Despite its escalating severity, the global water crisis remains alarmingly overlooked. The depletion of water resources pushes millions into distress, yet discussions on water scarcity are still confined.
The United Nations Water Development Report of 2018 highlights a staggering reality: nearly 3.6 billion individuals, almost half the global population, reside in regions with rapidly declining water levels. The urgency to save and utilize water efficiently is unparalleled as reports of droughts and water deficits continue to surge.
In India, the predicament is especially dire. The escalating population exacerbates the challenge of providing clean drinking water, projecting a harrowing future. By 2030, the demand-supply gap for water will surge from 50% to a staggering 75%.
An unsettling 2019 NITI Aayog report reveals that over 600 million people, nearly half the population, grapple with acute water stress. This difficulty is acutely present in rural areas, where three-quarters of households lack access to clean, piped water, exposing them to grave health risks.
World Bank statistics shed light on the challenging situation within the country.
Lack of Safe Drinking Water
Around 163 million individuals in India are still deprived of access to safe and potable drinking water.
A distressing 210 million people across India lack access to improved sanitation facilities.
Health Implications of Unsafe Water
Approximately 21% of communicable diseases prevalent in India can be attributed to consuming contaminated and unsafe water.
What Steps Has The Government Of India taken to Control/ Ease Water Stress?
Government’s commitment to addressing water stress has been substantially comprehensive. While progress has been made, challenges persist, particularly in scaling up efforts, improving water use efficiency, and ensuring sustainable water management practices across the country.
Some of the efforts by the Indian government:
Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA) -, Water Conservation Campaign (2019)
Launched in July 2019, Jal Shakti Abhiyan mobilizes citizens’ participation in water conservation and rainwater harvesting. It accelerates the implementation of water-related schemes and creates mass awareness about the importance of water conservation. JSA focuses on water-stressed districts and emphasizes the revival of traditional water bodies, watershed development, and afforestation. It has improved water storage, enhanced groundwater levels, and increased awareness about water conservation practices in several areas.
Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY), Integrated Watershed Management Program (2015)
This program was launched in 2015 to provide end-to-end solutions for water management in agriculture. PMKSY enhances water use efficiency, promotes sustainable agricultural practices, and improves on-farm water management. Through watershed development, water harvesting structures, and efficient irrigation techniques, PMKSY has contributed to increased agricultural productivity, reduced water wastage, and improved livelihoods for farmers.
National Rural Drinking Water Program (NRDWP), Safe Drinking Water Access (2009)
NRDWP, initiated in 2009, provides safe and clean drinking water to rural communities, focusing on water quality monitoring, creating water sources, and ensuring piped water supply to habitations. The program has significantly improved access to safe drinking water, reducing health risks and waterborne diseases in rural areas.
Namami Gange, Ganga Rejuvenation (2014)
The Namami Gange program was launched in 2014 to cleanse and restore the Ganga River, a lifeline for millions, involving initiatives such as sewage treatment plants, riverfront development, and public awareness campaigns. The program has improved water quality in some stretches of the Ganga and raised public consciousness about river pollution.
Atal Bhujal Yojana (ABHY), Groundwater Management (2016)
ABHY, initiated in 2016, focuses on the sustainable management of groundwater resources through community participation, emphasizing water conservation, aquifer recharge, and efficient groundwater use. This strategy has increased groundwater levels, reduced depletion, and enhanced water availability for irrigation and domestic purposes.
Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, Housing for All (2015)
While not exclusively a water-related scheme, PMAY acknowledges the importance of access to basic amenities, including water supply and sanitation, in urban and rural housing. The scheme indirectly contributes to reducing water stress and enhancing overall living conditions by ensuring proper sanitation and water facilities in households.
The Indian government is putting in considerable effort to curb water stress, but with an estimated population of 1,428,627,663 (in 2023), it also requires reinforcement and support from the people, especially in rural India.
S M Sehgal Foundation
Since its inception in 1999, S M Sehgal Foundation (Sehgal Foundation), the top sustainable rural development NGOs In India, has been enhancing the quality of life within rural communities across India. It was established as a public and charitable trust with a focus on devising sustainable initiatives that address the most pressing challenges faced by rural India. Key program areas include Water Management, Agriculture Development, Transforming Lives one school at a time, Local Participation and Sustainability, with an emphasis on the empowerment of women and girls. With the support of global donors and partners, S M Sehgal Foundation empowers under-recognized groups to take charge of their development journey, fostering progress.
4.35 Million People Reached
By harnessing the power of collective action, Sehgal Foundation designs and implements interventions that target critical rural development challenges. Through participatory research, impact assessments, interactive dialogues, and community media, the foundation teams take well-informed actions, extend training and educational opportunities, and diligently work toward achieving outcomes that stand the test of time.
