Bhopal, Mar 22 IBNS | 3 years ago

On the occasion of World Water Day, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Friday called for implementation of key protection measures for water quality and elimination of open defecation.

World Water Day is marked annually on Mar 22 with the aim to bring attention on the importance of freshwater and to call for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.

UNICEF, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other United Nations partners recently launched a comprehensive report on the situation and prospects of water in India.

The report compiles data on the full range of water issues from water hydrogeology to resource use, water quality, health impact, agricultural productivity, livelihoods, governance and gender.

According to UNICEF, Madhya Pradesh faces similar challenges which includes differential rainfall, over-extraction of groundwater, and drinking water quality issues due to geogenic (especially Fluoride) and microbiological contamination, mainly caused by the wide spread practice of Open Defecation.

The recently launched report refers to a UN-Habitat poverty mapping situation analysis study in four major cities of Madhya Pradesh (Bhopal, Gwalior, Indore and Jabalpur) revealing that access to piped water for slum communities range only from 28pc to 65pc , and that 31pc to 66pc households depend on public standposts and the rest on private sources.

Further, it showed that access to household toilets in slum communities range from 48pc to 76pc , and that 16pc to 46pc households defecate in the open.

The report's five key messages are that

i. the per capita water availability does not take into account the temporal and spatial variability in a vast country like India - new approaches and ways to measuring water availability are thus required;

ii. Water demand is far exceeding supply in many instances and leading to inter-sectoral conflicts;

iii. Water quality problems are rising and need addressing; sanitation is central to this also;

iv. An analysis of the water sector is incomplete without understanding the key role gender plays - for this we need disaggregated data to be collected and analysed; and finally

v. A regime of capacity-building programmes is required for those managing water in India today to deal with present day issues.

Census 2011 data on Water and Sanitation and their links to health and nutrition:

Census data revealed that 26pc households in rural areas still lack access to improved drinking water sources, and that the coverage of tapwater in the State in fact decreased over the last ten years from 25pc in 2001 to only 23pc in 2011.

Moreover, only one-fourth of households have access to drinking water within their premises; 31pc households in the State have to fetch their drinking water from sources located more than 100 meters away in urban and more than 500 meters in rural areas.

The disparity between rural and urban in terms of access to drinking water is challenging in the State: while 93pc of urban households have access to improved drinking water sources, only 74pc households benefit from it in rural areas.

Similarly, inequality among socio-economic groups is also stark, with Schedule tribes having a 10pc lower access to improved drinking water sources than other population groups, and NFHS 2006 revealed that while 97pc of the richest wealth quintile had access to improved drinking water, only 64pc of the poorest wealth quintile did.

In terms of gender inequality, more than 80pc of time the chore of fetching water lies upon women and girls.

Improved management of water resources has a major impact on India's social and productive progress. Nowhere is this more important than in the area of child health.

Indeed, studies show that 45pc of India's children are stunted and 600,000 children under five tragically die each year, due to diarrhoea and pneumonia (almost 30pc of the global total), which largely linked to inadequate water supply and poor sanitation.

Improving water supply, for example by reducing, and eventually eradication open defecation, would contribute majorly to reducing child morbidity and mortality and improving nutrition.

In the case of Madhya Pradesh, according to AHS 15.2pc of children in the State suffered from Diarrhea in 2010-11 and 48.9pc children aged between 0-5 are stunted (NIN 2010-2011).

This correlates with the fact that only 12.2pc of rural households in Madhya Pradesh have access to improved sanitation, while around 50 million people still defecate in the open in the State. About 14 lakh people (MDWS, 2013) in Madhya Pradesh are affected by fluoride contaminated drinking water which leads to crippling skeletal and dental fluorosis, especially grave in tribal children and women.

"The need of the hour is to implement protection measures for water quality, and eliminating open defecation. Addressing gender inequality is also key pre-requisite for water programming and State needs better data in this area," Dr. Gregor von Medeazza, UNICEF Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist.

"UNICEF is committed to continue providing support to Government of Madhya Pradesh in its effort to tackle these key issues."

Key data points from the WASH Sector with references:

· Despite India's booming economy, water insecurity and poor water quality remains a major cause of child mortality and morbidity, especially among the poor.

· India tragically lost more than 600,000 children under 5 years in 2010 due to diarrhoea and pneumonia; almost 30pc of the global total

· With only 4pc of the global water resources but 16pc of the world's population, India is facing serious challenges in meeting water demand.

· The annual extraction of groundwater in India, 230 billion cubic metres, is by far the highest in the world. China extracts less than half this figure.

· 50pc of rural water supplies are at risk from bacteriological contamination, based on random sample studies by UNICEF, with state governments of 4500 water sources in 15 states. Fluoride and Arsenic also affect millions of people in India

· The marginalized and poor are hardest hit as they have least number of water options - People will use unprotected water sources when main water supplies are not functional, located inappropriately, when people are deprived of access to drinking water sources, or water quality is not acceptable

· Women are hard hit by water shortages due to need to carry water longer distances - surveys have shown that only 13 per cent of adult males collect water. Children also have to fetch water and miss out on school and homework.

· 626 million still open defecate and 100 million use unimproved water source

· 65pc of the richest quintile of India have piped water on premises while it is only 2pc of the poorest quintile; in rural areas 32pc of the richest quintile have piped water on premises while it is 1pc of the poorest quintile.

· Scheduled Tribe (ST) household access to piped water is lower than the Indian average (24pc as opposed to 44pc ); the corresponding value for Scheduled Castes (SCs) is 41pc . STs and SCs are also disproportionally with lower access to sanitation than the Indian average (75pc and 63pc respectively as compared to the national average of 50pc ).

(Posted on 22-03-2013)