Water, environment and sanitation
An estimated 400,000 children under five years of age die each year due to diarrhoea.
Several million more suffer from multiple episodes of diarrhoea and still others fall ill on account of Hepatitis A, enteric fever, intestinal worms and eye and skin infections caused by poor hygiene and unsafe drinking water.
Despite the Government and UNICEF’s best efforts, diarrhoea remains the major cause of death amongst children, after respiratory- tract infections. Unhygienic practices and unsafe drinking water are some of its main causes. More than 122 million households in the country are without toilets. Even though toilets are built in about 3 million households every year, the annual rate of increase has been a low 1 per cent in the past decade.
The lack of toilets also affects girls’ school attendance. Of India’s 700,000 rural primary and upper primary schools, only one in six have toilets, deterring children - especially girls - from going to school.
Access to protected sources of drinking water has improved dramatically over the years. Most rural water supply systems, especially the hand-pumps generally used by the poor, are using groundwater. But inadequate maintenance and neglect of the environment around water sources has led to increasing levels of groundwater pollution. In many areas, the problem is exacerbated by falling levels of groundwater, mainly caused by increasing extraction for irrigation.
In some parts of the country, excessive arsenic and fluoride in drinking water also pose a major health threat.