Monday, May 7, 2012

Water and toilets still distant dreams

Water and toilets still distant dreams

Ranjan K Panda

A substantial chunk of population still has no access to water and toilets. This issue linked to sanitation and hygiene needs to be addressed on a priority basis

There is hardly anything to cheer about the Census 2011 data on water and sanitation. A country whose leaders have been reassuring their support to reforms and which wants to be a global economic super power, still fails to prevent millions of women from walking kilometres to fetch water, a lifesaving resource that is supposed to be provided as a matter of ‘right’.

Toilet, an essential tool to fight against health and hygiene hazards, remains a distant dream for almost half of the great nation! There are contesting figures available which find almost two-third of the country without toilets.

Access to water, as the Census claims, is much better. However, what is most important to note is that majority of the country still use taps that are common and are outside their premises. A substantial chunk – almost 17 per cent - of women of rural India has to walk at least half a kilometre to fetch water. Only 43.5 per cent of people of the country use tap water, almost about 25 per cent of which is untreated.

In so far as amenities available with the households, 43.5 per cent are using tap of which 32 per cent of water is treated and 11.6 per cent remains untreated. 42 per cent use handpump or tubewell, 11 per cent use well of which only 1.6 per cent of well are covered and rest are uncovered.

Lastly 3 per cent use other source for drinking water. In rural areas 51.9 per cent of the Households depend upon hand pump/tube well followed by 31.8 per cent has tap water. While only 47 per cent of the households have source of water within the premises, 36 per cent have to fetch water from a source located within 500 meters in rural areas, 100 metres in urban areas and 17 per cent still travel to distant places.

58 per cent of the households have bathing facility within the premises, showing an Increase of 22 points over 2001. It means 45 per cent and 87 per cent rural and urban respectively have bathing facility. 47 per cent of the households have latrine facility within premises with 36 per cent households have water closet and 9 per cent households have pit latrine. There is an 11 per cent decline in households having no latrine from 64 per cent to 53 per cent in 2011.

From a simple analysis of the data it can be concluded that there has been an improvement in access to water but the progress with regard to sanitation has not been that encouraging.

Dr. Indira Khurana of Water Aid, a charity working on water and sanitation, which has released an analysis of the Census data, said, “the progress on sanitation needs to be accelerated. Poor sanitation has direct linkage with the consistent anaemic levels of children under five as well as women. It also has a direct impact on the morbidity and mortality of children, especially those under five”.

Poor sanitation has a direct link with the consistent anaemic levels of children as well as women. It also impacts the morbidity and mortality of children

The country is still vulnerable to huge health hazard risks. Even though the Census puts the people defecating in the open at 49.2 per cent, the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) of Millennium Development Goals (MDG) assesses it at almost 61 per cent. This March, the MDG target for water and sanitation was released by UNICEF and WHO, reconfirming that sanitation is still a challenge and India is lagging by 11 years to meet MDG target by 2015. There is need for a better monitoring system.

Figures in this country have always been controversial and has become a big challenge in planning, implementing and monitoring all such programmes. If we go by the JMP reports, a whopping 626 million people still defecate in the open! This in a country which, to become a superpower, is pushing through economic reforms at the cost of everything including its water resources, environment and even people.

The Census data puts it at marginally less but the issue here is that half of the country still defecates in the open and this is not a good sign. Reasons may be many. The sanitation distress we face today not only speaks of the underdevelopment we are in but also indicates how the poor in this country continue to bear the brunt of this.

It easily shows how our poverty statistics heavily discount the people without sanitation and safe water supply. Poor water supply and sanitation alone speak volume of distress as we observed in the findings of some recent reports. Women, among the vast majority of water-sanitation deprived population, bear the maximum drudgery as they are in charge of fetching water for their families.

The Lancet Study published in the British Medical Journal in August 2011 said how the country continues to be plagued with high anaemia amongst the women and children. It alarmed how almost 40 per cent of the 5 year olds are anaemic in India. The HUNGama Report in December said 42 per cent of children under five are underweight and 59 per cent stunted. It further reported that the prevalence of underweight among low birth weight children is 49.9 per cent while that among children who were born with a normal weight (2.5 kg or more) is 33.5 per cent.

Everyone in this country has suddenly got fancy about the fact that we have more cell phones than toilets. ‘‘Women are not demanding toilets’’, said Jairam Ramesh recently. A cell phone can be maintained without water, but not a toilet. The question is why would a woman fetch water from a long distance for using the toilet rather than defecating in the open? The same question is relevant for men as well. Water supply has to be ensured for toilets too, if the country wants sanitation coverage for all.

India has begun to recognise that water and sanitation are basic human rights, as has been proposed in the Draft National Water Policy 2012. However, segregation of water and toilets in our plans and programmes would not help, at least till when we don’t devise alternatives like ‘waterless toilets’. What we need is an enabling environment to integrate these.

What is also important is to accord, in legally enforceable terms, priority of water allocation to sanitation and livelihoods. This is necessary if we are serious about converting the toilet geography of the country from ‘open defecation’ to ‘defecating with dignity’.

The writer is a water researcher and practitioner.
-          Editorials By Others, India,  2nd May 2012 12:51:38 PM

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