Household water delivery options in urban and rural India – A working paper by Stanford Centre for International Development

How can India alleviate its household level drinking water deprivation, in the near-to-medium term, and in cost-effective ways?

This working paper by the Stanford Centre for International Development deals with household water delivery options in urban and rural India. The recent potentially far-reaching policy changes frame the paper on drinking water options for urban and rural India.  Given the primacy of drinking water as a national objective, and the policy of decentralization through community ownership, private sector participation and devolution to local governments, it asks: How can India alleviate its household level drinking water deprivation, in the near-to-medium term, and in cost-effective ways?

It takes the goal of reform in the drinking water sector to be better public health, in particular a reduction in water-borne diseases. Therefore the primary focus of this paper is on universal access to a minimum daily quantity of safe water for drinking, cooking and basic hygiene. The threshold  for  ‘minimum’  varies  from  20  litres per  capita per day  (lpcd)  (UNICEF  1995);  to  40  lpcd  (GoI  norm)  to  a more  generous  50  lpcd  (Gleick  1998).  In this paper, the authors work with the Government of India norm. Their second focus is the cost-effectiveness of different modes of water delivery and access. In general, national goals  should be  efficiently  rather  than  inefficiently  achieved –  and  the  parlous  financial  state  of  rural  and  urban  water  agencies  prevents  them  from  extending  access  to  those who  are  unserved.

Household and community-level water options represent the downstream end of the drinking water sector. The paper focuses on conditions and policies for drinking water provision at the downstream end, although it recognizes that at the upstream end and in the long term, universal access to safe drinking water depends on overall water sector priorities and policies.

This paper is divided into three parts. Part I provides an overview of the state of access to drinking water in urban and rural India.  Part II discusses urban water delivery options, with examples of ongoing attempts to reform the urban water sector. Part III analyzes decentralized technological – institutional options for extending access to water. 

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