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India's youngest ministry tasked to end open defecation

Wednesday July 20, 2011 05:05:53 PM, Prashant Sood, IANS

New Delhi: India's youngest ministry has the enormous task of ridding rural areas of open defecation and unsafe drinking water with about 245 million people in the country still without access to sanitation facilities and nearly 76 million still not getting adequate safe drinking water.

The creation of a Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation is expected to accelerate efforts to provide access to adequate potable water in 150,000 rural habitations and access to sanitation to about 30 percent of 833 million rural population lacking these basic amenities, officials said.

Drinking water and sanitation earlier constituted a department of the Ministry of Rural Development. The new ministry will deal with water supply, sewage, drainage and sanitation in rural areas.

After Gurudas Kamat failed to take the responsibility of the new ministry in last week's cabinet jig, its charge has been given to Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh. Officials of the new ministry are happy about their elevated status. As a department, it had a huge budget of Rs.11,000 crore (Rs 110 billion) this fiscal.

"We learnt about the decision of the new ministry only after the cabinet reshuffle," a senior official told IANS, speaking only on condition of anonymity.

The officials said that drinking water in both urban and rural areas should come under the new ministry to give it a better profile and to tackle water management in an integrated manner.

"Standards of water supply in both areas should be the same. Urban areas mostly get water from rural areas but the effluent waste goes to rural areas, affecting the quality of water there. We can't look at issues in isolation," one official said.

But he agreed that the issue was more acute in rural areas. "About 1.5 lakh (150,000) of the 16.6 lakh (1.66 million) rural habitations which is about 76 million people in the country do not have access to adequate safe drinking water ," he said.

Another official said that rural sanitation coverage "had gone up from 27.35 percent in 2004 to 70.37 percent in 2010-11 but about 245 million people still do not have access to sanitation."

He said though the country had set itself the goal of 100 percent rural sanitation coverage by 2012, the target has now been revised to 2017 -- due to the enormity of the task.

The government is keen that by the end of the 12th five-year plan (2012-17), at least 55 percent of rural households should be provided with piped water, and at least 35 percent should have household connections. Rural drinking water is one of the six components of Bharat Nirman, an initiative of the government to build the rural infrastructure since 2005.

The programme aims to cover rural habitations not having drinking water facilities and to address problems related to water quality such as contamination of arsenic and flouride.

A World Bank study last year said that India loses almost $53.8 billion or 6.4 percent of its GDP through hygiene-related diseases, lost productivity and other factors stemming from poor sanitation.

Only about 366 million people - around a third of population - had access to proper sanitation in 2008, according to a UN study.

According to a UNICEF report, combined effects of inadequate sanitation, unsafe water supply and poor hygiene were responsible for 88 percent of childhood fatalities from diarrhoea in the country. Poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water cause intestinal worm infections, which lead to malnutrition, anaemia and retarded growth among children.

The report said about 638 million people in India defecate in the open, which is about 55 percent of the total population defecating in the open in the world.

India's first nationwide programme of rural sanitation, the Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CRSP) was launched in 1986. Another programme, Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), was launched in 1999 with the aim of ending open defecation.

(Prashant Sood can be contacted at







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