For many of us fortunate enough to be living in towns or cities, we are used to water flowing from taps inside our homes. Sadly, this is not the case in many villages in the African continent or in India. Women walk miles to fetch water in pots balanced on their heads or hips. They have to be careful about spillage as this is what they need for cooking and washing.
The problem of chemical contamination is also prevalent in India and the health burden of poor quality water is enormous. It is estimated that 37.7 million people are affected by waterborne diseases annually.
Growing up, we were always told to be careful with our use of water and wasting this precious resource was considered sinful. This was despite the fact that we had an abundant supply wherever we lived but our parents were from a generation that didn’t believe in profligacy and they instilled in us the importance of treating this resource with respect.
This upbringing has resulted in my never letting water overflow simply because I have forgotten to turn off a tap. The sound of water overflowing from an overhead tank in a building and nothing being done to stop this makes me see red.
The runaway brides
I was struck by an article on a problem of runaway wives in a certain village in the state of Maharashtra. Most new brides are so daunted by the water scarcity that they soon return to the relative comfort of their maternal homes. Those who do stay here walk a kilometre and a half every summer to a nearly dry stream at the foot of a hill.
Once they reach the stream, they have to wait for hours for the water to collect in the rock. They have to scoop out the water with a bowl and fill their pots. This arduous journey is made twice a day. The village head acknowledges the problems faced by the villagers but has no solution to offer. He speaks of journalists and politicians visiting the village out of curiosity but no concrete help is forthcoming.
However, this is the situation in scores of villages across India. While a water crisis affects everyone, it is the women who bear the brunt. Not only is it their job to fetch water but they also have to ensure its judicious use by all family members. Girls are denied an education as they have to help fetch water. A significant proportion of their time is spent on this back-breaking task.
In my home city, the authorities proudly claim at the beginning of the year that there will be no water shortage or power cuts. We learn to accept these predictions with a pinch of salt as we have had the bitter experience of suffering from the same problems year after year. All one has to do is read readers’ complaints in the newspapers to experience a feeling of déjà vu.
Now we are told by weather forecasters to expect an early monsoon but we remain sceptical. The problem lies in the havoc that the monsoon can create with flooding and waterlogged roads and no effort made to harvest rainwater. The rain harvesting pits are filled with plastic waste and used for disposal of trash in most places. There is no authority to supervise the proper use of these and to see that they are only used for the purpose they were made.
There is an urgent need to overhaul the infrastructure. All the relevant authorities such as civic bodies need to work together instead of indulging in a blame game when strategies fail due to a fund crunch or lack of proper planning.
More than 50 per cent of the Indian population has no access to safe drinking water. In cities, too, one reads of sewage water tainting drinking water supplies. This is completely unacceptable. We need to address these fundamental problems first and foremost.
Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India