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World’s Costliest Water

March 9, 2012

As costliest as it gets- A women carrying water over head in rural India

The Hindu festival of colors ‘Holi’ coincided with the ‘International Women’s Day’ this year. The US Senate also made the historical judgment of rejecting the debated Keystone XL tar sands pipeline yesterday. So there are quite a few things so as to make March 08, 2012 memorable for us.

The ‘International Women’s Day’ not only marks the achievements and successes that the women have achieved over the years but also it is a day to reflect upon the challenges and sufferings that the women endure daily even in today’s times.

In developing countries such as India women carry the lead role in the knowledge around quality, location, reliability and storage of local water resources. On average, women spend more time than men collecting, storing and protecting their water source. This takes their time away from the ability to learn and contribute in other ways. In just one day, 200 million work hours are consumed as women collect water for their families. This has graver consequences for the girl child, preventing many young girls from attending school or participating in other more productive activities. Some women have to walk about 3 miles to collect water on average in not only the rural or desert states but also in the towns/urban slums. Collecting water can also be dangerous; especially for girls and women who live in war-stricken/conflict areas.

My recollection of a woman’s struggle for clean water goes back to the time when I started working for Janhit Foundation in Meerut in 2003. It continued until last year when I was working for WWF India’s Living Ganga Program under HSBC Climate Partnership. It still goes on as I keep reading about the griming situation of the dwindling groundwater supply as well as poor watershed management in the developing countries, which results in the drudgery of women furthermore.In towns like Meerut in India the day of a women starts with water and ends with water.  We studied an urban slum known as ‘Jai Bheem Nagar’ and the findings were not only startling in terms of the public health havoc being played by the polluted water and dangerous surroundings but also heart breaking in terms of the exploitation of the women and girl child in the face of unavailability of potable water. They had to travel long distances everyday making the girls skip the school and spend the entire day carrying water load from the point source to their households so as to help their mothers.

My career path later took me to Rajasthan. When most of the world laments about the amount of distance the women have to cover in this desert state for potable water, I was astound to see another phenomena prevalent in the urban city of Ajmer. The entire city of Ajmer in Rajasthan is situated on the numerous mountains that encircle the Anna Sagar Lake. During our studies and surveys in the field to prepare the Detailed Project Report (DPR) for PDCOR Ltd, as a Consultant, I found out that women climb up to 7 to 8 flight of stairs everyday so as to cater to the potable water supply for their households. Again it is the women and the girl child who are expected to carry this load on their heads everyday and not the males as the males are the breadwinners of the families and the boys go to schools. The household chore of bringing the water is not for the boys.

In the last days of my working in India, I went to work in the city of Kanpur in U.P. and the situation remained grim there too in terms of clean and safe water availability to the women and girl child. The industrial pollution is immense in Kanpur and that forces the women to rely on the municipal water supply daily. Where the water is not available through a supply pipeline the story repeats itself once again for the women and girl child. We even tried to address this issue under the water and energy co-management work component of WWF India’s Living Ganga Program. We tried to work together with the Urban Local Body (ULB) in Kanpur so as to help them put the 24×7 supply concept in place through a little tweaking in their operation and maintenance system. The 24×7 water supply concept is not a dream and has already been implemented by the ULBs in a few of the progressive south Indian cities of Hubli-Dharadwad with the support from the institutes like the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI), Hyderabad.

March is an important month as the ‘World Water Day’ is also round the corner on the 22nd this month. In case we do not address the issues of uninterrupted potable water supply to the women worldwide the marking of the International Women’s Day leaves a lot to be desired for. The effort of ridding the women of this drudgery should be a conscious and continuous effort and not to be left only to a day or two in the month of March every year.

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