Closest to the border in Kashmir, farthest from the water
The current water crisis in the National Capital Delhi attracted the attention of several political parties demanding immediate action to provide relief to the residents of this metropolitan city. People are agitated because they have not been supplied water for three days, declaring that their life has come to a halt due to this water crisis.
A similar crisis that has forced the residents of a remote village, Nar Banloi, in Mendhar Tehsil of border district Poonch to protest on the streets is a part of everyday life. Non-availability of water is a major development issue here that has been at status quo for the last six decades.
Located approximately twenty five kilometers from Mendhar town, this village is closest to the Krishna Ghati Sector, an area often in the news for cross border firing. Villagers have been witness to the gory history of bloodshed caused by militancy and cross-border conflict. They are the first ones to support the security forces during tough times and they are the ones who face the bullets and shells. Sacrificing their lives for the nation, they are ironically left to fend for themselves. Virtually ignored by the civil administration, they live with the absence of electricity, roads, healthcare and safe drinking water. The most pressing, though, is the non-availability of safe drinking water.
"We walk two kilometers (one way) down this slippery trek to fetch ten liters of water from the river that flows near the fence erected to check infiltration from across the border. We balance the vessels on our head precariously on these rough paths, spending much of our time and hard work in fetching water," rued fifty-year old Chand Bi, a local from Nar Banloi.
She also shared that after making one round there is hardly any energy left to repeat the process. The same bucket of water is therefore used for cooking, bathing and livestock. The situation becomes worse during summer when the water level in the river goes down, forcing the women to walk further in search of water.
"The absence of roads and transportation has made the situation worse. The Public Health Engineering (PHE) Department hasn't been able to successfully install the pipelines and take care of the needs of the villagers," shared an elderly couple from the village.
The non-availability of safe drinking water has affected both health and education. "I alone cannot make several trips to fetch water to meet the household's requirement of forty to sixty liters a day. This nearly doubles during social functions. So we involve the children to help us in the grueling task. They miss their classes and gradually lose interest in education," shared Safeena Bi, a mother of four.
"The heavy headload of vessels of water creates severe strain on our body. We suffer pain in our head, neck and lower back. There is no health center in the village to get ourselves checked. We rely on pain killers that we buy from the town once or twice in a month. Other than that, we cannot afford anything else," she rues.
Besides, they drink water that is virtually unfit for drinking, being open to all kinds of contamination. Last year, a report published in a state Daily claimed that only 34.7 percent of the population in Jammu and Kashmir has access to safe drinking water through taps, while the remaining 65.3 percent use water from unprotected and untreated sources, hand-pumps, rivers, canals, ponds and springs.
As per "National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP), the government is required to provide safe drinking water to uncovered, partially covered areas, improve water quality cover of rural schools, improve sustainability of sources and systems, besides streamlining the operation and ensuring maintenance of sources."
The report also highlighted the last official figures - out of 14,028 habitations targeted to be covered under NRDWP, only 8525 have been provided safe drinking water in the last four years. Not much has changed in the last one year.
"We have accepted the conflict as part of our lives. But what we do not understand is: aren't we as much a part of India as those protesting in Delhi? We also need safe drinking water. Why, then, is our Government not keen on helping us?" ask villagers, distrust of Government officials writ large on their faces.
The inhabitants of Nar Banloi live one day to the next, uncertain of their future. The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that it is time the Government recognizes the strategic location of the villagers, the stress they live with and then take appropriate action to help them overcome their development challenges. There is an urgent need to include them in the development fold of the country.
(Aasiya teaches in a private academy in Mendhar. The views expressed are of the author.)
(Posted on 27-06-2014)