by Dr. Shakeel Ahmed Raina
The rural population of India comprises more than 700 million people residing in about 1.42 million habitations spread over 15 diverse ecological regions. It is true that providing drinking water to such a large population is an enormous challenge. Our country is also characterised by non-uniformity in level of awareness, socio-economic development, education, poverty, practices and rituals which add to the complexity of providing water. In India, the financial and technical support for rural and urban water supplies are provided by the Central Government while the planning, designing, construction, operation and maintenance is undertaken by state government agencies.
The health burden of poor water quality is enormous. It is estimated that around 37.7 million Indians are affected by waterborne diseases annually; 1.5 million children are estimated to die of diarrhoea alone.
The provision of clean drinking water has been given priority in the Constitution of India, with Article 47 conferring the duty of providing clean drinking water and improving public health standards to the State. The government has undertaken various programmes since independence to provide safe drinking water to the rural masses. Till the 10th Plan, an estimated total of Rs.1,105 billion spent on providing safe drinking water. One would argue that the expenditure is huge but it is also true that despite such expenditure lack of safe and secure drinking water continues to be a major hurdle.
The Government of India’s effective role in the rural drinking water supply sector started in 1972-73 with the launch of Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme (ARWSP).During the period 1972-1986, the major thrust of the ARWSP was to ensure provision of adequate drinking water supply to the rural community through the Public Health Engineering System.
The second generation programme started with the launching of Technology Mission in1986-87, renamed in 1991-92 as Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission. Stress on water quality, appropriate technology intervention, human resource development support and other related activities were introduced in the Rural Water Supply sector.
The third generation programme started in 1999-2000 when Sector Reform Projects evolved to involve community in planning, implementation and management of drinking water related schemes, later scaled up as Swajaldhara in 2002.The Rural Water Supply sector has now entered the fourth phase with major emphasis on ensuring sustainability of water availability in terms of portability, adequacy, convenience, affordability and equity.. Adoption of appropriate technology, revival of traditional systems, conjunctive use of surface and ground water, conservation, rain water harvesting and recharging of drinking water sources have been emphasised in the new approach. The 2001 Census reported that 68.2 per cent of households in India have access to safe drinking water. According to latest estimates 94 per cent of the rural population and 91 per cent of the people living in urban areas have access to safe drinking water.
The average availability of water is reducing steadily with the growing population and it is estimated that by 2020 India will become a water stressed nation. Groundwater is the major source of water in our country with 85 per cent of the population dependent on it. While accessing drinking water continues to be a problem, assuring that it is safe is a challenge by itself. Water quality problems are caused by pollution and over-exploitation. The rapid pace of industrialisation and greater emphasis on agricultural growth combined with financial and technological constraints and non-enforcement of laws have led to generation of large quantities.
There is no doubt that water is a basic necessity for the survival of humans. In light of the increasing demand for water it becomes important to look for holistic and people-centred approaches for water management. Clearly, drinking water is too fundamental and serious an issue to be left to one institution alone. It needs the combined initiative and action of all, if at all we are serious in socioeconomic development. Safe drinking water can be assured, provided we set our mind to address it.
Lastly I would like to mention the predictions and suggestions regarding water of Dr. A. P.J Abdul Kalam who predicted that in 2070 there will be acute shortage of water and people will suffer due to kidney problem, a person of 50 years age shall be looked like an old man of 85 years age and he will feel himself as an oldest man of the society. There will be no greenery on the earth. People even women will shave their heads to keep their heads clean because they have no water to wash them. Lakes and dams will become dry. Industries will become standstill and unemployment will reach to the dramatic proportion. Assaults on gun points at streets for jerry can of water will be common. Only half glass of water will be available per person per day against present eight glasses of water on average. Scientists will investigate but there will be no solution. Babies will be born with deficiencies and deformities. Govt. will charge money for the air we breathe. We should think and realise at present try our best to save water. For saving water he suggested, keep closing the taps while washing hands, face and brushing teeth. Keep the tap closed while applying shaving foam and shampoo. Finish your bathing within five minutes, don’t use showers, use buckets. Keep buckets filled with water ready for washing utensils and clothes, don’t wash them under running water. Never waste the drinking water, fill the glass as per your requirement. After washing the vegetable and fruits, pour the water in plants.