Published: Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live, March 21, 2005

By George Cheriyan

The international observance of World Water Day on 22 March is an initiative to galvanize global action. This year, water day will mark the beginning of the International Decade for Action “Water for Life 2005 – 2015”. The goals of the ‘Water for Life’ decade are aimed at having “a greater focus on water-related issues, while striving to ensure the participation of women in water-related development efforts, and further cooperation at all levels to achieve water-related goals of the Millennium Declaration”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 1.1 billion people lack access to improved water sources, 2.6 billion to basic sanitation, and approximately 1.8 million people die every year from diarrhoeal disease, 90 percent of them are small children. Safe drinking water and basic sanitation help prevent water-related diseases.

In Asia today, there are still almost 700 million people who have inadequate access to safe drinking water and 2 billion without adequate sanitation. This means that half of the population living in the Asia-Pacific region does not have adequate sanitation, and one in five lacks access to safe drinking water. In almost all South Asian countries, the ground water tables have been rapidly declining. India, which has 16 percent of the world’s population but only 4 percent of the world’s water resources, has a grave drinking water crisis. An estimated 200 million Indians lack access to safe and clean water. In 15 states with major metropolitan centres, under ground water levels have been falling almost 5 percent per year.

In Rajasthan, unsustainable extraction of ground water, as reported by the state irrigation and ground water department, is leading to serious deterioration of water quality, particularly with greater concentrations of fluoride and salinity, and causing irreparable damage to the ground water aquifers in the State. As water table recede, tapping of ground water from deeper rock formations, is likely to increase fluoride contamination. In addition, many of the defunct water supply structures, like bore wells and hand pumps, which are large in numbers, are not capped/closed, leading to direct seepage of drains and contaminants into ground water.

According to WHO, 80 percent of all sickness and disease in the world is attributable to non-potable water and inadequate sanitation. A study in Bikaner found that about 70% of the sample population were suffering from atleast one type of water borne disease. High levels of various types of water contamination – dissolved solids, bacteriological and chemical – are found all over Rajasthan. Fluorosis is emerging as a major public health crisis for Rajasthan. The major manifestations of the disease are skeletal and dental fluorosis.

An integrated approach to water resources management is critical to the survival of the State of Rajasthan, says a background paper prepared by the consultants of the EC (European Commission) Technical Support and Facilitation Mission – Rajasthan. Due to the lack of integrated management of water resources and policy coordination, various priorities seem to be at war with each other. Since 90% of drinking water, and 60% of irrigation water, come from ground water sources, sustainable management of the ground water therefore is a key priority for the state. At a recently held national consultation, experts recommended for speedy enactment of an effective ground water act in Rajasthan.