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The Road to SDG 6 In India

Hajira Mehreen Qurishe | Chennai, India

PC: The Economic Times

Back in 2018, I was on my way to attend one of my best friend’s wedding. The ceremony was going to take place in a small town in India called Thuvarankurichi where I had to travel by bus. I hate traveling by bus for long distances, as it gets uncomfortable without any proper rest stops in between. Especially if you add a bunch of diabetics such as my parents in the mix, it’s a recipe for disaster. It was a solid six hours of travel from Chennai. The roads were surrounded by thick trees on either side of us. As it was nighttime, these roads were not properly lit in some areas. So, it was not a surprise for me that I could not find a proper rest stop for the first five hours. Most of the passengers, especially women were uncomfortable not being able to relieve themselves. But none of us made a fuss as we knew what to expect from the trip. It’s a norm for all of us. But it shouldn’t be. This situation could have been avoided if there were proper rest stops in regular intervals. This is something that I could say I have experienced quite a few times. But back at home, I do have a clean latrine to use. The schools and colleges where I studied were equipped with private sanitation facilities. Most of the public places I visit such as malls, café, theatres, etc.... do have proper washrooms most of the time. It's not a running concern over my head the whole day.

But the reality for most Indians is not the same as mine. With almost a population of 1.38 billion as of 2020, access to clean drinking water and proper sanitation has still been a huge issue among the masses even 75 years after gaining independence. A basic right such as access to clean drinking water is still denied to 163 million people, the highest in the world. India also faces several challenges on water resources due to climate change, says a new study by WaterAid, a global advocacy group on water and sanitation.

Why Is This Important?

According to the WHO – UNICEF report (2010), India has the highest rate of open defecation. Most girls avoid going to school if there are no proper sanitation facilities. Sanitation makes a positive impact on female literacy. According to a UNICEF study, for every 10 percent increase in female literacy rate, a country's economy can grow by 0.3 percent. Thus, sanitation contributes to the social and economic development of society.

A safe water supply is the backbone of a healthy economy, but it doesn’t seem to be prioritized as much as it should be.

It is estimated that water-borne diseases have an economic burden of approximately USD 600 million a year in India according to the JMP 2017 update report. Access to clean water supply and sanitation means being able to avoid exposure to countless diseases and will sustain the economy. Access to clean drinking water is vital to health as it controls enteric diseases and boosts the overall immunity of a person’s health too.

In 2015, India achieved 93 percent coverage of access to safe water supply in rural areas. However, with the shift from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs) the new baseline estimates that less than 49 percent of the rural population is using safely managed drinking water according to the JMP 2017 update report.

India and SDG 6

In 2015, the international community agreed to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - a list of 17 goals targeted to solve the problems of poverty, hunger and tackle the effects of climate change, among others. The SDGs were set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and are intended to be achieved by the year 2030. All 17 SDGs are integrated which means that the outcome in one area will affect all the other areas. Through the pledge to "Leave No One Behind," countries are committed to fast track their progress in an effort to achieve development which will balance social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

SDG 6 deals with universal access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene to all in the next 15 years. Indeed, SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation) is a common developmental agenda in today's world. But issues like water scarcity, untreated wastewater, flooding, poor sanitation facilities doubled with India’s massive population and its sheer diversity makes the implementation of policies a little difficult.

The Government of India is working in close coordination with State governments to realize SDGs by the target date of 2030. Several of the Indian government’s initiatives can be directly linked to SDG 6. These initiatives include the ‘Water framework law of India 2016, National Rural Drinking Water Program (NRDWP), Accelerated Urban Water Supply Program (AUWSP), Nammame – Gange (National Mission clean Ganga), and National water policy’.

In 2014, the central government of India launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India) campaign on October 2nd to eliminate open defecation and manual scavenging in the next 5 years. According to media reports, the government has spent more than USD 30 million to improve the sanitation facilities across the country to support this goal. The budget still fell short for such a mammoth task. So, the budget was revised several times each year for the allocation of the scheme. The government also took initiatives to include tech usage to turn waste into energy and to use tech solutions to clean fecal matter instead of sewage workers.

Impact Report:

In 2019, the Indian government claimed the success of the sanitation revolution whereas the report by National Statistical Office (NSO) contradicts the government’s claim.

The report pointed out that only 71.3% in rural areas and 96.2 % in urban households had access to toilets in 2018. The data also showed that the households which had access to a latrine, 3.5% in rural households and 1.7% in urban households never used it due to inadequate water supply. Nevertheless, the Swachh Bharat mission was a revolutionary move by the government due to which there is a rising demand for the usage and construction of toilets across the country. According to the toilet coalition board, the sanitation economy in India is set to rise to an estimated USD 62 billion in 2021.

The NRDWP programme’s target was to provide 35% of rural households with water connections and 40 litres – two buckets of water per person per day. However, this plan which considerably failed even after spending almost 800 billion due to poor execution and weak management according to the August 2018 report released by the government’s audit team.

The World Bank has approved a 5-year loan to the ‘Nammame - Gange' project worth USD 400 million to develop and improve infrastructure from further pollution of the river basin. So far, 313 projects have been sanctioned for the mission in order to preserve India's ecosystem.

Challenges Ahead:

There are many challenges a country has to face in order to provide access to clean water supply and latrines. Some of them are: water scarcity and shortages, water supply contaminated by toxic substances and risks of open defecation

1. Water Scarcity and Shortage

A country is said to be under water stress when the annual per capita water availability is less than 1700 cubic meter. India’s per capita water availabilit