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Monday, June 09, 2014



MDG Report 2012 bears no promise for India's water troubles


"While India has already started facing water scarcity in many parts, the current pattern of industrialisation across the country and deals for supplying water to industries have put the water sources at further risk. In order to achieve its goals in the water and sanitation front, India needs an effective policy for sustainable water management."

Ranjan Panda  

On Monday 2nd July, the 2012 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Report was launched by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.  The report says, among other things, that the target of halving the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water has been achieved half a decade before the deadline.  As the report mentions, "the target of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water was also met by 2010, with the proportion of people using an improved water source rising from 76 per cent in 1990 to 89 per cent in 2010. Between 1990 and 2010, over two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells".


This is being termed as a milestone development.  However, can we really be happy about these achievements?  India, as the report says, has made headway in reducing poverty and with regard to providing drinking water access to much of its people.  However, it is still far away from improving sanitation coverage and other important aspects like food security, maternal mortality and gender equity.

Globally the targets, as claimed by the report, have been met.  However, in a country like India we just can’t claim comfort about the improvement in drinking water access without addressing other key issues such as the above.  In fact, only access to drinking water will never be able to ensure sanitation coverage.  Further there is no assessment of the qualitative coverage of drinking water and that of sanitation as well.  And the report in no way takes into account the reduced availability of water resource as a whole.

We think there is a need for a serious debate on the MDGs afresh taking into consideration factors that will make India (and for that matter other poor countries) miss the targets by 2015.

First, we must look into the ways we are urbanizing at the moment, which has been very arrogant, abusive and unsustainable.  We have already charted a path for numerous and fierce battles between urban areas and rural areas to have control over the limited and reducing water resources.  And, in the way, as the access to water will be increasingly linked to the capacity to pay, the battles will go fiercer.  This is because the urban population will have a much faster and higher growth of their income compared to their rural counterparts.

Take for example Delhi which is already planning to displace people and destroy pristine ecology in the North East to meet its greedy water needs.  Delhi has cash, North East has ecological resource.  And there are hundreds of such examples of various scales depending on the size of the city.

So, the increase in access of water for the urban habitations, including the slums, would continue to keep us under the false impression of 'increased coverage' of the targets. There would be hardly any statistics available on the amount of people (in the rural areas) who would be deprived of their water resources to provide water to their urban counterparts.  Also, there would hardly be any data available on the negative impacts of this access of water on the ecology of the areas from where the water will be sourced.  This means there will be no ways at our hands to assess the factors that will make the so called 'access' unsustainable.

So, I don't think there is hardly anything to cheer about the global achievement figures that have been put up by the MDG 2012 report.  To meet the MDG targets on water and sanitation, we need to have source sustainability and recharging at each locality including the urban habitations.  We have to free the rivers and other surface water bodies from all forms of encroachment (including that of pollution) both in rural and urban areas.  We have to see that no urban area is allowed to take water from the rural areas and ecology simply because it has the money to pay for it.

Local sustainability of sources can only achieve global goals.

[Ranjan Panda works on Environmental and other Developmental issues. He leads 'Water Initiatives Odisha' (WIO).]


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