Clean drinking water
Ensuring survival and improved outcomes for every child with safe and secure drinking water for all
A safe water supply is the backbone of a healthy economy, yet is woefully under prioritized, globally.
It is estimated that waterborne diseases have an economic burden of approximately USD 600 million a year in India. This is especially true for drought- and flood-prone areas, which affected a third of India’s population in the past couple of years.
Moreover, two-thirds of India’s 718 districts are affected by extreme water depletion. One of the challenges is the fast rate of groundwater depletion in India, which is known as the world’s highest user of this source due to the proliferation of drilling over the past few decades. Groundwater from over 30 million access points supplies 85 per cent of drinking water in rural areas and 48 per cent of water requirements in urban areas. (Source: JMP 2017)
All children have the right to clean water and basic sanitation, as stated in the Convention on the Rights of a Child. The ultimate aim of UNICEF’s work in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is to ensure that all children fulfill this right, and that no child is left behind.
When families do not have a safe and reliable water source, preferably direct to their home, then it is often women and children that are responsible for collecting water. School attendance in India decreases when children are required to spend hours collecting water. A 22 per cent increase in school dropout rates has been reported in drought-affected states.
Close to 54 per cent of rural women – as well as some adolescent girls - spend an estimated 35 minutes getting water every day, equivalent to the loss of 27 days’ wages over a year. (Source: Analysis of the situation of children, adolescents and Women in India 2016)
In 2015, India achieved 93 per cent coverage of access to improved water supply in rural areas. However, with the shift from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the new baseline estimates that less than 49 per cent of the rural population is using safely managed drinking water (improved water supply located on-premises, available when needed and free of contamination). (Source: JMP 2017)
Supporting India’s flagship Jal Jeevan Mission: Providing clean water to every child in India
In 2019, after Prime Minister Modi’s re-election, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) was restructured under a new ministerial organogram, to approach the water sector in an integrated manner with the creation of the Ministry of Jal Shakti (meaning “power of water”), bifurcated into two key departments – the Department of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, and the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation.
It is under the latter that in August 2019, the Prime Minister announced the Government of India’s commitment to provide piped water supply to every household in the country by 2024 with a new national flagship programme – the Jal Jeevan (Water for life) Mission.
With this ambitious announcement, while sanitation remains a priority for the national development agenda, the focus on the provision of safe and secure piped water supply is on an exponential rise. UNICEF has been the ‘development partner of choice’ for the Government of India and has played a key role in the revamping and implementation of the Jal Jeevan Mission, fully aligned with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) criteria for safely managed water supply, with every rural household served with portable water supply, in adequate quantity and of prescribed quality, on a regular and long-term basis.
The ambitious programme is further backed up with public sector funding of more than USD 65.6 billion already committed. The focus, however, is not on only infrastructure creation, however, but on establishing decentralized, demand-driven, community-managed water supply systems.
Grassroot-level support is being prioritized, and communities play a pivotal role in planning, implementation, operation and maintenance of their schemes. At the village level, the local government institutions, called gram panchayats, are empowered to play an important role, focusing on work commissioning, operation and maintenance through community contributions, water quality monitoring, and more broadly on source sustainability through water resource management – a critical area in the context of climate changes.
As per the Government’s Management Information System for the Jal Jeevan Mission, between August 2019 and May 2022, as a result of the programme, coverage of functional household tap connections in rural areas has increased from 17 percent to over 49 percent. Tap water has also been provided to almost all schools and pre-schools in the country.
Thanks to UNICEF’s continued advocacy, technical assistance and engagement with the Ministry of Jal Shakti, safe drinking water and sanitation remain high on the agenda of India’s new government. UNICEF focuses on community-managed drinking water, including water safety and security planning, in support of the JJM. At the institutional level, UNICEF focuses on developing improved water quality monitoring systems and strengthening operation and maintenance of water supply infrastructures.
Under the programme, States have been encouraged and supported to develop robust institutions with a focus on service delivery and financial sustainability. More specifically, 104 Key resource Centers (KRCs) have been selected and contracted by the Ministry, and trained by UNICEF to support capacity development, performance monitoring and course correction of the programme through handholding support.
Around 11,000 Implement Support Agencies (ISAs, mainly NGOs) are being trained (notably by KRCs) and engaged by state departments to support implementation of the JJM in GPs as per the national JJM guidelines, covering aspects such as community empowerment and engagement, water quality testing and surveillance, utility operation, water safety and security planning, source sustainability measures, such as recharge and reuse through grey water management, water conservation and rain water harvesting.
This effort to support and strengthen water governance systems in gram panchayats is implemented with a genuine focus on women empowerment to take effective leadership in water management issues.
The guidelines give specific emphasis on women participation in the various stages of planning, implementation and management of schemes. For example, the local person responsible for regular operation and minor repairs is preferably a woman from the village who will be trained and engaged through deliverable-based payments.