Monday, January 30th, 2023 16:31:30

Safe drinking water in rural India: What do numbers hide?

Updated: January 3, 2023 8:42 am

Recent data shows that drinking water coverage has improved considerably in India with 89 percent of the rural population having access to an improved water source within a round trip of 30 minutes. Fifty percent of rural households have a tap connection within the dwelling or premises according to the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India, as of 31 May 2022.

To explore this further, the brief looks at the extent to which data on safely managed water is reported in India. It analyses four main national government sources that report data and information on rural drinking water services in India. These include the Census of India, National Sample Survey (NSS), National Family Health Survey (NFHS), and the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) dashboard maintained by the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation (DDWS), Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India.

The analysis finds that:

The Census of India, 2011 provides information on:

• The household’s physical access to the water source, i.e., whether within, near (within a range of 500 metres), or away (beyond 500 metres) from the premises

• The type of sources, i.e., whether improved or unimproved. The improved water sources considered include treated tap water, covered wells, hand pumps, tube wells, and bore wells. The unimproved water sources include untreated tap water, uncovered wells, springs, canals, rivers, tanks, ponds, lakes, and other sources (such as tanker water).

While the census has for the first time included the distinction between improved and unimproved sources, physical access data does not provide the distinction between the number of households having access to a water source within the dwelling unit and those within the household’s premises or compound. Information on the frequency, duration, and quantity (reliability aspect) of the water supply is also not available. Also, while distinction is made between treated and untreated tap water, the water quality information for other improved sources is missing.

National Sample Survey (NSS) 76th round

NSS 76th round collects information on the type of water sources, sufficiency of drinking water from the principal sources, type of household access to the principal source of drinking water, treatment and storage of drinking water by the household etc.

The National Family Health Survey (NFHS)

The NFHS includes indicators on population, health, and nutrition for a representative sample of households. The 5th NFHS (2019-21) uses a key indicator for water supply, that includes, people living in households with an improved drinking-water source. The improved water sources considered by NFHS include piped water into dwelling/yard/plot, piped to the neighbour, public tap/standpipe, tube well or borehole, protected dug well, protected spring, rainwater, tanker truck, cart with small tank, bottled water, and community RO plant.

The National Family Health Survey (NFHS)

The NFHS includes indicators on population, health, and nutrition for a representative sample of households. The 5th NFHS (2019-21) uses a key indicator for water supply, that includes, people living in households with an improved drinking-water source. The improved water sources considered by NFHS include piped water into dwelling/yard/plot, piped to the neighbour, public tap/standpipe, tube well or borehole, protected dug well, protected spring, rainwater, tanker truck, cart with small tank, bottled water, and community RO plant.

IMIS dashboard maintained by the DDWS

The IMIS dashboard was created since the launch of the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) in 2009 by the DDWS. Till 2019, this dashboard provided information on the sources of water supply, households’ physical access to water supply, coverage of water supply (in terms of habitations covered), and water quality affected habitations.

The dashboard has undergone a change with the launch of the JJM (Jal Jeevan Mission) and now provides real-time information on households covered by a functional household tap connection, active laboratories for water quality testing, the number of drinking water samples tested by the laboratories, and those by using the field testing kits, and the number of water samples which were found to be contaminated along with earlier information.

What does the analysis reveal?

The analysis of data sets reveals that data from these different sources cannot be compared as data collection is undertaken with different mandates and frequencies. Indicators used to evaluate safety and access to drinking water are different for each kind of source. The units of data analysis are different.  The indicators considered by various agencies to report progress in rural drinking water services are aligned only partially with those necessary to determine whether such services are safely managed.

The brief argues that the existing data sources and the information system appear to be inadequate, and it is difficult to derive any conclusions that can help policymakers and water managers make decisions and undertake any future actions. There is thus an urgent need to strengthen the existing data and information systems and validate progress made by:

• Standardising terminologies and indicators used across the different data sets
• Expanding the scope of future surveys to cover all the indicators on safely managed drinking water services
• Scaling up the IoT-based smart water supply monitoring system piloted under JJM to cover all the villages
• Metering individual water connections to account for water delivery at the household level
• Computing water quality index (WQI) to monitor source water quality and identify sources that need further investigation

(India Water Portal)

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