39.1% women living in rural India have to step out of their homes to fetch water: Gaon Connection Survey

16% women said they have to walk between 1 km and 5 kms twice a day to fetch water. 2,388 women said they have to walk one kilometre to fetch water, whereas 4,131 women said they have to walk 200 meters for water

Daya Sagar

Daya Sagar   1 July 2019 6:36 AM GMT

"I spend half of my day fetching water. I don't have the time to study," said Suman, 18, who lives in Rajola village in Satna district in Bundelkhand.

There is just one handpump in her village, which is half a kilometre from her place. She has to make two-three trips to this handpump daily. Sometimes she has to pump for half an hour and only then some water trickles out of the pump. Because of water woes in her village, she left her studies many years back.

There are crores of girls and women in India who spend the better part of their day in fetching water.

And then there are people like Saheb Ali who lives in Nanasarada village in Kutch, Gujarat. What's unusual is that he is the only one living in this village. Kutch is dealing with the worst drought in the past 20 years. This year's drought was the worst in the past three years. People living in many villages in Banni Grassland -- the largest natural grassland in the Indian subcontinent -- have migrated from villages along with their cattle in search of water.

2,388 women have to walk one kilometer to fetch water

Gaon Connection conducted a survey in 19 states. We interviewed around 18,000 people and asked them about the issues that are plaguing rural India. The most important issue that emerged was water -- or lack of it.

We asked the respondents two questions -- What is the source of water in their village? For how long do women living in rural India have to walk to fetch water?

According to the survey, 39.1% women living in rural India have to step out of their homes to fetch water. Sixteen per cent women -- 3,000 of them -- have to walk between one kilometre and 5 kilometres twice a day to fetch water. They face many issues because of water scarcity.

Though of the 18,267 people who were interviewed, 11,207 said they get water through water or hand pumps, but there is a big percentage of population that is not as lucky as them.

Around 2,388 women have to walk one kilometer to fetch water, whereas 4,131 women have to walk 200 meters to get water. They are dependent on handpumps, taps, borewell, lakes, wells and rivers for water.

Every one in three Indian is getting affected due to water crisis. In the beginning of this year, 42% of the country was declared drought-hit. A deficit in monsoon also leads to drinking water problem in the country. Drying water sources and dwindling water level is adding to water woes.

'The government should urgently look at replenishing natural lakes and ponds"

According to a One India One People report every year each woman living in rural India has to walk 14,000 kms to fetch water. She has to balance multiple pots and vessels on her head. This affects their health. The first task she has to perform immediately after waking up is to fill water. On an average, each woman has to walk many kilometres to fetch water. After cooking meal for her family, and after giving water and fodder to her cattle, she again goes out in the evening to fetch water. Many women have to do this three times a day.

According to the same report, the amount of time these women spend in fetching water, that amounts to a loss of Rs 10 billion to country's exchequer.

Many regions in the country are drought-hit but the worst affected are Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. Marathwada and Vidarbha in Maharashtra are the worst-hit. Thirteen districts in Bundelkhand are also facing the worst drought ever.

In Aurangabad and Nanded in Maharashtra, people are buying water -- not just for drinking, but also for animals and irrigation. Few years back, the Maharashtra government had launched a scheme to collect rain water to deal with water scarcity in the state. Ironically, many such artificial lakes were filled using borewell water, which led to dwindling groundwater level. Om Prakash, a researcher with Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), said this scheme had an adverse impact on ecological balance.

VV Diwan, who works with Nisarg Mandal in Aurangabad, said: "In Vidarbha and Marathwada, the government should urgently look at replenishing natural lakes and ponds."

Marathwada receives 600-700 mm rainfall per year. But only 10% water gets soaked into the ground. This is why this region is drought-hit. Besides, cotton and sugarcane are grown in large quantity here. These crops require lot of water. This is why ground water level in Marathwada region remains low. Many regions in Gujarat like Dang, Godhra, Panchamahal and whole of Rajasthan face this issue.

Bundelkhand region – comprising 9 districts in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh -- too faces an acute water storage. Every year starting March, people face many issues due to water scarcity. However, this year many villages had to deal with water woes starting January.

Merely 600 kms from Delhi, Tikamgarh in Bundelkhand is the worst hit. Phoolan Devi, a tribal who lives in Kodiya village, 40 kms from district headquarters said: "We don't have anything to eat. My husband works in the city. He goes in May every year, but this year because there is no water here, he left early."

When Gaon Connection visited many villages in Bundelkhand, they saw women struggling for water. "We have to balance two three big vessels on our heads. We have to do this two-three times in a day. It's affecting our health," said a woman in Mehkona village in Bundelkhand while waiting in a queue to fill water.

"Portable water will outstrip supply by 2030"

The NITI Aayog released the results of a study last year warning that India is facing its worst water crisis in history and that demand for portable water will outstrip supply by 2030 if steps are not taken.

About 2,00,000 people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water. Twenty-one cities will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people, the study noted.

Delhi and Bengaluru are among those 21 cities that will run out of groundwater by 2020. If matters are to continue, there will be a 6% loss in the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2050, the NITI Aayog report said.

According to the same report, 70% water in India is contaminated and India ranks 120th among 122 countries in water quality index.

Talking about the increasing drinking problem in India, Avinash Kumar, said: "The onus to fix this problem lies not just with the Centre or state governments, we will have to form policies at local level and also include local people. The local administration will have to find ways to conserve water bodies. People should also ensure no illegal encroachments take place at local lakes and ponds.

He added: "The government launched the National Rural Drinking Water Programme in 2009. It aims to provide safe and adequate water for drinking, cooking and other domestic needs to every rural person on a sustainable basis. The aim of this programme was to provide piped water supply to 70% rural household by 2020. However, until 2017, only 17% households were getting piped water."

In the year 2014-15, the annual budget of the National Rural Drinking Water Programme was Rs 15,000 crore, whereas now the reduced annual budget is Rs 700 crore.

Read the other Gaon Connection Survey Stories here.

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