Water quality and scarcity, along with lack of sanitation, afflict India’s holistic development. Depleting groundwater aquifers and deteriorating quality of groundwater threaten the sustainability of water supply systems in India. The lack of capacity of the agencies to tackle the technical and financial challenges for the operation and maintenance (O&M) of water supply and sewerage facilities, high ratio of non-revenue water due to lack of customer management and low water tariff rate insufficient to cover the O&M cost, makes the water and sanitation sector more vulnerable, writes Dr Matsumoto Katsuo, Chief Representative, JICA India.
In view of the limitations on the availability of clear water resources and rising demand for water, the sustainable management of water resources has gained critical importance. Given the multifarious threats of water shortage and contamination of the resources, a multifaceted approach is considered very important to overcome this pressing challenge including the service deliveries.
The Government of India has been making concerted efforts through some massive policy level changes to address this serious issue. For instance, the national urban sanitation policy seeks to create fully sanitized cities through awareness generation, state sanitation strategies and integrated city sanitation plans. It also proposes to reduce urban poverty by increasing investment in poverty alleviation programs, employment generation strategy development and integrating poor communities into city planning by improving the services.
Created in 2019, under the guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Ministry of Jal Shakti aims to develop and regulate water resources in India. The Jal Shakti Abhiyan, a campaign for water conservation and water security in 1592 water-stressed blocks in 256 districts, underscores the extent to which interventions are being made in this field. The country-wide campaign Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission), has won several milestones to eliminate open defecation and improve solid waste management (SWM) in urban and rural areas of the country, since its launch in 2014. India’s recently launched Jal Jeevan Mission is expected to bring holistic development by covering all the households for improved water and sanitation services in the country.
While policy interventions are already in place, funding and advanced technology are necessary to overcome these challenges with a multipronged approach.
IMPORTANCE OF FUNDING
Projects related to basic human needs, infrastructure development, poverty alleviation, while ensuring environment conservation require long term adequate and consistent funding. It is also pertinent from the viewpoint of creating a demonstrating effect by bringing new technologies and system to ensure the public health and improved livelihoods of the underserved communities.
Funding is necessary to assist them with sustainable management of water supply systems along with universal access to clean water and sanitation for all, irrespective of gender, caste, religion, identity, etc., as per the targets set under the SDG Goal 6 “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. It also helps in improving water quality, by reducing contamination of water, thereby increasing the availability of clean drinking water. Nudging positive behavioural change amongst the Indian population by improving solid and liquid waste management, using toilets, eradicating manual scavenging, eliminating the usage of single-use plastics, etc. is a key challenge. The necessity of funds is also seen in managing the cascading effects of water scarcity such as desertification and risk to biodiversity, among others.
Japan’s support to the water and sanitation sector in India mainly consists of ODA loans of over 806 billion Japanese Yen that is approximately Rs 53,733 crore. These projects are implemented all around the country, including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Odisha, Goa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka amongst the other states. The overall contribution to the sector has been 37 ODA Loans, four Grant Aids and 13 Technical Cooperation Projects.
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TECHNOLOGY & BEHAVIORAL CHANGE
One of the biggest advantages of external funding is that it enables the implementation of the latest technologies that are pertinent for improving the issue at hand. In the case of water supply, quality and sanitation challenges, advanced technology can have a manifold impact. For example, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and tested NRW Reduction models can help in equitable and sustainable safe water supply systems. Efficient water meters can help in the conservation of safe water after tackling the fluorosis aspect and applying arsenic mitigation measures. Technology can also help in constructing and renovating sewage treatment plants (STP) and sewer systems for improved sanitary conditions of the dependent communities and rehabilitation of old sewerage systems to spruce sanitation. The construction of Community Toilet Complexes is known to bring about significant change in the living condition of people of the informal settlements including their health and hygiene improvement.
Similarly, the latest strategies in non-revenue water reduction and creation of water and sanitation entities responsible for efficient service deliveries to the public in addition to the municipal reforms can have a long-term impact. Introduction of the volumetric based tariff system, metering system, non-revenue water reduction activities, and promotion of recycling and reuse of wastewater are some of the important steps in effective utilization of the water resources.
While infrastructural improvements through technology are essential, inculcating the behavioural change activities is equally crucial. A behavioural change program could comprise generating awareness amongst individuals/communities and encouraging them to save water, imbibe hygienic activities, thereby stimulating water conservation and preservation. This is important, especially since with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, India’s water scarcity and sanitation issue has become even more critical. For most people living in the country, particularly the ones living in informal settlements, there is a lack of access to clean water and a lack of knowledge about the importance of health and hygiene practices.
To prevent the spread of the virus and other infectious diseases, it is important to wash hands at the right time and in the right way. Particularly in India where people prefer to eat with their fingers without any cutlery, hygienic behaviour, as symbolized by handwashing, needs to be established and the environment including water supply, handwashing facilities and soap, needs to be improved to enable such behaviour to take root. JICA recently initiated “Acchi Aadat Campaign” to sensitize people for appropriate handwashing by using comic leaflet and video, while several Japanese private companies contributed for material supplies. It is expected to play a very crucial role in the behavioural change of the public required for improving health and hygiene.
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POST PANDEMIC SCENARIO
As the world emerges out of an unprecedented situation due to pandemic, which has profoundly affected the social and economic sectors globally, we have learnt several critical lessons. The water sector plays one of the most important roles in the fight against disasters of such magnitude, which is not a mystery anymore, as safe water supply and improved sanitation are crucial for the prevention of such a pandemic.
Collaboration between key stakeholders, involving social enterprises and civil organizations, who can partner to make a difference through the exchange of ideas on countermeasures is another important lesson. With the world surging toward recovery from this once in a lifetime crisis, it is important to apply the SDG theme of “leave no one behind”, especially when it comes to sprucing up water and sanitation for all.