Heatwave special: India’s finite groundwater needs greater long-term investment and focus on consumption

Posted by
WaterAid India
30 May 2022
Women and children gather to collect water from a stand post installed in Khapri Pani Village in Bajag, Dhindori, Madhya Pradesh, India,
Image: WaterAid India

New Delhi, May 18, 2022: With the mercury soaring, India is facing a tremendous water crisis that the heatwave has only served to amplify.

Speaking on India Today, VK Madhavan, Chief Executive, WaterAid India said:

“At the outset, it is important to recognise that one of the great tragedies of our time is that in monsoon we worry about drainage in our cities, in the winter we worry about air pollution and in the summer we worry about water availability. This can’t be fixed in the short-run; it requires a long-term investment.

“We have got to get our water bodies revived and restored. And it must be ensured that the drainage lines bring the water into these water bodies and are free of encroachment.

“We also need to look at our groundwater availability. We are significantly dependent on groundwater and every year our water levels keep falling, particularly in the summer. We need to not just focus on supply-side issues like recharging our aquifers, but also on the demand for water and consumption by all of us,” continued the WaterAid India Chief Executive.

WaterAid India has been working in several districts across India to create community-based water quality testing and monitoring. Along with this, the organisation also works towards ensuring access to sustainable and safe water resources close to peoples’ homes, and other activities towards water conservation.

Chitrakoot district is one of the 7 districts in the Bundelkhand region which is known to be facing recurrent drought. The region is mostly arid with temperatures soaring to as high as 49 degrees during peak summers. In order to gauge the actual Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) situation in Chitrakoot, WaterAid India, and its partners conducted a study in 50 Gram Panchayats last year and the results were shocking and differed from the official data.

While the Govt of Uttar Pradesh claims water access of over 98.5% in the state, the figures from Chitrakoot showed a different reality on the ground. In spite of the government’s commitment to providing a piped water supply, the villages were dependent on hand pumps as a primary source of drinking water. Women and girls have to walk long distances to fetch water for basic requirements.

It was found during the study that 29% of water points in Chitrakoot were non-functional. Of those that were working, 93% were found to have a sanitary risk such as potential contamination from waste, stagnant water or human waste.

Supported by HDB Financial Services, WaterAid India with the implementation partner ABHIYAN worked towards providing access to safe and clean drinking water in 15 Villages and 10 schools in Chitrakoot. A total of 35 hand pumps were repaired along with the construction of platforms. It has ensured enhanced access to safe drinking water for 2579 people. A total of 10 rainwater harvesting recharge structures

were also developed across 6 villages. Water facilities were renovated in 3 schools, directly benefitting 1375 school children and teachers to get access to safe drinking water.

With the onset of the summer, the situation is similar in Bihar. Many places in the state have started facing water scarcity due to falling groundwater levels. Shallow hand pumps have dried up and water flow from deeper hand pumps has also reduced considerably.

Manpur village falls into the overexploited category, according to the Central Ground Water Board. One of the most common challenges found in these areas is the decrease in water levels with the arrival of summer, resulting in overburdening the already limited resources and long queues at water points. Additionally, the unregulated groundwater exploitation for irrigation exacerbates the problem.

WaterAid India is working to provide access to safe drinking water in the region by restoring hand pumps and, so far, we retrofitted 10 hand pumps in this area which directly benefited 967 community members. WaterAid India has also worked towards desilting, renovating, and connecting roofs to harvest rainwater in the same village.

VK Madhavan in his interview also commented that there was definitely hope that the Jal Jeevan Mission looked to be a very significant investment and sought to provide every household with a tap connection. “In a sense, this is revolutionary, if it happens,” he concluded.