More than half the Indian households – including 63 per cent in rural India — did not have a source of drinking water at home and a fifth of rural households walked more than 500 m to get drinking water, says data from 2011 Census.
In Odisha, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, more than 35 per cent of rural households – at least one in four — have to walk half-a-kilometer to get water, says data from Indian Human Development Survey (IHDS II), which surveyed 42,153 homes.
Households in rural Odisha take the longest to reach a water source – more than an hour. And once they reach, they have to wait for their turn to fill the pots. Once filled, the water pots can weigh as much as 20 kg.
The situation isn’t any brighter in urban areas: people in 20 per cent homes spend more than half-an-hour reaching water sources.
India is the largest groundwater user in the world using an estimated 230 cu km every year – which is more than a quarter of the global consumption. The limited success of surface irrigation projects and providing cheap electricity to farmers using tube-wells has led to an over-reliance on groundwater and aquifers.
A comparison of pre-monsoon groundwater level in Punjab and Haryana showed the percentage of wells with water deeper than 20 m has increased by 40 per cent in Haryana and 70 per cent in Punjab between 2011 and 2015.
As groundwater levels plunge, millions are at risk of drinking contaminated water.
The nation loses as many as 73 million working days due to water-borne diseases, according to a 2016 report by the National Water Development Agency.
Bihar, Rajasthan and West Bengal are among the worst off, with more than 18 per cent of rural population in these states unable to access quality drinking water, according to a National Sample Survey Organisation report, The socio-economic impact of this time spent to fetch water is considerable. Global studies by UNDP, Unicef and Oxfam show it slows development, including education.
Being “needed at home” is a major reason why children, especially girls from poor families, drop out of school.
A few bright spots
Close to 92 per cent of the IHDS survey respondents reported having enough water through the year, although this figure falls to 80 per cent in summer.
More than 95 per cent of urban respondents across India report having an “improved source of drinking water” such as bottled water, piped water or water from tube-wells.