Water Quality in Rural India

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The rural population of India comprises more than 700 million people residing in about 1.42 million habitations spread over 15 diverse ecological regions. It is true that providing drinking water to such a large population is an enormous challenge. Our country is also characterised by non-uniformity in level of awareness, socio-economic development, education, poverty, practices and rituals which add to the complexity of providing water.

The health burden of poor water quality is enormous. It is estimated that around 37.7 million Indians are affected by waterborne diseases annually, 1.5 million children are estimated to die of diarrhoea alone and 73 million working days are lost due to waterborne disease each year. The resulting economic burden is estimated at $600 million a year. The problems of chemical contamination is also prevalent in India with 1,95,813 habitations in the country are affected by poor water quality. The major chemical parameters of concern are fluoride and arsenic. Iron is also emerging as a major problem with many habitations showing excess iron in the water samples. The provision of clean drinking water has been given priority in the Constitution of India, with Article 47 conferring the duty of providing clean drinking water and improving public health standards to the State. The government has undertaken various programmes since independence to provide safe drinking water to the rural masses. Till the 10th plan, an estimated total of Rs.1,105 billion spent on providing safe drinking water. One would argue that the expenditure is huge but it is also true that despite such expenditure lack of safe and secure drinking water continues to be a major hurdle and a national economic burden.

On one hand the pressures of development is changing the distribution of water in the country, access to adequate water has been cited as the primary factor responsible for limiting development. The average availability of water is reducing steadily with the growing population and it is estimated that by 2020 India will become a water stressed nation. Groundwater is the major source of water in our country with 85% of the population dependent on it.

The 2001 Census reported that 68.2 per cent of households in India have access to safe drinking water. According to latest estimates, 94 per cent of the rural population and 91 per cent of the people living in urban areas have access to safe drinking water. Data available with the Department of Drinking Water Supply shows that of the 1.42 million rural habitations in the country, 1.27 million are fully covered (FC), 0.13 million are partially covered (PC) and 15,917 are not covered (NC).However, coverage refers to installed capacity, and not average actual supply over a sustained period or the quality of water being supplied which is the most essential part.

While accessing drinking water continues to be a problem, assuring that it is safe is a challenge by itself. Water quality problems are caused by pollution and over-exploitation. The rapid pace of industrialisation and greater emphasis on agricultural growth combined with financial and technological constraints and non-enforcement of laws have led to generation of large quantities WaterAid's vision is of a world where everyone has access to safe water and sanitation.

Drinking water quality of waste and pollution. The problem is sometimes aggravated due to the non-uniform distribution of rainfall. Individual practises also play an important role in determining the quality of water. Water quality is affected by both point and non-point sources of pollution. These include sewage discharge, discharge from industries, run-off from agricultural fields and urban run-off. Water quality is also affected by floods and droughts and can also arise from lack of awareness and education among users. The need for user involvement in maintaining water quality and looking at other aspects...
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