Issues and approaches for drinking water quality in rural India: a background paper by WaterAid

The paper presents challenges related to continuous water quality and quantity issues in rural India and shows the need to look for a holistic and people-centred approach for water management

This background paper by WaterAid highlights the challenges involved in achieving clean drinking water supply in rural India. The paper looks at the general picture of rural water supply today, water quality issues and monitoring, service providers involved, the health and economic burden due to poor water quality and ends with a list of measures to achieve clean water supply.

The paper argues that besides the issue of quantity of water, which has been threatening to make India into a water scarce nation by 2020, issues related to water quality continue to pose an enormous challenge. Indians are affected by waterborne diseases annually, 1.5 million children are estimated to die of diarrhoea alone and 73 million working days are lost due to waterborne disease each year. The problems of chemical contamination are also prevalent in India and the major chemical pollutant of water are fluoride and arsenic. Iron is also emerging as a major problem in recent years.

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. However, despite such expenditure lack of safe and secure drinking water continues to be a major hurdle and a national economic burden.

Water quality is affected by both point and non-point sources of pollution. These include sewage discharge, discharge from industries, run-off from agricultural fields and urban run-off. Water quality is also affected by floods and droughts and can also arise from lack of awareness and education among users. The need for user involvement in maintaining water quality and looking at other aspects like hygiene, environment sanitation, storage and disposal are critical elements to maintaining the quality of water resources.

With the decentralisation of programmes for water supply, it is essential that communities and institutions like panchayats are actively involved in the planning, implementation and execution of programmes for water supply. These institutions can also play an important role in monitoring of water sources and be made aware of simple remedial measures, which will require training and capacity building on a large scale. The article ends by arguing that there is a need to look for  a holistic and people-centred approach for water management.

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