Millennium Post

Water affair

United Nations latest monitoring report had a reason for India to celebrate. India was found to have taken significant strides in bid to provide basic sanitation facilities since the turn of the century. Between the period of 2000 and 2017, India showed impressive numbers having a majority of the global populace curbing open defecation. Prime Minister Modi's 'Swachh Bharat' programme gave the necessary impetus to this objective which has been reflected in the UN report. However, it was a bittersweet analysis since the report also cites stagnant growth in the number of households with piped water supply in the same period. At 44 per cent, India's piped water to households has not displayed any growth, though the report outlines an increased percentage of people having access to a protected drinking water source in their proximity. Recurring water shortage has prevailed and the country still bears from a great number of drought-affected areas haphazardly releasing water tankers to ensure adequate water supply while reassessing water sources and irrigation facilities to ensure sustainability. Reminding ourselves that sanitation and clean water both are essential requirements will feed our drive towards achieving them. Goal number six of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals cites clean water and sanitation. Reaching people who lack clean water and sanitation remains a grave challenge. Increasing accessibility to them is a non-negotiable objective with a focus on ensuring sustainability; simply providing clean water does not solve the purpose. The ever-rising population has only stressed water aquifers and reservoirs. So sustainable solution is the only kind of it we should be aiming for. But sanitation and clean water comprise various sectors viz. water supply – drinking and other facilities, wastewater treatment and management, with several objectives of which one has been curbing open-defecation. Efforts towards achieving that have been remarkable and inspiration for countries. However, the work is far from over. The new dispensation's priority remains piped drinking water as India in the next five years under Modi would strive to achieve maximum water supply. While Swachh Bharat will ensure zero open-defecation – a massive step towards sanitation goals, the second version of it can stress on piped drinking-water supply. An umbrella effort is necessary to initiate the development trajectory of all sectors related to water management and supervise each with specific focus to ensure progress. The newly instated Ministry of Jal Shakti – the apex body for formulation and administration of rules and regulations relating to the development and regulation of the water resources in India – is a novel step to bring everything under one roof and direct resources and capital towards its various branches. NITI Aayog's integrated water management index ranking would be a good basis to address water issues, empowering states to develop water resources under the guidance of Jal Shakti. As mentioned earlier the need to recharge aquifers is undebatable since they will deplete at an even faster rate due to rising population and global warming. Water management techniques must be introduced to the lowest level of governance so that municipal bodies ensure grassroots development of water conservation and recharge. Rainwater harvesting in this context assumes importance, more so since India captures only eight per cent of its annual rainfall and that, as a figure, is abysmally low. Given the extent and amount of rainfall India receives, an integrated rainwater harvesting system can be a good option to ensure water reserve and recharge. The ground municipal units can develop 'model wards' to improve rainwater harvesting in urban sectors just as something similar has been happening in Delhi with waste segregation and management based on NGT's March order. While India strives for maximum piped connections to households, maintaining the existing ones is also crucial since water loss is unaffordable. The government has to reach the rural sector and ensure rainwater harvesting in order to empower villages to recharge their water reservoirs. Villages remain the most affected areas due to water scarcity. While rainwater harvesting is a good viable option, it has a severe limitation – rains. If it does not rain much and if the area lacks adequate rainfall discounting the monsoon season, rainwater harvesting would not be sufficient. Reusing wastewater, thus, looks more rational but questions hover over its feasibility. India's experience with reusing wastewater is much inferior to that in wastewater treatment. A nation-wide government agenda for development under the water sector will have to consider its options for development and given the data on states, requisite measures will have to be initiated such as if it is a rainfall rich area then rainwater harvesting infrastructure can assume priority for that but if its a dry area we will have to give priority to wastewater treatment and reuse while sustainable use of water to avoid extensive depletion of aquifers. India's water commitments are huge but so is the drive to achieve those and a little acknowledgement such as UN's report only adds to the enthusiasm of building a sustainable water regime in the country!

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