76 Mn Indians Lack Access To Clean Water. 3 Experts Tell Us How To Fix That

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“Don’t waste water.”

This is something we’re taught to do right from school, and rightly so. Water is a precious natural resource that’s crucial to our very existence. In the last few decades, however, climate change and increased demand have made access to clean water, and therefore survival of naturally existing water ecosystems very challenging. In fact, in India, getting your hands on clean water is so tough that in many households, women are forced to walk several kilometres just to be able to quench their thirst!

This needs to change. But is this really possible? We took the discussion to Twitter and asked three experts what they thought:

WaterAid India

Q: Just how bad is India’s water crisis? Can you share some examples?

A: India’s water crisis is in an alarming situation with 76 million people living without access to safe water – the highest in the world. Over 68,000 children under 5 die every year in India due to diarrhoeal diseases caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. At 63 million, India has the highest number of rural people living without access to clean water.

Q:  Is the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan aiding India’s target for clean water and sanitation access and how has it fared?

A: At 774 million, India has the highest number of people waiting for access to safe sanitation. Toilets are being constructed rapidly under Swachh Bharat Mission but the quality of construction and usage remains a key challenge. Swachh Bharat Mission aims at ensuring access to safe sanitation for all by 2019. However, ensuring access to water for sanitation is not the focus.

Q: How can government policies be strengthened to improve protection of water ecosystems?

A: Government must prepare a comprehensive policy on water, articulating life cycle use of water as a public good, rather than an economic good. India needs to recognise the excessive dependence on groundwater as water tables in several parts have dropped alarmingly. Ensuring water security for everyone is one of the key challenges that India is facing today.

Arun Krishnamurthy, Environmentalist Foundation of India

Q: How is climate change impacting life under water in India’s lakes? Can you share examples?

A: Our lakes are no longer freshwater habitats. They are open sewer collection pits, unfortunately – Kapra lake in Hyderabad, Keezhkattalai in Chennai, Sanjay Lake in Delhi, to mention a few. Several lakes across the country are bone dry and have turned into garbage dumping sites. This has wiped out several aquatic life forms.

Q: Given this, what’s the progress on international commitments that India has made in water conservation?

A: India has ambitious plans as a nation. Lack of execution is a cause of concern. Our scientific standards are still far behind. Standards of clean water, treatment, collection, storage, etc. is still archaic or non-existent. Technological solutions can make all the difference. We make global commitments with very little understanding of local issues. Grass root changes are the need of the hour. We must focus primarily on cost effective technology for urban wastewater treatment and calculated usage solutions.

Dia Mirza, Actress and Environmental Activist

Q: You’re very vocal about environment and water conservation. What makes you so passionate about this issue?

A: Every action counts. Every choice matters. We can’t hope for a healthy life if we wage war on our natural resources. The very basic rights of human existence are threatened by a distorted idea of progress. I care for holistic growth. Growth that is all inclusive. That recognises the riches that we have inherited for free from nature.

Q: What basic practices do you and your family follow at home to ensure that there is no water wastage?

A: Bucket baths, turning off taps when soaping hands or scrubbing utensils, rationing water for cleaning, using less.

Q: What role can influencers play to ensure that young people are more conscious about water conservation?

A: By engaging, reiterating, communicating that we are dependent on natural resources for our health and survival. People don’t cherish what they don’t know. Forming a relationship with nature can really help in conservation. My show, #GangaTheSoulOfIndia, helped people understand that rivers are sentient beings. Our lives are connected.

India is a signatory to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and has committed internationally to achieve certain socio-politico-cultural targets, one of which is to bring the pressing water crisis under control, by 2030. The government has also committed to ensuring access to safe and affordable drinking water for all, and to protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems, like rivers and lakes, to mitigate water scarcity in the next 13 years.

But, as the Twitter discussion revealed, the situation looks bleak. It really is high time, then, that we demand better policies and laws from the government to mitigate this alarming situation efficiently and effectively. And on our part, we can all do our bit to contribute to the larger effort of conserving water.

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