Paving the way for access to clean water and sanitation - Hindustan Times
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Paving the way for access to clean water and sanitation

ByHindustan Times
Mar 22, 2023 02:09 PM IST

The article has been authored by Biswanath Sinha, Director, Policy and Technical Support, WaterAid India.

The United Nations population projection report, published in 2022, states that India has surpassed China to become the world's most populous country, with over 140 crores of people. Furthermore, according to World Urbanisation Prospects (WUP) 2018, the urban population in India is estimated to reach a staggering 60 crores by 2030. In addition, climate change and water pollution are exacerbating the problem of water scarcity, which is causing global warming.

Erratic monsoons and decreasing groundwater resources will lead to an increase in the cost of water and inequitable access to it and the lack of water resources can hamper the amount of safe water needed by families for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH).
Erratic monsoons and decreasing groundwater resources will lead to an increase in the cost of water and inequitable access to it and the lack of water resources can hamper the amount of safe water needed by families for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH).

The pressure on water resources is expected to worsen as the frequency and intensity of floods and droughts in India increase. Erratic monsoons and decreasing groundwater resources will lead to an increase in the cost of water and inequitable access to it and the lack of water resources can hamper the amount of safe water needed by families for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH).

Access to safe water ensures good health, dignity, and a quality life, and fosters happy communities. India urgently needs to ramp up its efforts to provide WASH services for its ever-burgeoning population as millions still lack access to clean water and toilets, which are basic human rights.

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WASH is vital for the survival, growth, and development of individuals, particularly children. In India, 45% of children are stunted, or over 6 lakhs under-five die annually owing to poor water supply and sanitation, according to a 2013 study by UNICEF and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). To achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6’s goal of universal and equitable access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene for all by 2030, we need to take immediate and innovative measures to salvage the problem.

In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on innovation in the WASH space, with new technologies and approaches emerging to address these critical challenges. With traditional approaches not being able to keep pace with the growing demand for clean water and sanitation services, there is a need for new technology-based, resource-efficient solutions.

While many regions in India face significant water scarcity issues, an assessment by the government’s think tank NITI Aayog, done in 2018, states that nearly 70% of all of the country’s fresh water — in the ground or on the surface — is contaminated. According to estimates, around 68 per cent of all households and 82% of rural households in India do not have access to treated water. In such a scenario, traditional approaches such as piped water systems and septic tanks are often inadequate or unsustainable. Innovation can help in overcoming these challenges by introducing new solutions that are more efficient, affordable, and long-lasting.


One example of innovation in the WASH space is the use of smart sensors to monitor water quality and usage in real-time. These sensors can detect changes in water quality, identify leaks and blockages in water systems, and provide data to help improve water management and conservation. Another instance could be the use of mobile technology to improve access to sanitation services in rural areas. Mobile apps can help to connect people with local sanitation providers and provide information on safe and sustainable sanitation practices.

Innovation in WASH encompasses not only the introduction of cutting-edge new technologies but also developing new approaches to deliver these services. The creation of social enterprises is one example of an innovative method to addressing the long-term water and sanitation infrastructure demands of water-deprived communities.


However, alongside innovation, it is essential to ensure that these new technologies and approaches are accessible and affordable for everyone, especially those who are most in need. Governments and other stakeholders need to come together to create an enabling environment for innovation in the WASH space by providing the necessary resources, policies, and regulations to support the development and implementation of new solutions.

Institutional innovation at the community level can also play a crucial role in addressing the complex challenges related to WASH. For example, the formation of an efficient village drinking water and sanitation committee (DWSC) can build transparency and sustainability and ensure that all members of a community have access to safe and reliable water, sanitation, and hygiene services. Such community-led initiatives foster a sense of ownership for WASH facilities, leading to their long-term maintenance.

The Centre’s flagship programmes such as Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) and Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) aim to provide safe and adequate drinking water to every household in India. Both, JJM and SBM, have provided a plethora of opportunities for both the start-up ecosystem and entrepreneurs to come up with innovative solutions to address the challenges in the WASH sector. For instance, JJM has created a market for products and services related to water supply, such as water quality testing kits, leak detection devices, and water treatment technologies. Similarly, SBM has led to the development of innovative solutions in the sanitation sector, such as low-cost toilets, wastewater and faecal sludge management solutions, and behaviour change communication campaigns.

Underserved communities are beginning to show signs of acceptance and support from sustainable solutions on offer by social enterprises. But to ensure that everyone has access to these new solutions and that they are affordable, governments and stakeholders must work towards creating an enabling environment for these innovations to thrive. Working together, we can improve both the health and well-being of individuals and at the same time promote sustainable development by ensuring that no one is left out.

The article has been authored by Biswanath Sinha, Director, Policy and Technical Support, WaterAid India.

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