Saturday, May 26, 2007

Water crisis looms large in MP

by Anil Gulati

Madhya Pradesh has been facing acute water shortage for the past many years, but nothing concrete has been done in this direction. It is high time that the administration looks into the matter and focuses on providing safe drinking water.

LAST WEEK hundreds of men and women from ward number 3 of Dabra area in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh got together and submitted a memorandum to the district administration complaining about the acute water shortage they have been facing for past several months.

In a similar case, MP High Court directed the Divisional Commissioner, District Collector and Civil Surgeon Jabalpur to present before the court regarding a hearing on the petition filed by citizens of the district. The petition challenged the district administration and the health officers for not providing pure drinking water and hygienic environment to the people of several areas of the district. The petition also mentioned about the inadequate medical facilities at the Government Victoria Hospital, Jabalpur and the inability of health department to provide proper treatment for seasonal and infectious diseases.

Madhya Pradesh is situated in the center of India and has forty-eight districts. As per the website of Central Water Ground Board, a government body, which monitors water situation in the country, 24 out of 313 blocks are over exploited and many others are either in semi critical or critical stage.

The January 2007 reports on water situation, available on the same site suggests that, a drop of two meters in the ground water level has been observed in 40.73 per cent of wells monitored by them. Between two and four meter drop in the ground water level was observed in some parts of Balaghat, Bhind, Morena, Guna, Rajgarh, Sagar, Shajapur, Rewa, Satna, Panna, Tikamgarh, Katni, Sidhi, Chhindwara, Damoh, Sheopur, Gwalior, Shivpuri, Chhatarpur, Dindori, Mandla and Hoshangabad districts and a fall above four meter was observed in parts of Bhind, Gwalior, Sheopur, Morena, Shivpuri, Datia, Chhatarpur, Rajgarh, Tikamgarh Rewa, Panna, Satna, Sagar, and Chhindwara districts of the state.

Reports say that very high fluctuation (heavy fall in ground water level) has been noticed in number of wells. The basic reason is that some of the wells, which had dried up were deepened further and now they record shallower ground water levels. The body did observe rise in the water level at few places and that was may be due to the efforts of different bodies working for water conservation.

Just few days back in one of the districts, Harda, a 14-year-old girl dug a 22-feet deep well, so that her mother should not have to walk miles in the search of water. "My parents were really worried because of water shortage in the area. The lone hand pump in the area is too far from my place and it usually remains crowded. Many a times people fight for water. So, I thought of digging a well to resolve the crippling water shortage," was Reshma’s answer to the media when questioned. She worked for over seven hours a day for two weeks to find the water.

The shortage of water during the summer months is a perennial problem in several regions of Madhya Pradesh, and the growing population has only added to the woes. In extreme conditions, people have to draw water from small water holes. Thousands of villagers trek miles in search of water and sometimes they even enter into a brawl.

Many state districts have been regularly reporting shortage of water not only in summers but in winters also. Panchayats in Shivpuri district of the state did not cast their votes in by-elections held in April this year. The reason was - water shortage, which impacted lives of people in the district. Reports from Sagar, another district of the state point out areas in the district such as Dawari, Bina, Khurai, Raheli, Gadahota and Sagar block, which have been facing acute water shortage. Water levels have fallen down to the extent that local people say, district would witness large scale migration in coming years if situation does not change.

Not only in districts, even in the state capital Bhopal, people are facing acute water shortage. According to media reports around 30 per cent of water gets lost due to leakage in water pipes, which too contributes to the shortage.

It is not only about water shortage in the state, water quality also demands immediate attention. Thousands of children and women every year suffer from diarrhea in the state due to lack of safe drinking water. The state every year witnesses thousands of gastroenteritis cases, many of which can be avoided by providing safe drinking water. Though hand pumps are there but in many places these are just for namesake. Many of them are not functional and need immediate repair. In 22 districts excess quantity of fluoride has been found in water. As per an estimate, about 16,000 children in Seoni district and people in 120 villages of Guna are suffering because of excess quantity of fluoride in water.

However, caste, economic disparities and gender also play an important role here. Especially women and children are among those who have to bear the brunt. A Dalit woman was allegedly beaten up by two young men in Thakurpura area of Shivpuri over the issue of water. According to the reports women (the ones who normally get water) have to travel kilometers to get the water for their families.

The figures can vary but fact of the matter is that it is not only the water shortage, but water quality and access to it are also in question. The matter needs attention from not only media, but also from civil society, water experts, and other organizations.

Government of India has announced the year 2007 as "Water Year" with a view to address water-related issues. It is the time to move away from the realm of words and take action so that people of the state can breathe a sigh of relief.

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