Achieving the Common Target: Opportunities & Challenges
Universal and Equitable Access to Safe Drinking Water

Water availability scenario across the world has become increasingly challenging due to continually rising and competing demand, inefficient use, and pollution. Water scarcity, which affects more than 40 percent of people globally, is projected to increase with time. In such a scenario access to clean water is even more challenging. Access to clean drinking water is a basic human right; but, still 1 in 3 people in the world lack access to safe drinking water.

Further, the SDG target 6.1 also calls for universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all. India has made significant progress towards universal coverage of drinking water but there still exist huge inequalities in terms of availability, accessibility, affordability and quality of services. Access to drinking water is no more the only criterion of service but drinking water should be safe, affordable and accessible to all.

There are significant challenges for achieving this target especially amongst the developing countries, many of which are battling poverty and rapid population growth. There are multiple constraints to service delivery, yet there are examples to learn from.

In terms of challenges, quality of water is of concern as around 45% of rural households do not treat the water and source it from groundwater which in many areas is contaminated. Even the urban piped water supply has many reported cases of contamination mostly because of intermittent supply system. Safe drinking water is directly linked to health of users. As per WHO, around 829 000 people are estimated to die each year from diarrhoea as a result of unsafe drinking-water, sanitation, and hand hygiene. This could be easily prevented if there is provision of safe drinking water and sanitation services. Diseases also affect the productivity of users thus indirectly impacting the socio-economic life.

Other socio-economic impacts associated with water supply is the provision of safe drinking water in each household which saves time and physical effort of collecting water which could be used for some other productive work. This also minimizes the risks associated with such journey which are at times not safe for women folk.

In many places the water supply is inadequate which leads to dependence on multiple sources of water. The availability of safe drinking water is questionable in such a scenario. Besides quality, equity is also questionable in such scenarios of inadequate water supply. People in such situation are forced to buy water at costlier price than the municipal rates.

In order to achieve the goal of access to safe drinking water for all and efficiently maintain the existing water supply infrastructure, there is a need for a combination of interventions including use of efficient & affordable technologies, dissemination of technological know-how & best practices, conducive policies & sustainable finance mechanisms, as well as inclusive water management with awareness and capacity building of the relevant stakeholders. The strategy for government planning and funding should focus on closing the inequality gap in terms of availability, accessibility, affordability and quality of services. For achieving this target, there is a need to accelerate the efforts to reduce water stress, enhance water use efficiency, improve water quality and ensure sustainable water for all. Special attention should be provided to the needs of women, people with disabilities, and communities in vulnerable situations.

Government of India, through its Jal Jeevan Mission has planned to achieve this goal of universal access to safe drinking water by 2024. The goal of this mission is to provide functional household tap connections to every household in the country with service level at the rate of 55 litres per capita per day. This would be done by development of infrastructure for taps in every household along with augmentation of existing sources of water supply or development of new ones. Further, technological interventions are also planned to be undertaken for treatment to make water potable. Moreover, grey water management and capacity building of various stakeholders are also key schemes under the mission. The Har Ghar Nal se Jal is a crucial programme under this mission which was announced in the last fiscal budget. This programme aims to implement source sustainability measures as mandatory elements. This would include interventions such as groundwater recharge, water conservation, and rain water harvesting.

Jal Jeevan Mission would help to improve the quality of life particularly of women and children and also would help in improving sustainability of Swachh Bharat Mission as water is important to sustain open defecation free status.

In order to create sense of ownership amongst the users, local authorities such as Gram Panchayats, Paani Samiti will implement the s in-village piped water supply infrastructure and related source development. Government has also announced that each Paani Samiti would have 50% women members. These Samitis would decide the infrastructure needed for water supply and fix the user charges. In every village where the water supply programme is implemented, women will also be provided training for masonry, electrical and motor mechanic work. Communities will contribute 5-10% in cash or kind in all such villages. Such initiatives will help in better implementation and long term operation and maintenance of the scheme. To assist the village community in technical aspects and for awareness creation, NGOs, women SHGs, etc would be associated. Jal Jeevan Mission will focus on integrated demand and supply management of water at local level including creation of local infrastructure for source sustainability and management of household wastewater that would be undertaken in convergence with other Government programmes.

However, there are additional challenges which need to be factored in while developing strategies for achieving the target. These factors include climate change induced disasters, conflicts, and economic crises. Management of resources during climate calamities and social conflicts is also important to ensure that targets are well achieved.

The session aims to identify and appraise options where equity considerations become part of policy, implementation and monitoring. The deliberations would also focus on cost-effective affordable solutions for ensuring universal and equitable access to clean drinking water. The distinguished panel would address the following questions:

  • What are the enabling conditions that will allow various stakeholders to apply their practices and strategies in a way that supports the target of SDG 6.1?
  • What are the ways to enable the substantial private investment for improving water delivery service while ensuring equitable access or accounting for the water needs of vulnerable populations? What are the most viable innovative funding models that can best advance SDG 6 implementation?
  • What are the main entry points to eliminating inequalities in the access to water services?