Dr. Banarsi Lal and Dr. Vikas Tandon
India is a vast country and the challenges related to drinking water are different in different regions. Once India’s villages were having rich sources of water and they were considered as the hubs of the traditional knowledge of water conservation. New innovations can play a significant role in providing the safe and clean drinking water to the population in our country. If technologies and innovations are blended with the traditional knowledge system of rural areas, then drinking water supply in rural parts of the country can be mitigated. A rational approach is needed to achieve this goal. For making India a water secured nation, especially the rural regions of the country, a lot of challenges need to be addressed. There are various uses of water and for domestic purpose, we use water to drink, wash, cook, water plants, etc. The fact that major civilizations across the world developed along rivers is a testament to the relevance of water in human life. Without water there would not have been human civilization, indeed there would be no life. The Indus Valley Civilization had many water supply and sanitation related provisions, sewage was disposed of through underground drains. There was a sophisticated water management system with numerous reservoirs. The scientific bond between pure drinking water and good health was established around 1840 with the experiments and observations of two British physicians and epidemiologists John Snow, who studied the spread of cholera in London from 1848 to 1854. William Budd followed up on John Snow’s work on Cholera and conducted additional observations based on an outbreak of typhoid fever in rural north of England and concluded that spread was caused by drinking water. By the beginning of the twentieth century, clean water was being considered as one of the pillars of public health. Safe and readily available water is important for public health.
In the Indian Constitution, a provision has been kept to provide the safe drinking water and to improve the public health standards by the state. There is dire need to provide the clean and safe drinking water to the people of country for the sustainable development. It has been observed that about 2.1 billion people live without safe drinking water at home and 80 per cent of those who have to use unsafe and unprotected water sources live in rural areas. Further, it has been observed that more than 700 children under five years of age die every day from diarrhoea due to contaminated water and poor sanitation. The reports also indicate that in eight out of 10 households, women and girls are responsible for water collection. Around two-thirds of the world’s population experiences severe water scarcity at least for 31 days per year. It is predicted that the intense impact of water scarcity could displace 700 million people by 2030.Water consumption of the world is doubling in every 20 years, which is more than twice the rate of increase of population.
In India, due to a 3-fold increase in population during 1951-2010, the per capita availability of water in the country as a whole decreased from 5,177 m3/ year in 1951 to 1,588 m3/ year in 2010. India is considered as one of the most water-stressed countries in the world. In 1950, India had 3,000-4,000 cubic meters of water per person. Today, this has fallen to around 1,000 cubic meters. Water is not evenly distributed across the nation. India’s half of annual precipitation falls in just 15 rain-soaked days which causes floods and droughts in the country. Rural India has more than 700 million people residing in different ecological zones. Around 46.1 per cent of the rural households do not have drinking water facilities within their premises. A person in rural India has to spend, on an average, 20 minutes to fetch drinking water. The country has already spent billions of rupees on safe drinking water since the First Five Year Plan launched and in
controlling water-borne diseases.
Central and State Governments prioritize supply of potable drinking water. Considerable efforts have been made by the government in this direction. The ‘Bharat Nirman’ was a flagship programme of the Central Government which created the required infrastructure to have good quality water to rural people. National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) aims at assisting States in providing the safe and clean drinking water to the rural population in the country. Source of drinking water assumes a great significance as it should be sustainable. Earlier, drinking water to the rural population has been provided through hand pumps, tube wells and piped water supply but now the thrust area is given on piped water supply. In 2012, the target was increased to 55 litres per capita per day, more than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended amount of around 50 litres per capita per day. As on 31 December 2018, 79 percent of rural habitations had been covered at 40 litres per capita per day but only 47 per cent at 55 litres per capita per day. A pilot project named as “Swajal” has been designed as a demand driven and community centred programme to provide sustainable access to safe drinking water to the people of the rural areas. The Central Government has also come up with a World Bank-aided Atal Bhujal Yojana with community participation to ensure sustained groundwater management in overexploited and ground water-stressed areas in seven states. The quality of water supplied is a big issue. Many children lose their lives due to water-borne diarrhoea. Many habitations are exposed to water contaminated by arsenic and fluoride. National Water Quality Sub-Mission (NWQSM) aims to provide the clean drinking water in already identified arsenic and fluoride affected habitations. Swajal Dhara has been adopted to enable the rural community to shoulder the responsibility in management, operation and maintenance of water supply
systems at village level.
Climate change poses fresh challenges as more extreme rates of rainfall and evapotranspiration intensify the impacts of floods and droughts. About 60 per cent of our districts face groundwater over-exploitation and with 251 cubic kilometre (cu km) annual groundwater extraction rate. Our country is the world’s biggest consumer of groundwater. We need to find out innovative ways to counter the clean water challenges. Rainwater harvesting is one of the most important initiatives which can help in a long way in sustaining the supply of safe and clean drinking water in the rural areas. There are many success stories in India which draw their success from our ancient traditional knowledge and wisdom. In 2001, the Tamil Nadu government made it compulsory for each household to have rainwater harvesting infrastructure and now there is an improvement in the overall water quality. A similar experiment has been tried out in the cities of Bengaluru and Pune, where housing societies are required to harvest rainwater. There are number of such initiatives taken in Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and other states. There is need to find out the nature-based solutions to mitigate the water challenges.
The reservoirs, irrigation canals and water treatment plants are not the only water management instruments at disposal. There is need to recycle the rainwater. It has been reported in some studies that the collective water storage efforts have benefitted in Kadwanchi village in Jalna district in Maharashtra to go in for high value crops such as grapes, ginger and chillies. The report highlights the importance of traditional system of harvesting rainwater that has been working as lifesavers for both humans and animals in parts of western Rajasthan for centuries. Overexploitation of ground water is a major issue in India.
A regular mechanism should be followed by the State governments so as to avoid the overexploitation of ground water. Digging of excess wells should be avoided so as to make water sustainable. Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) can play a significant role in making the drinking water supply schemes successful. Co-ordination between the village communities, NGOs and the government can work efficiently and effectively in this direction. In order to widen the availability of drinking water in rural areas, we all need to preserve and use the water
judiciously.