If you would have asked a primary class student a few months ago what they are being taught in school, you would have gotten answers such as “Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell,” or “India is a peninsular country surrounded by water on three sides.” Enter 2020… children are attending school from the comfort of their homes, enjoying their early summer breaks, learning about how human cells are prone to the deadly coronavirus and being taught to wash hands thoroughly every few hours. But as the country stares at a water scarcity, that constant hand washing might become a luxury soon.
Due to massive population, inadequate rainfall and poor planning, we have always had the challenge of uneven water distribution in the country. The story repeats every summer, but this time, the stakes have gotten higher. For one, regular hand washing has been recommended to keep COVID-19 away. However, in this country, 82% of rural households do not even have individual piped water supply, according to NITI Aayog. When it comes to the urban population, only 35% households have piped water. In fact, in India, social distancing is too much to ask for when people gather in large numbers at wells and municipal trucks to collect water for daily chores. Adding to the woes, more than half of India’s districts are facing the threat of groundwater depletion or contamination, according to the World Bank.
After returning to power in May 2019, the current government launched ‘Jal Shakti Abhiyan’ with great fanfare. For FY21, Rs.115 billion was allocated for implementing rainwater harvesting and renovating traditional water bodies in water stressed districts. But with the extension of the lockdown, lackadaisical government officials are happily cooped up at home with COVID-19 as an excuse. Even though the IMD has forecast normal rainfall in the country from June 1 onwards, shoddy administration will hurt millions this summer as well.