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World Water Day 2019: Leaving No One Behind

Today is the United Nation’s World Water Day. The theme this year is “Leaving No One Behind”. What does this mean? We asked Samrat Basak, Director – Urban Water at WRI India, and here’s what he had to say:

In 2010, the UN recognized ‘the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a basic human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life’. This human right to water entitles everyone to have sufficient, safe, physically accessible, and affordable water for personal and domestic use. However, in reality, low income groups are often overlooked and discriminated against when it comes to water supply and sanitation provisioning. For example, according to the UN World Water Development Report 2019, globally, on an average, 3 out of 10 people do not have access to safe drinking water. Moreover, water services are becoming increasingly exclusionary and much fought about, and this is expected to continue as water becomes ever more scarce.

This inequality is explicitly prominent within India’s rapidly growing cities. Today, in Indian cities, there are some neighbourhoods where residents get 300 to 400 litres per person per day, while in others – primarily slums, squatters, and temporary labour camps – residents don’t even get the minimum water allocation to sustain good health and wellbeing, which is around 50 to 80 litre per person per day. Because water is a human necessity, even the poorest households are forced to obtain water through private suppliers, such as tankers, in the absence of public supply of water. Private supply of water is always more expensive and therefore, it is not just about getting less water, poor households end up spending a higher percentage of their income to procure this water. Moreover, the quality of private water supplies is questionable, which can impact health and cause economic productivity losses for these vulnerable communities.

To ‘leave no one behind’, we must focus our efforts on including these poor and vulnerable groups of people. Water related decision-making processes should always be based on the principle of inclusive and equitable allocation. This includes:

  • Prioritise extending the formal piped water network to poor and vulnerable households;
  • Immediate addressing of issues related to intermittent water services and water losses; and
  • Use of diverse strategies to improve the affordability of water for poor and vulnerable households.

If this is not done, we will be heading towards a future where water inequalities can lead to political instability, violent conflict, and human migration which in turn can fuel national, regional and even global security challenges.

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