacting disadvantaged and vulnerable communities, thereby posing a serious risk to the health of the community at large, in particular during the times of the pandemic.
The session highlighted various initiatives that voice the stories of such communities across Indian cities including the national capital.
Experts said despite schemes such as Smart Cities Mission and Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) being launched, an estimated (US) $123 billion is needed to meet universal WASH provisioning for all urban areas. Equity and inclusion are key components that remain missing even at present, as seen in urban slums and informal communities-- people are often seen crowding around the water tanker to fulfil their daily water needs unmindful of social distancing.
Around 24% of urban poor households depend on communal or shared sanitation facilities. Slum households were forced to ignore social distancing protocols at public stand-posts and water tankers to collect the limited water available. “Shared toilet and bathing facilities increased the risk of transmission of the coronavirus disease in these communities. Almost 32% of slum residents across India were exposed to the virus in 2020,” a commentary titled “Accelerating Access to WASH and Healthy Spaces to Slum Communities in Urban India: Renewed Urgency Post-Covid-19” by the WRI India said.
One of the stories shared on the issue highlighted that last year, with the pandemic-induced lockdown, in Safda Ghevra, a resettlement colony in Delhi, the water tanker would come only once in two or three days. People would not take bath for three or four days. Community toilets were two for all 13 blocks of the colony, housing around 4,000 people.
“The issue of toilets is an equally pressing issue in slum communities. Swacch Bharat Mission prescribes one seat per 35 men and one seat per 25 women. Informal communities in Mumbai are severely underserviced with one seat per 190 user; Delhi had a shortfall of about 50% in 2016 of the required 36,000 seats in community toilets,” the commentary continued.
Ruchika Shiva, India Country Coordinator of IRC (an international think tank that works with NGOs, governments across the world for WASH), said that all of these issues -- water supply, sanitation, municipal solid waste --- cannot be addressed in silos. “All these are interlinked and hence integrated long-term solutions are required for addressing these at a mass level. For instance, in Delhi, the leachate from Bhalaswa landfill has contaminated groundwater, which has been impacting the health of people living around the landfill,” she said.