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As the world faces a deadly pandemic, good sanitation and preventive measures have quickly become a priority. Experts in the medical field are advising to wash hands more frequently in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, 3 billion people globally lack basic hand washing facilities at home. That’s nearly 40% of the world population. Similarly, in India, only one-fifth of the population has access to running piped water. A NITI Aayog report confirms that 82% of rural households in India do not have access to running piped water.

Keeping the pandemic in mind, UNICEF has recommended a 20 second hand wash in the following situations :

  • After coughing or sneezing
  • After visiting a public space
  • After touching a surface outside the home
  • After handling garbage
  • After touching an animal or a pet
  • After using the toilet

This could easily amount to at least 10 hand washes per day per person.

Representative image of a handwash; Angelsharum; Wikimedia

Many Indian cities face severe water scarcity. The groundwater table in most cities are quickly depleting while rivers and surface water sources face pollution. Clean water is essential to maintain public health and sanitation standard. Inadequate waste management and poor sewage treatment act as a hindrance to public health and safety. It has been observed that the Covid-19 virus can spread through contaminated water bodies. In India, rivers are discharged with 38000 litres of untreated sewage daily. Only 38% of the sewage discharged into the rivers are treated due to infrastructural constraints.

Since clean water is essential for sanitation, the pandemic has effectively increased domestic (households) demand for water. Conversely, economic (industrial, commercial) demand has partly subsided due to the pandemic induced lockdown, as there is less demand for water from the economic sectors.

 

Water Usage Pattern in Household During the Pandemic

Many districts and municipalities across the country like Chennai, Kozhikode and Ahmedabad have seen an increase in household demand for water up to 25 per cent in 2020. Some districts like Udupi on the other hand has seen lower demand for water due to reduced commercial activities as fewer tourists visited the city, while shops, hotels and public spaces were closed down.

Most cities in India lack uninterrupted water supply. Municipality corporations from the major cities provide water for 2-3 hrs. on average a day. Compared to the service benchmark of 135 lcpd (litres per capita per day), only 69 lcpd is recorded on an average in the cities. A National Geographic report points out that a 20 second hand wash could use up at least 2 litres of water. For a family of four to wash their hands 10 times a day, it would take at least 80 litres of water just for handwashing which they claim is a luxury for a country like India. The same report mentions that an average American uses at least 379 litres of water daily. Thus, water supply in the face of growing demand in India is still limited.

 

Economic Usage Pattern of Water During the Pandemic

Demand for water from the economic sector has remained low due to the lockdowns throughout different parts of the world. In the agricultural sector, the pandemic has reduced crop production in India due to labour shortages and other preventive measures put in place to mitigate the virus from spreading. The food shortage can be as high as 23%. This directly correlates to less water being used for irrigation. A Financial Express report mention that water reservoirs monitored in different parts of the country has seen 46% higher reserves of water in 2020, compared to the last ten years.

Malapuzha Dam, Kerala; Jatheesh Nharrekattu; Wikimedia

Similarly, as offices remain closed, work from home culture has become quite fashionable and in some cases inevitable due to the pandemic. IT firms in Chennai had previously mandated a work from home policy in 2019, even prior to the lockdown due to water shortages. IT and service sector firms in the country are considering a move towards work from home in the post covid world due to water shortages. As offices and factories open up, the demand for water from the latent industries could shoot up. Furthermore, the demand for packaged drinking water could increase globally as the lockdown eases. However, work from home can greatly reduce the impact of water shortages since water reserved for industries can be diverted towards household use. In Chennai alone, 30 million litres of water can be diverted from the commercial IT sector.

 

Bottomline

Over-consumption of water is going to be a huge problem in a country like India due to its immense population, ground-water depletion, river pollution and lack of running piped water. To top it all off, the pandemic could further stretch water demands from households. 256 of India’s 727 districts are water-starved. Water is a scarce commodity and is especially scarce during summers. Gurugram too isn’t immune to this.

As the lockdown restrictions slowly subside, and economic activities go back to normal, a water crisis could be looming on the horizon. The pandemic threatens to make the situation worse due to the sanitary needs coupled with ever-increasing household, economic and agricultural demand for water. This will inevitably follow as the lockdown restrictions ease throughout various parts of the country in the upcoming months.

Author:
Raj Shekhar Nath | rajshek10@gmail.com
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