Inequities in availability of potable water exemplifies the inequities that exist
Between 1951 and 2012, the central and the state governments have spent more than Rs 1,35,000 crore on providing safe and adequate domestic water to every rural person in India. Yet this dream remains unfulfilled even today.
According to the latest round of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) report, the percentage of households which have got drinking water facilities within their premises is 46.1% in rural India and 76.8% in urban India. This means that those who don’t have water facilities inside their homes have to walk considerable distances (two to five kilometres) to fetch water for their families, and usually the burden of doing so falls on women.
The survey also found that the average time to fetch drinking water in rural parts of the country was 35 minutes while it was 31 minutes in the urban areas and half of this time gets lost in a queue waiting for one’s turn. Unfortunately, the number of households having to travel for water has increased between 2008-09 and 2012. Along with the lack of access to potable water, India also faces another related challenge: the lack of sanitation facilities. The survey shows that 60% of rural households do not have access to toilet facilities.
The impact of unavailability of potable water can be disastrous. As far as health is concerned, unsafe water is the leading cause of sickness and death across the world. According to the United Nations, 3.41 million people die from water, sanitation and hygiene-related causes each year and half of the world’s hospital beds are filled with people suffering from water-related illnesses. And it is estimated that nearly 10% of the global disease burden could be reduced through improved water supply, sanitation, hygiene, and water resource management. The availability of safe drinking water can put children (especially girls) back to school, empower women, improve community health and foster economic development. Drinking water security can be best ensured by building capacity of local communities to manage water sources.
This unequal access to water between urban and rural India (and even within urban India) only exemplifies the inequities that exist. To overcome this challenge, India must measure its water resources, prepare water budgets and take steps to self-regulate demand for water from irrigation and industry.