In India, nearly 17% of the urban population (65 million people) live in slums and more than 50% of the 14 million urban poor families lack access to safe piped water supply. This gap in supply is often met by Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) through provision of community-level standpipes or tankers. However, the quality of drinking water from these sources is usually unsafe, and water supply is often available for only a few hours a day, thus leading to water conflicts at the collection point, water borne disease and also the loss of economic opportunity.
Small Water Enterprises (SWEs) address this unmet need to provide high-quality treated water, complementary to the Government’s piped water efforts. Small Water Enterprises can benefit not only growing cities of India but other cities in the world struggling to mitigate climate change and keep pace with rapid urbanization. Cities and their residents who are seeking a better future need 24×7 access to safe, affordable water in easy reach of their living and working spaces.
Including SWEs as a decentralized safe drinking water solution in city planning will create resilient cities and thereby achieve the twin benefits of safe water for citizens and livelihood generation. This and other benefits and potential of expanding the SWE category in the urban environment are outlined in a new report. A collaboration between Safe Water Network India and the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), USAID Urban WASH Alliance Partners, the report puts forward recommendations to support the transformation of India’s cities from water stressed to resilient with respect to safe drinking water.
Niti Aayog’s Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) Report highlights that India is facing the worst water crisis in its history, with millions of lives and livelihoods under threat today. Says Professor Jagan Shah, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs, “Cities face a growing range of adversities and challenges. Resilience is what enables them to adapt and transform in the face of these challenges, helping them to prepare for both the expected and the unexpected. In April 2018, 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) announced a formal partnership to expand collaborative resilience-building efforts in India. Safe drinking water supply is prominent among the adversities and challenges facing India especially as migration and the pace of growth of urban cities and slums accelerates.”
The current infrastructure broadly, and the provision of safe water supply specifically, are insufficient to meet the demands of the increasing population. The Government needs to create the most conducive enabling environment to facilitate opportunities for business to contribute to innovation, and for local community initiatives to thrive. SWEs are one such initiative that can meaningfully contribute to safe water supply and resilient cities.