Summers are here and the cities in India are already complaining about water shortage not to mention many villages which lack safe drinking water. In the list of 122 countries rated on quality of portable water, India ranks a lowly 120.Although India has 4% of the world’s water, studies show average availability is shrinking steadily. It is estimated that by 2020, India will become a water-stressed nation. Nearly 50% of villages still don’t have any source of protected drinking water.
According to 2001 census 68.2% households have access to safe drinking water. The department of drinking water supply estimates that 94% of rural habitations and 91% urban households have access to drinking water. But according to experts these figures are misleading simply because coverage refers to installed capacity and not actual supply.
The ground reality is that of the 1.42 million villages in India, 1, 95,813 are affected by chemical contamination of water. The quality of ground water which accounts of more than 85% of domestic supply is a major problem in many areas as none of the rivers have water fit to drink.
37.7 million People –over 75% of whom are children are afflicted by waterborne diseases every year. Overdependence on groundwater has brought in contaminants, fluoride being one of them. Nearly 66 million people in 20 states are at risk because of the excessive fluoride in water. While the permissible limit of fluoride in water is 1 mg per litre in states like Haryana it is as high as 48 mg in some places. Delhi water too has 32 mg.But the worst hits are Rajasthan, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. Nearly 6 million children below 14 suffer from dental, skeletal and non-skeletal fluorosis.
Arsenic is the other big killer lurking in ground water putting at risk nearly 10 million people. The problem is acute in Murshidabad, Nadia, North and South 24 Paraganas, Malda and Vardhaman districts of West Bengal. The deeper aquifers in the entire Gangetic plains contain arsenic.
High nitrate content in water is another serious concern.Fertilizers, septic tanks, sewage tanks etc are the main sources of nitrate contamination. The groundwater in MP, UP, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Kanataka and Tamil Nadu has shown traces of nitrates.
However it is bacteriological contamination which leads to diarrhoea, cholera and hepatitis which is widespread in India. A bacteriological analysis of the water in Bangalore revealed 75% bore wells were contaminated.Iron; hardness and salinity are also a concern. Nearly 12,500 habitats have been affected by salinity. In Gujarat it is a major problem in coastel districts. Often babies die of dehydration and there are major fights in villages for freshwater. Some villages have seen 80% migration due to high salinity.
Health is not the only issue; impure water is a major burden on the state as well. Till the 10th plan the government had spent Rs 1,105 billion on drinking water schemes. Yet it is the poor who pay a heavier price spending around Rs 6700 crore annually on treatment of waterborne diseases.
There is an urgent need to look for alternative sources of portable water in places where water quality has deteriorated sharply. Community based water quality monitoring guidelines should be encouraged. People should be encouraged to look at traditional methods of protecting water sources. Also in places where groundwater has arsenic or fluoride, surface water should be considered as an alternative.