The Elixir ofLife!
Water is an indispensable determinant of life and a precious resource gifted by nature. While safe drinking water is essential for a healthy living, yet a significant section of population is deprived of it. The alarming rate of deterioration of the availability and quality of stocks of natural water contained in surfacelevel water bodies and groundwater tables across the globe, due mainly to changes in climatic conditions as well as adverse human activities, has assumed unprecedented proportions in recent times. In recognition of the increasingly alarming issues of availability of safe and clean water, one of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015 aims at ‘ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’.
In India, more than 85% of drinking water supplies are dependent on ground wateri. While states like Bihar have relatively larger stocks of groundwater and higher water tables compared to many other states in the country, various forms of impurities, including arsenic, fluoride, bacterial and iron contamination undermine the availability of water to an alarming degree in many parts of the State. As many as 22 of the 38 districts in the state have been found with high level of either arsenic or fluoride contamination, which is higher than permissible limits as per health standardsii. This poses a serious challenge in ensuring access to this basic necessity for a substantial number of people in Bihar.
Nearly 89% of population in the state is rural and is served by public as well as private hand pumps. Accessibility of drinking water in the state is relatively easier due to large scale unregulated exploitation of ground water available at lower depths. Private hand pumps serve a significant proportion of the state’s population, which also poses the risk of unmonitored water quality. Most of the private ground-water resources are shallow in their design, which poses high risk of fecal contamination. The low levels of access to water has also affected the pace of construction of household sanitation resources in the rural areas of the Bihar.
Provisioning of safe drinking water is a State subject as per the Constitution of India. Many programs have been run by various governments in the country to meet the challenge of achieving development indicators. At present, the state government of Bihar has emphasized upon improving the accessibility of safe drinking water by announcing the ‘Har Ghar Nal Ka Jal’ as one of the seven resolutions of the Chief Minister. The scheme will aim at universalisation of piped drinking water supply to every household in the state. According to the fourth edition of National Family Health Survey, only 4.1% households in Bihar have access to piped water supplied into dwellings.
Background of the programme
Though the Government of Bihar has been investing significant resources to enhance the availability of safe drinking water, the mammoth magnitude of the need and the challenging socio-economic conditions necessitate a greater scale of interventions. The situation is particularly precarious in case of historically marginalised communities based in water-deficient areas. With the intent of piloting an affordable community-managed drinking water supply infrastructure, Pragati Gramin Vikas Samiti (PGVS, henceforth) initiated a ‘Mini Piped Drinking Water Supply’ (MPDWS) program in Gaya district of Bihar. The five year program was started in 2012 covering a total of three villages in the district. All habitations selected in the program are inclusive of socially marginalized communities and are located in remote areas of the district. Major highlights of MPDWS are as follows:
- Enhancing accessibility of adequate drinking water at the door step
- Installation of affordable water supply infrastructure in the village
- Bringing in community ownership
- Establishing a community level ‘Village Drinking Water and Sanitation Committee’ for managing smooth operations and maintenance of the system
- Building awareness related to WASH activities among marginalized sections of the society
Background of the study and methodology
As the five year MPDWS program is completing its term, a rapid assessment of the initiative with the intent of capturing key learnings and accomplishments was entrusted to Praxis – Institute of Participatory Practices. Insights drawn from the participatory appraisal were drawn from group discussions and individual interviews conducted with different groups of primary stakeholders. Visits was made by a research team to three intervention villages to generate first hand insights through open discussions with direct beneficiaries and other key stakeholders. In addition, a village named ‘Suggi’ located in Amas Block of Gaya district was visited on the advise of PGVS, where a government-funded installation of the same capacity is functional. The purpose of visiting Suggi was to examine the comparability as well as potentials of both the interventions.
During the field process, the team reached out to randomly picked groups of women, VDSC members, users as well as non users. Participation of marginalized communities such as women and households disadvantaged on account of social and economic deprivations was a key thrust of the process. The discussions were primarily focused at the following aspects of the intervention:
- Inclusiveness of the programme design and level of participation of various stakeholders
- Supporting and restricting factors for sustainability
- Perceived changes due to improved access of drinking water in the community
- Modalities of community led operations and maintenance of the service