India is making remarkable progress in its mission to provide access to safe drinking water for all its citizens. Since the launch of the Jal Jeevan Mission on August 15, 2019, 8,84,06,310 households have been provided with tap water connections. This substantial increase in pipe water supply in rural areas demonstrates the commitment of the Indian government and state governments/UTs. It is commendable that the government has undertaken such an ambitious goal of reaching every rural home with a tap water connection within a span of five years. To achieve this, Source Sustainability is a must.
The Importance of Source Sustainability
Jal Jeevan Mission’s main challenges include source sustainability coupled with quality issues. These arise from human activities, geogenic contaminants, and uncertainties posed by climate change. Therefore, it is important to recognize the local diversity and go beyond a minimalist approach of pipelines and tap connections. Encouraging local innovations, community involvement, and source sustainability will play a crucial role in addressing these challenges.
Source sustainability is a key component of the Jal Jeevan Mission, aligning with the recently concluded UN Water Conference 2023. It reflects the growing global understanding of water security, particularly safe access to WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene). This underpins all other development goals. It is the “linchpin for global resilience,” essential for climate adaptation, food security, economic growth, global health, and gender equality. Access to safely managed WASH is vital for everyone’s well-being.
There are several challenges to the sustainability of water resources in India:
Groundwater remains the major source of drinking water. This is primarily replenished through rainfall and other sources such as canals, tanks, and ponds. However, climate change and the unpredictable nature of rainfall pose a significant threat to groundwater availability. Overconsumption and increased usage of groundwater by industries and agriculture have resulted in its overexploitation, exceeding its replenishment potential. Additionally, geogenic contaminants like fluoride, arsenic, iron, nitrate, and salinity ingress compromise the quality of groundwater.
Ensuring the sustainability of groundwater sources requires regulatory measures and policy priorities for groundwater recharge. Prioritizing source sustainability for drinking water is essential. The convergence of the Jal Jeevan Mission with groundwater recharge activities will improve water quality, quantity, and longevity. Initiatives such as the “Jal Shakti Abhiyan: Catch the Rain” campaign, focused on saving and conserving rainwater, and regulatory bodies like the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) play a crucial role in regulating groundwater development and management. Guidelines for groundwater abstraction and restoration, protection of wetland areas, rainwater harvesting, and groundwater monitoring are also important policy priorities.
How to achieve Source Sustainability
Harnessing technology is another crucial aspect of accelerating change in achieving sustainability. Geographical Information Systems and Hydro Geo-Morphological (HGM) Maps are vital tools. They help in identifying sustainable groundwater sources based on varied agro-climatic zones. Smart water systems, utilizing the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, and AI technologies, can help minimize water scarcity challenges and mitigate the consequences of imprudent water usage. Real-time measurement and monitoring through IoT-based remote systems are being implemented under the Jal Jeevan Mission. This has led to operational efficiencies, cost reduction, and better grievance redressal.
Engagement and empowerment of communities, particularly women, are integral to sustaining public services and protecting natural resources. Women achievers and leaders in the water sector are conferred the Swachh Sujal Shakti Samman 2023. This award recognizes the contribution of women achievers and leaders, highlighting the importance of community participation. Building community capacity, raising awareness about water scarcity, and promoting localized measures for water conservation are essential for decentralization, operation, and maintenance of the water supply system.
The Way Ahead
Ensuring the sustainability of drinking water sources is imperative to provide citizens with safe and accessible drinking water. Lack of access to safe and sustainable water sources would disrupt the regular availability of rural drinking water services. By implementing regulatory mechanisms, empowering communities to understand their local water resources, and utilizing terrain-specific technologies, the Ministry of Jal Shakti, with the support of the Aga Khan Foundation and other stakeholders, envisions achieving source sustainability. With the commitment of all parties involved, the Jal Jeevan Mission is on track to achieve universal access to tap water supply for every rural household by 2024. This aligns with the Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring safe water and sanitation for all by 2030.
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