The Great Indian Thirst

We invited our friend and neighbor Sunita, who is the CEO of the NGO Arghyam, to write on water issues faced by the common man. Below is her post. You can also see a related video interview we took of a washerman in Bangalore who didn’t have enough water to wash clothes here.

Living on Rs. 100 a day – How does it impact how much water you consume?
Sunita Nadhamuni, CEO Arghyam (sunita@arghyam.org)

The Indian standard for daily water requirements varies based on where you live. For a Bangalorean, it is a 150 lpcd (litres per capita per day), for her rural cousin it is 40 lpcd. This difference is primarily because metros & large cities have piped water supply, which has a certain amount of unavoidable leakages and sewerage systems that require a certain volume of water to ensure the flow in the pipes. Also at the household level, the use of flush toilets and water for gardening and vehicle-washing drives up the norms. But rural or urban, the poor consume way less than the prescribed norms. The breakup of the 40 lpcd required to meet the basic, minimum daily needs is 3 litres per day for drinking, 5 for cooking, 15 for bathing, 7 for washing, and 10 for ablutions.

To understand the cost of water, let’s look at Bangalore again. The utility responsible for Bangalore’s water supply and sewerage services is the BWSSB (Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board) and often acknowledged to be among the best in the country. The water tariffs in Bangalore are based on slabs. The lowest slab is Rs. 6 per kilolitre upto 8000 litres. For a family of 5, consuming about 40 lpcd, it is 6000 litres per month. So, the monthly bill would be Rs. 48. Sanitation charges are a flat Rs. 15 for a domestic connection.

But, all of this applies only to families fortunate enough to have BWSSB connections. There are costs for new connections: it is free for a home less than 150 sq ft, Rs. 800 for homes between 150-600 sq ft and Rs. 2000 for homes larger than that.

There are around 700 slums in Bangalore and most of the dwellings there do not have individual household connections. These are probably the people who fall into the Rs. 100 a day category. What is their water situation? It varies based on the seasons, location etc. In the summer months, they often have to buy water by the pot. Some studies have shown that the cost of a pot of water can vary between Rs. 1 to Rs. 5. A pot is around 15-20 litres, and a family may buy upto 5 pots. What this means is that during the summer months people won’t be able to bathe everyday, can wash clothes once every 4-5 days, and basically survive with 1 pot of water per person per day. There are no toilets in each home, flush or otherwise. They mostly have to defecate in the open. Many of the public health issues that the poor face are due to poor water quality and sanitation. In many parts of Bangalore (and many of our urban areas), people depend on ground water. Studies have shown high levels of nitrates and bacteriological contamination in Bangalore’s groundwater. This mostly comes from improper sanitation facilities and leakages from sewage pipes.

But the situation is not that grim everywhere or all the time. There are public taps where some people collect their water, and that water is free. Many areas have mini-water supplies where people can collect water for free. During the summer, the municipality or utility  supplies water through tankers for free. For the women of these areas, water collection becomes a daily grind that takes time and effort.

In the rural areas though, the water problems are much more critical. Not all villages have water supply systems. Women and the girl-child bear the brunt of the problem and often walk long distances carrying back pots of water. Sources dry up as they get over-exploited due to extensive usage for agriculture and destruction of the catchment. Water quality problems are increasing with millions living in fluoride- and arsenic-affected areas and suffering about debilitating diseases. Sanitation coverage is still very poor, particularly impacting the sick, the vulnerable, the disabled and women due to issues of safety, convenience and dignity. The Government is going on a war-footing to universalize water and sanitation coverage, but it’s a complex problem to solve and in the meantime, those below the poverty line continue to struggle on a daily basis.

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3 Responses to “The Great Indian Thirst”

  1. Came here through the NYT-India Ink article. Great work guys!

  2. Just saw your inktalks Video. Highly Inspiration. Great work guys!!!

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