Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Why water and sanitation must remain top priorities?

The Sustainable Development Goals require achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030.
By IASToppers
July 20, 2020

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Need for aggressive implementation
  • Jal Jeevan Mission
  • Proposed Initiatives
  • Funds
  • Challenges
  • Conclusion

Why water and sanitation must remain top priorities?

For IASToppers’ Editorial Simplified Archive, click here

Introduction:

Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services are critical in protecting us during infectious disease outbreaks. Washing hands was one of the key messages when the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) goals were set five years ago. The coronavirus pandemic could be the catalyst needed to aggressively pursue the Sustainable Development Goals for water and sanitation.

Need for aggressive implementation:

  • The SDGs constitute 17 main goals, most of them are interconnected.
  • SDG-6 aims to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
  • This contributes significantly to health, economic development, poverty reduction, education.
  • SDG Target 6.1 requires achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030.
  • While rural India was declared open-defecation-free (ODF) on October 2, 2019, we now need to sustain the gains made under SBM to ensure that the health and hygiene benefits continue to be realised.
  • For the ODF behaviour to be sustained, every village/ward should have access to solid and liquid waste management.
  • While this is a difficult target, the current pandemic should encourage the governments to prioritise the supply of clean water which is being proposed by the Jal Jeevan Mission initiative.

Jal Jeevan Mission:

  • Implemented by Ministry of Jal Shakti.
  • Aim: To provide safe and adequate water through individual household tap connections to all households in rural India by 2024.
  • Funding: Total estimated cost of JJM is Rs. 3.60 Lakh Crore.
  • The fund sharing pattern between Centre and State is 90:10 for Himalayan (Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh) and North-Eastern States, 100:0 for UTs and 50:50 for rest of the States.
  • Co-opting non-governmental organisations to help village councils and their sub-committees to manage the planning and running of the local water supply system.

Proposed initiatives:

The following kinds of works/ schemes are proposed to be taken up under JJM:

  • In-village portable water supply (PWS) infrastructure for tap water connection to every household.
  • Reliable drinking water source development/ augmentation of existing sources.
  • Transfer of water (multi-village scheme; where quantity & quality issues are present in the local water sources).
  • Technological intervention for treatment to make water potable (where water quality is an issue, but quantity is sufficient).
  • Retrofitting of completed and ongoing piped water supply schemes to provide Functional Household Tap Connection and raise the service level.
  • Grey water management.
  • Capacity building of various stakeholders and support activities to facilitate the implementation.

Funds:

  • A study (2015) on financial requirements and gaps for achieving the SDGs in India assessed that to achieve the SDG Target 6.1 would take ~4 lakh crore (2015-22) and Target 6.2 (related to sanitation and hygiene) would need ~1.56 lakh crore (2015-19).
  • The expenditure on rural sanitation had increased at an annual growth rate of more than 20% over the last 10 years.
  • This public financing, coupled with support from the World Bank ($1.5 billion loan for the rural mission), helped India to ensure that everyone in rural areas has access to improved sanitation, leading to the success of reduction of open defecation by 2019.
  • SDG Target 6.2 was upgraded to include the safe disposal or offsite treatment of excreta. This meant additional resources and a new time frame.
  • SBM Phase II addresses this in the rural context presented a co-financing model wherein, apart from budgetary allocations from the Centre and states, funds will come from the 15th Finance Commission, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and private sector participation.
  • The government had declared that phase II of SBM Rural, to be implemented from 2020-21 to 2024-25, will see investment to the tune of ~1,40,000 crore.

Challenges:

  • The scale of operation of the programme and also finances, both are turning out to be more difficult in this current crisis.
  • Historically, only 35 million Indian rural households have access to functional tap water.
  • India has a total of 185 million households, which means we will have to cover four times more households in the next five years.
  • After supplying water, we need to plan for the reuse of the grey water, or discharged water.
  • After the Covid-19 pandemic, government budgets have gone haywire as resources have been reallocated to contain the spread of the virus and help those affected by it.
  • So, water and sanitation have taken a back seat in the list of priorities.
  • Based on a three-fold categorisation of ministries/departments, expenditure in several of these have been restricted to within 15-20% of that budgeted for FY21 in the April-June quarter — both SBM (Rural) and SBM (Urban) ministries fell within the 15% bracket.

Conclusion:

SDG Targets 6.1 and 6.2 remain relevant during this pandemic with their focus on hygiene, sanitation and provision of water, all of which impact the health of communities. Human waste is hazardous, contains numerous pathogens and so should be safely managed in all settings during and post the pandemic.

There is evidence that similar viruses (no evidence about SARS-CoV-2) can remain infectious for days to weeks in untreated wastewater and faecal matter. Conventional wastewater treatment processes could reduce the risk. Both central and state governments must direct spend to these areas — even in these difficult times.

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