The United Nations (UN), this time, has done a commendable job by directly putting “Water and sanitation to All” as one of the goals under SDGs 2030 (Sustainable Development Goal 6-Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all). India is busy taking several concrete steps at the highest level of governance to address the water challenge. It was not surprising that the Prime Minister of India, Shri. Narendra Modi has awarded the much prized portfolio of ‘River Management and Ganga Rejuvenation’ , at Centre to his trusted colleague Shri. Nitin Gadkari recently, during the cabinet reshuffles. Gadkari, who is known for his smart and efficient deliverance of targets, in his proactive best, has started expediting the nations ambitious water targets, with no time to waste.
But Gadkari and his team in the ministry (River management and Ganga Rejuvenation) will have a hectic time ahead. However, he is confident that projects such as 'stopping untreated sewage discharge into water bodies' and 'inter-linking of rivers' would help to pump in enough clean water to the water starved citizens of the country. He seems convinced that the current situation of water deficit can be reversed soon. A few days back he shared in media that a Rs. 6,000 crore project plan has been sent from the Centre to the World Bank, of which, the sucessful completion would help at least half a dozen states to improve water facilities.
While commending the hard work and positivity of Gadkari and his team, let us also extract some hard facts beneath the water table of the country. With 1.34 billion population, yet only with 2.5 percent of the worlds land area and 4 percent of the world’s water resources at its disposal, India would likely scrabble a bit towards tackling such the water target. According to a report by water Aid, a global advocacy group on water and sanitation, currently 63.4 million Indians are living without access to clean water.
According to the information shared in the Parliament recently, only 16% of India’s rural families have piped water, which comes to only 26.9 million out of 167.8 million households in rural India! As per the data in the Census 2011 that 84.02% of the rural households have access to drinking water which is either tap water or covered well water or hand pump/ tube well water. But such statistics often become irrelevant in the onset of drought as well as the volatility of such natural sources of water due to climate change.
India had already set the target to provide 50% of all rural households with piped water and 35% of rural households with household taps by the end of 2017, under the ‘strategic plan for rural drinking water, 2011-2022’. But the current advancement towards the goals is not really impressive. Under such scenarios, can we hope that the goal to provide 90% rural households with piped water and 80% of rural households with household taps by 2022, turns out to be a reality!
However, the spate over water can be better viewed in the light of the report by KPMG titled “Water sector in India: Overview and focus areas for the future ”. As per the report, “...precipitation in the form of rain and snowfall provide over 4,000 trillion liters of fresh water to India. Most of these freshwater returns to the seas and ocean via the many large rivers flowing across the subcontinent. A portion of this water is stored in inland water bodies both natural (lakes and ponds) and man-made (tanks and reservoirs). Another portion is absorbed by the soil and is stored in underground aquifers. A much smaller percentage Of the 1,869 trillion liters of water reserves, only an estimated 1,122 trillion liters can be exploited due to topographic constraints and distribution effects”.
It means, our scope of managing the available water would decide the scope of making water available for the current and future generations of India. Now, as per reports of Central Water Commission, it is estimated that the water demand of the country is more than 1450 trillion liters by the year 2050!Hence, India’s commitment and strive to attain SDG6 goals would be crucial in ensuring the very sustenance of the nation itself.
But the question however is this. Who will be in command? Who will chip in the vast resource required for it, who will manage it and who will take this to our water starved population which comes to roughly 16% of our population? For this it would be apt if we bring the many water blends under the key factors in handling the available water.
Water, is considered as a low value commodity till recently. In conventional economic terms it is still a low valued commodity. But its extraction, transportation, storage and conservation are highly expensive. The extraction, transportation, storage and conservation are not as simple as creating the civil any other civil infrastructure.
Besides this, the natural water resources – rivers, lakes, pond and underground aquifers are not any more the clean sources of water. The cost of water treatment, recycling and redistribution infrastructure, also need to be taken care of. As per the information provided by Environmental Information System (ENVIS) a joint initiative by Ministry of Environment and Sulabh, 62% total sewage generated in India is discharged directly to the nearest water bodies! During 2015,the estimated sewage generation in the country was 61754 MLD as against the developed sewage treatment capacity of 22963 MLD. It means, about 38791 MLD of untreated sewage was discharged directly into nearby water bodies in the year 2015 itself! About 12,000 MLD to the river Ganga alone!
The facts placed in the Parliament of India say that about 64,094 rural habitations in India are consuming contaminated water for drinking and domestic use in the rural areas as on March 15, 2017. Iron, which is known to cause respiratory system hemorrhage when mixed with drinking water, was found in water supplied to 30% or 19,720 of such rural Indian habitations! Arsenic, known to cause skin lesions and cancer, was found in the drinking water source of 21% of such habitations!
Hence when we think about chasing the SDG6-“Water and Sanitation to all” the magnanimity of the tasks needed to be taken care of. Estimates by non governmental agencies hints that there is big financial gap between the resources required and total funds allotted by the government for various water related projects. There are views that government transfers the responsibility for water services, in the name of privatization. The governments are favouring PPP (Private Public Partnerships) to address he resource crunch. The last one and half decades witnessed, the government aggressively promoting private partnerships in water sector. There are fears that the production, management and distribution of water by the private sector are increasingly going to the market-based norms. Many urban PPP (Private Public Partnerships) in water has so far created controversies of alleged over charging of consumers.
Above all, Water is a huge industry, now. Take the example of packaged drinking water industry, which was launched in India nearly three decades ago. In 2016, Indian's total packaged water sale accounted for Rs 3,000 crore, which excludes the bulk packaged water as per the internal industry sources.
Let us hope that India succeeds in attaining the targets of the SDG6 and the water starved average Indian consumers get a good gulp of water!
Let us hope for the very best!
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