INNOVATION AND COST-EFFECTIVE SOLUTIONS: AN ABSOLUTE NEED
Focusing on United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6, which emphasizes access to clean water and sanitation for all, S M Sehgal Foundation is actively engaged in the Adarsh Panchayat Bhandari project in Bihar’s Sitamarhi district. This initiative raises awareness about the benefits of hygiene and sanitation within rural communities. Beyond education, the project conducts sanitation campaigns to sensitize and engage the community, inspiring the adoption of healthy practices.
The region faced challenges in wastewater disposal due to inadequate drainage, resulting in water accumulation and related diseases. Sehgal Foundation addressed this by constructing soak pits using locally available materials and minimal assistance.
The soak pit design features a five-foot-deep, four-foot-diameter pit linked to a one-foot by one-foot silt chamber, which efficiently separates solid waste, allowing only water into the pit, regulating water flow, and ensuring smooth drainage. The pit’s size varies based on wastewater volume and soil quality. Through filtration, it separates solid waste, treats wastewater, and replenishes the groundwater table with clean, contaminant-free water. These cost-effective pits require minimal maintenance and effectively contribute to sustainable wastewater management.
ARSENIC REMOVAL IN GROUNDWATER
Groundwater is vital for rural and urban domestic needs, industrial usage, and irrigation purposes in India (Bhattacharya, et al., 2019). However, a potent environmental pollutant, arsenic (As) poses a silent yet significant threat. The concentration of arsenic depends on aquifer geology, geochemical characteristics, and local hydrology. India grapples with arsenic contamination, with states such as Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, and others facing its impact. Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) identified 1,657 arsenic-affected habitations in Assam, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Punjab.
The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) set a ten ppb (parts per billion) arsenic limit in drinking water. Consuming water exceeding this limit adversely affects health, including respiratory and gastrointestinal issues, heightened skin diseases, and cancer risks. Conventional techniques such as adsorption, oxidation, membrane filtration, and ion exchange can mitigate this contamination.
S M Sehgal Foundation introduced JalKalp, an innovative biosand filter technology, effectively addressing manganese, iron, and microbial contamination.
The study had a positive community impact, leading to health improvements and economic benefits. Those who once believed the contaminated water was harmless have adapted to safe drinking water. The foundation raised awareness, educating children in households to disseminate knowledge and create awareness within families.
PRESENT ISSUES AND INSPIRATIONAL STORIES FROM THE WATER DEFICIT REGIONS OF HARYANA
With a dearth of perennial surface water sources, a staggering 78% of Nuh grapples with saline groundwater. A few seasonal ponds provide a modicum of relief for domestic and cattle use. However, these ponds evaporate during peak demand periods, compounding social, economic, and environmental challenges for Nuh’s residents. The resulting predicament forces them to purchase water at high costs or undertake arduous journeys to procure it. This dire shortage of potable water amplifies sanitation and hygiene issues, particularly affecting women. It contributes to the spread of fatal diseases. The vacuum in water availability fuels informal water markets, which, despite their high prices, don’t assure water quality.
In a region heavily reliant on rain-fed agriculture due to limited irrigation resources, families persistently engage in farming to sustain their livelihoods amid the arid climate. The district’s sparse tree cover, worsened by soil salinity and the rugged topography, intensifies summer temperatures.
Addressing the pressing concern of groundwater salinity, S M Sehgal Foundation has amplified rainwater harvesting models to create pockets of freshwater within the saline aquifer. The ingenious recharge well structure captures and replenishes rainwater beneath the groundwater level, thus establishing a freshwater enclave amidst the saline expanse.
In a collaborative effort between S M Sehgal Foundation and the Millennium Alliance, an initiative of the installation of high-pressure recharge wells was seen in four schools in the Nagina block’s water-scarce villages within the Nuh district. To ensure the project’s success and sustainability, the team worked closely with local villagers, inculcating awareness about the project’s objectives and the proper utilization of the wells.
A creative approach was adopted, employing a modified design for recharge wells and rooftop rainwater harvesting to address the salinity challenge.
Before this intervention, the absence of water infrastructure in schools forced students to leave the premises during the day, adversely impacting their attendance and academic performance. The implementation of rooftop rainwater harvesting within school premises revolutionized this scenario.
This ensured students’ hydration throughout the school day by providing them access to clean and safe drinking water. Remarkably, students and residents attested to the purity and quality of the water, equating it to the taste of commercially available packaged mineral water.
The positive outcomes of this collaborative endeavor are multifaceted. Beyond curbing salinity issues, it brought about notable enhancements in sanitation and hygiene practices, facilitated the consistent preparation of midday meals, and significantly reduced the dropout rate, particularly among female students.