In some parts of India, there is a severe water crisis. According to the BBC, an estimated 600 million people are without safe water and 2,00,000 die each year because of it. Causes of the problem include poor irrigation techniques, climate change, and pollution. In a country that is quickly developing in some ways and struggling in others, water should be a top priority and a recognized human right. The country cannot fully develop its people or infrastructure without a good water supply. There are no easy answers for how to deal with the crises in such a large and diverse country, but there are many things that can be done.
The Indian government has started different projects and has already implemented various strategies to help with the crisis. For example, in 2014, the government signed a $500 million agreement with the World Bank to bring water to rural communities in Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh. The government has had bank deals before and continues to learn from these projects in an effort to improve the complicated situation. Other government efforts include banning the burning of leaves and waste, cleaner production processes, creating better laws and policies, and trying to improve sewage systems (it doesn’t help matters that millions of people practice open defecation and the waste finds its way into open water sources). Others have suggested that the government look to countries with effective water systems, such as Israel and Singapore, for solutions.
It seems that many of these measures have made real differences but there are still problems. One is that policies are not always properly enforced. For instance, people continue to dump in rivers with no proper enforcement to stop them.
Polluted water sources like rivers are a major factor in the water crisis. The Bellandur lake is so polluted that it regularly catches fire.
The sacred Yamuna river may be fatally toxic with fecal matter and industrial waste, but for poor families who live along its banks, life marches on. Children hunt for coins in the black water, people cook with it, bathe in it, and even work in it. They are either unaware of the health risk or they have no choice. The river needs to be cleaned, but in the meantime, people must stop using it, which would be very difficult considering its sacred nature to millions of Indians. The needs and lifestyles of people who still use the river despite the dangers must also be considered by policymakers. Some of the poor people along the river will need alternative sources of work and water to use in cooking, drinking, and cleaning.
It is important to realize that not every solution will work for every community. A 2014 survey showed that people in slums did not even want access to clean water. This may seem shocking, but the survey revealed important lessons as to why this may be the case. People who live in precarious situations like illegal slums could be in danger of losing homes and work if they draw attention to themselves with protests or other legal actions. Additionally, they did believe they could afford water anyway. In these cases, other basic needs like stable housing and education about the importance of clean water may need to be met before people can access clean water.
In other areas, wells might be critically important for many small villages that need water, but they might not always be the first priority. (Check out The Water Project to learn how you can help bring water to India with wells.) Local wells are sometimes depleted by farmers who have no rivers to water their crop so they are forced to use groundwater, which lowers the water table. In Rajasthan, a Mumbai “Water Mother” has found a beautiful solution to this by looking to the solutions of India’s past. She worked cooperatively with villages to create check dams that catch rainwater during the powerful monsoon season. (This is something the government has done as well). This solution has transformed every part of life so much that it has even increased the number of girls going to schools because their mothers no longer have to walk long distances to fetch water.
There are other ways to utilize rainwater that could be used in other areas, including cities, wherever possible. However, these dams would not work everywhere because of differences in climate, geography, or other concerns. A unique solution must be found in every area.
There may be things that people can do on a daily basis to help. These include using urinals that don’t flush, fixing leaks, and managing water use better at home. For example, people should always turn off faucets while brushing their teeth and take short showers. If you are really conscious about using less water, you could use even less water in the shower by quickly getting wet, turning the water off while washing, and then turning it back on for a quick rinse at the end. If you turn the water on to wait for hot water, don’t waste it by letting it run down the drain! Catch it in a bucket to be used for other things like washing the dishes. It’s also better to wash the dishes by filling the sink or a bucket with water rather than to use running water. You can heat stored water for dishes on the stove to help kill germs and that way you don’t have to wait for the water to heat.
For many people in India, stored water is a luxury that they can’t afford. If you can afford it, consider some kind of water storage tanks. If you want to make a bigger impact, you could organize people in your area to store water and send the surplus to people who need it more than you. Or get involved with one of the many organizations who is trying to help.