Drinking water sources in Northeast India

The Northeast region of India is connected to the rest of the India via a narrow strip of land called the Silliguri Corridor or ‘Chicken’s Neck’. It consists of the seven sister states namely Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizorum, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura and the Himalayan state of Sikkim [Figure (1)]. As per the 2011 census, the total population of this region is 455,87,982, which is 4% of the total population of India. The region occupies 8% India's landmass. Table (1) shows some facts about states in this region.

Figure 1: States in North-East India (Source: Wikipedia)

The region has an abundance of natural resources, especially water. It has 34% of total surface water in India. It gets high rain falls around 2,500 millimeters on an average. One of the major rivers of Asia, Brahmputra flows through the region. The region faces a contradictory situation as monsoon months often see devastating floods, but during non-rainy season many areas face water scarcity. Many areas have hilly terrains where there isn’t much water retention. Rain water runoff is quick and many of springs and streams dry off in non-rainy season. The region needs proper management of its rich water resources and also development of required infrastructure. One aspect of water management is providing drinking water to the population. Using the data collected as part of 2011 census of India, we learn where and how people get drinking water.

State

Population

(2011)

Population Density (/km2)

(2011)

Area

(km2)

Percentage of Rural Households

Percentage of Urban Households

Arunachal Pradesh

13,82,611

17

83,743.00

74.8%

25.2%

Assam

311,69,272

397

78,438.00

84.4%

15.6%

Manipur

27,21,756

122

22,347.00

66.2%

33.8%

Meghalaya

29,64,007

132

22,429.00

78.4%

21.6%

Mizorum

10,91,014

52

21,081.00

47.4%

52.6%

Nagaland

19,80,602

119

16,579.00

71.2%

28.8%

Sikkim

6,07,688

86

7,096.00

72.1%

27.9%

Tripura

36,71,032

350

10,491.69

72.1%

27.9%

Table 1 : States in North-East Region

How is the region different from other regions in India?

Data provides details about type of main drinking water source for a household and whether it is available within household premises, near household premises or is away from premises [1].

At national level, main drinking water source is tap water (44% of total households), followed by hand pump/tube well water (42% of total households). In North-East, only 21% of households have access to tap water. Main drinking water source in the region is hand pump/tube well (45% of total households). As seen in Table (1), all the states in this region (except Mizoram) are rural with close to 3/4th of population living in rural areas. Hand pump is the water source that is used the most in rural India, and with these states being mostly rural, we see a high % of hand pump/tube well water use. Figure (2) shows distribution of different water sources in these states.

One more important difference is in terms of using other water sources than the main sources of tap water, well water and tube well/borehole water which includes water from lake/pond, springs, river/canals, etc. Only 4 % of households on the country use these other sources, but in North-East the number goes up to 15%. Figure (2) shows usage of other water sources (Shown as ‘Others’) in comparison to main sources. Figure (3) shows what type of other water sources are being used. The region has many natural water sources like springs, lakes, ponds and they are easily available and many a times only available water source to people living in remote areas and so they are widely used.

 

Figure 2: Water Source Distribution

 

Figure 3: Breakup of Other Water Sources

If comparison is done in terms of how far a water source is from household premises, the region is at par with national numbers. 47% of total households have a water source within premises, 31% have it near premises and 22% have it away from premises, while national numbers are 47% households have a water source within premises, 36% have it near premises, and 18% have it away from premises. Table (2) shows water source availability distribution in the region.

What are the differences among states in the region?

There is a good overlap of geographic, climatic, hydrological characteristics among states in this region. Also, the states are similar to one another in terms of socio-economical situation. Main occupation of the people here is agriculture and related activities. States have a large number of tribal populations living in scattered rural settlements. But, when it comes to water supply infrastructure, there are differences. 

Figure 4: Water source availability distribution in the North-East states

General trend is that in all the states majority of households have a drinking water source near household premises. Assam and Sikkim are different, where majority of households have a drinking water source within premises. Manipur performs worst with only 16% of total households having access to drinking water source within premises. 

Figure 5: Water source availability distribution for rural households

Assam the largest state in the North-East in terms of population, has better numbers compared to other states in the region with 50% of rural households having access to a water source within premises. Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizorum and Nagaland have less than 20% of rural households with a drinking water source within premises.

When types of drinking water source are considered, there are quite a few variations in rural areas. Rural population in Assam largely depends on hand pumps, followed by uncovered well and other sources. Sikkim provides tap water to majority of its rural population. Most of it is untreated tap water, but as source of this water is natural springs, it is expected to be suitable for drinking without treatment. Many rural households in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura use uncovered well water. In Manipur and Mizorum, major drinking water source is other sources like lake, river, spring, pond, etc.

Figure 6: Sources of drinking water in rural households

 

Figure 7 : Sources of drinking water in urban households 

Small urban centres in the North-East have access to tap water. Smallest state of the North-East, Sikkim leads here and Nagaland trails last. Urban population in Assam also uses hand pumps a lot.  In Manipur, Mizorum, Nagaland, and Meghalaya other water sources are often used.

Table (3), (4) and (5) give numbers for available water source type in all/rural/urban households in the region.

 Conclusion:

The region is seriously lagging behind in terms of water supply infrastructure development as well as proper operations and maintenance of existing infrastructure, even after central government and several international organizations have spent a lot of money for infrastructure development. Lack of overall infrastructure development also hurts. As for example, because of erratic electricity availability, water treatment plants do not function to their full capacity and cannot provide adequate quantity of treated water. Frequent landslides in monsoon damage water supply pipes. So, development and maintenance of proper infrastructure should be high priority in the region. Rainwater harvesting is being given serious consideration in Mizorum and Sikkim has already evolved an efficient water harvesting system. Other states in the region should follow their examples. As many households in the region depend on natural sources like springs, lakes, ponds – gravity based water supply system (Water is diverted from springs via pipes using gravity, stored in a water tank and then supplied to households) can be used. Using such system can bring clean water within or near household premises [4].

