Turn on the tap, bring in good health
It’s simple logic. When something is scarce, you use whatever little of it that you may have, sparingly. So when access to water was a challenge in her village in Bihar’s Gaya district until about four years back, 60-year-old Muneshwari Devi and her family would use as little of it as possible for cleaning purposes—putting their health at risk. “We had to get water from the community hand-pump a little distance away from the house; at times, we would go to the well. It (water collection) was a difficult chore and we would use the same bucket of water for cooking, cleaning, bathing—there was no other choice,” she said. Hygiene had taken a backseat in the face of scarcity. It was a similar story in almost every other house in Zindapur. This explains why diseases, like gastrointestinal problems and skin-related ailments were common in the village until four years back. With piped water supply making inroads to every house thereafter, the scene started changing dramatically.
When hygiene was a luxury
Poor hygiene is a major roadblock in the development process, and without ease of access to water, health suffers a major setback—particularly among children, the elderly, and those vulnerable.
Muneshwari Devi for instance had no qualms in saying that earlier, when they had to collect water from the hand-pump—or the well in summers, when the hand-pump would go dry—she and her family would use water “sparingly” for all their needs, including personal hygiene. Water collection, considered primarily a ‘woman’s job’, was a physically laborious task and so, despite suspecting that the frequent stomach upsets or skin rashes in the family could have something to do with water, they went on without any change in their schedule. “What choice did we have?” she said.
Welcoming a change
But now they do. Four years back, WaterAid India and its partner NGO, Pragati Gramin Vikas Sansthan (PGVS), zeroed down on Zindapur to install the mini piped water supply, through which water would reach every household. The community, most of who were daily wage earners, barely hesitated in agreeing to contribute 10 per cent of the costs (or Rs 1,000 per household). This, they knew, was the lease of life they were desperately waiting for. Standing proud near the tap of her house with her son, Lohan Paswan, Muneshwari Devi said that life has now changed for the family. The women no longer have to carry heavy pots of water on their heads and their hips every morning and evening and the family no longer has to compromise on their cleaning—be it washing their used utensils, or in personal hygiene. Health problems have also reduced.