Australians wash their cars while Indians die of thirst By amera sarkis

The serious issue regarding water management planning and safe access to drinking water in India is becoming an increasingly concerning problem compared to Australia’s water management plan and safe access to drinking water. India has the highest number of people without access to safe drinking water (77 million), where 769 million people lack access to improved sanitation. There have been significant improvements in water management plans in India, but due to the rapid increase of urbanisation, industrialisation and traditional agriculture, there will be higher demands for clean water, where India will most likely be termed a ‘water scarce region.’

Statistical facts show that in India:
  • 52% (in both rural and urban areas) of people live in poverty, therefore they have a very limited supply of access to safe drinking water
  • Only 33% of the country has access to clean sanitation
  • Children in 100 million homes in the country lack a source of water
  • 770 million don’t have access to drinking water near their homes
  • 1 in 2 children are malnourished due to lack of access to water and food
  • 21% of communicable diseases are linked to unsafe drinking water and lack of hygiene practises
  • 140,000 children die each year from diarrhoeal related diseases after using dirty water, which is the number one cause for child deaths in India
  • ¼ of the Indian population have access to drinking water in their area
  • Some families have to travel up to 10km by foot to be able to collect sufficient water for their families

In Australia, there is an emphasis on water conservation, where some regions have imposed restrictions on the amount of water used. There are also high standards set by the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG), which are designed to provide an “authorities reference to the Australian community and the water supply industry on what defines safe, good quality water, how it can be achieved and how it can be assured.” They are some of the strictest guidelines in the world, whereas India hasn’t really imposed strict laws regulating water use and quality. As mentioned above, India has made significant advances to improve clean water supply but still faces the challenge to provide safe drinking water due to poor management strategies to the supply of drinking water (insufficient investment in urban water treatment facilities) and pollution and overexploitation.

The issue was that there was little participation from local communities that contributed to state engineering agency water supply systems. India’s water laws are largely state based, which is due to the Government of India in 1935 giving power to states to legislate compared to Australia’s water laws, which are at a national level. Australia’s firm laws have ensured that water is 100% filtered when used from the tap in contrast to India, where using water straight from the tap is unsafe.

The Indian government has committed to providing every person living in rural areas in India with safe and adequate water to drink, cook, bathe and water livestock through piped schemes, whereby their guidelines, 70 litres will be used per capita per day by 2022. To fulfil this commitment, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation needs to raise service levels by 175% from the current 40 litres per capita per day. Another commitment made by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in India was to provide piped drinking water in 90% of homes in the next 8 years. State governments have been entrusted with the power to plan, implement and approve the water supply schemes.

Indian cities such as New Delhi and northern Rajasthan are introducing water kiosks in drought-prone areas, and other areas, such as Nagpur and central Maharashtra, are experimenting with privatisation schemes to try to improve water services. Access to safe water is an issue in many cities. In West Bengal for instance, the state public health engineering minister, Subrata Mukherjee, stated that there are several natural causes that are leading to the water being unsafe, such as high levels of arsenic, fluoride and rising salinity levels. One of a few influential individuals making a difference in water conservation in India is Ayyappa Masagi. He has been involved in the building of dams and wells in one of the driest parts of India and has become well known as a “water doctor”.

An international non-profit organisation, the organisation has played a significant part in India’s progress to improving the quality of water, sanitation and hygiene. By partnering with other types of organisations like WaterCredit, they have reached more than 3.4 million people across 12 states with access to safe water and sanitation.

The government has been promoting community-led sanitation groups, such as the Total Sanitation Campaign, which has made successful progress in rural areas and the Slum Sanitation Program in Mumbai, which has provided access to sanitation for a quarter of a million slum dwellers in urban areas.

Bhakra Nangal Dam - India

Bhakra Nangal Dam (1948-1963) is the largest concrete gravity dam in India that sits across the Satluj River that is located near the border of Punjab, Bilaspur and Himachal Pradesh in northern India. The dam provides irrigation to 10 million acres of fields in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Its reservoir, known as Gobind Sagar, is the 3rd largest reservoir in India that stores up to 9.34 billion cubic metres of water. The creation of this dam has helped increase crop produce, double the income of agricultural labourers in regional areas and reduce flood moderation. The dam generates 7,000 million units of electricity everyday and has made electricity available at affordable prices

It is part of the Bhakra Nangal project (along with many other projects), which was constructed to increase food production, energy generation, drinking water supply, fishery developments, employment generation and flood moderation, just to name a few. The Bhakra dam became the symbol of India’s green revolution and hailed as a “Temple of Resurgent India” by the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru (in office from 1947-1964).

Warragamba Dam - Australia

Warragamba Dam (1948-1960) is a concrete gravity dam that is the primary reservoir for water supply in Sydney’s southwest. It creates Lake Burragorang and supplies around 80% of the NSW population with safe drinking water. To ensure that the dam is always supplying clean water, the water turbidity, pH and phosphate is checked every 2 days. The dam’s water management strategies are effective and efficient to ensure high quality water is being distributed to households in Sydney and that water usage remains at a sustainable level.


The disparity between India and Australia in terms of water access and safety is probably a source of shame for many Australians. India is finding ways of trying to improve water infrastructure is and are succeeding to a certain extent. However, there is no doubt that more work needs to be done to help ease the water crisis still existing in certain areas. In Australia, we need to consider ourselves very lucky to have clean, fresh, water at the turn of a tap, and I for one will certainly be grateful for the hot shower I will be having tonight.

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