References:

[1] Census data sheet_Drinking water

[2] India - Development and Growth in Northeast India : The Natural Resources, Water, and Environment Nexus

[3] Water Resources of the North-East: State of the Knowledge Base

[4] Grants Newsletter, Arghyam 

 

State

Within Premises

Near Premises

Away

Total

Arunachal Pradesh

    1,07,429

       97,755

       56,430

    2,61,614

Assam

 34,89,690

 16,99,916

 11,77,689

 63,67,295

Manipur

       81,420

    2,34,183

    1,91,549

    5,07,152

Meghalaya

    1,29,528

    2,32,706

    1,76,065

    5,38,299

Mizorum

       68,882

    1,03,156

       49,039

    2,21,077

Nagaland

    1,17,149

    1,69,448

    1,13,368

    3,99,965

Sikkim

       67,403

       38,007

       22,721

    1,28,131

Tripura

    3,12,494

    2,57,323

    2,72,964

    8,42,781

Table 2 : Water Source Availability Distribution in All Households

 

State

All Sources

Treated Tap Water

Untreated Tap Water

Covered Well

Uncovered Well

Hand pump

Tube well/

Borehole

Others

Arunachal Pradesh

    2,61,614

69,126

      1,02,347

        3,550

         11,335

                  27,866

                   6,299

          41,091

Assam

 63,67,295

     5,82,893

         83,253

  1,06,163

   10,95,715

            31,93,767

             5,88,580

      7,16,924

Manipur

    5,07,152

     1,29,693

         65,907

     14,230

         23,671

                  32,787

                   1,833

      2,39,031

Meghalaya

    5,38,299

     1,49,708

         61,639

     37,287

         99,302

                  15,116

                 14,167

      1,61,080

Mizorum

    2,21,077

        87,188

         42,619

        4,335

           6,059

                    1,817

                   1,961

          77,098

Nagaland

    3,99,965

        24,311

      1,64,282

     26,202

         76,398

                    8,684

                 17,919

          82,169

Sikkim

    1,28,131

        37,410

         71,858

           571

               214

                          21

                         53

          18,004

Tripura

    8,42,781

     1,71,167

      1,08,622

     24,343

     2,06,233

              1,52,365

             1,36,980

          43,071

Table 3 : Water Source Type Distribution in All Households

State

All Sources

Treated Tap Water

Untreated Tap Water

Covered Well

Uncovered Well

Hand pump

Tube well/Borehole

Others

Arunachal Pradesh

    1,95,723

        38,489

         77,535

        2,237

           9,319

                  24,134

                   5,313

          38,696

Assam

 53,74,553

     3,10,833

         55,852

     58,923

     9,65,961

            28,66,428

             4,39,414

      6,77,142

Manipur

    3,35,752

        42,533

         56,618

     10,244

         18,230

                  25,470

                   1,318

      1,81,339

Meghalaya

    4,22,197

        70,586

         50,677

     33,239

         94,123

                  14,598

                 12,476

      1,46,498

Mizorum

    1,04,874

        15,324

         28,072

        1,808

           3,610

                        824

                   1,277

          53,959

Nagaland

    2,84,911

        17,389

 

     14,333

         55,681

                    4,078

                   3,961

          59,311

Sikkim

       92,370

        12,367

         63,974

           239

               203

                          15

                         19

          15,553

Tripura

    6,07,779

        69,003

         83,885

     21,196

     1,94,023

              1,02,071

                 98,270

          39,331

Table 4: Water Source Type Distribution in Rural Households

 

State

All Sources

Treated Tap Water

Untreated Tap Water

Covered Well

Uncovered Well

Hand pump

Tube well/Borehole

Others

Arunachal Pradesh

       65,891

        30,637

         24,812

        1,313

           2,016

                    3,732

                       986

            2,395

Assam

    9,92,742

     2,72,060

         27,401

     47,240

     1,29,754

              3,27,339

             1,49,166

          39,782

Manipur

    1,71,400

        87,160

            9,289

        3,986

           5,441

                    7,317

                       515

          57,692

Meghalaya

    1,16,102

        79,122

         10,962

        4,048

           5,179

                        518

                   1,691

          14,582

Mizorum

    1,16,203

        71,864

         14,547

        2,527

           2,449

                        993

                       684

          23,139

Nagaland

    1,15,054

           6,922

         34,124

     11,869

         20,717

                    4,606

                 13,958

          22,858

Sikkim

       35,761

        25,043

            7,884

           332

                 11

                             6

                         34

            2,451

Tripura

    2,35,002

     1,02,164

         24,737

        3,147

         12,210

                  50,294

                 38,710

            3,740

Table 5: Water Source Type Distribution in Urban Households

 

About the Author:

Rachana has an MS in Computer Science with work experience both in India and USA. In her professional life, she mainly developed software using VB, C+, .NET with some work on reporting and analytics. She has a keen interest in data mining and machine learning. She is currently based in Surat, Gujarat. She came across IWP completely by chance. She has an interest in open data movement and data science in general, and IWP had the data project that required volunteers, so she happily signed up. She is a firm believer of the notion that technology can be used to do good.

She has worked on a project that dealt with drinking water with data collected by the 2011 Census and also with data about AUWSP projects in various states of India. It involved cleaning data, getting it in analysis-ready format, creating visualizations based on the data to capture underlying patterns, and writing about what we learned from data. The goal has been to understand current status of drinking water availability in Indian states as well as assessing performance of AUWSP projects.

Teaser: 
India's Northeast has an abundance of natural resources, especially water - 34% of India's total surface water.
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