NEW DELHI: Weak infrastructure and a national shortage have made water costly all over India , but Sushila Devi paid a higher price than most.
It took the deaths of her husband and son to force authorities to supply it to the slum she calls home.
“They died because of the water problem, nothing else,” said Devi, 40, as she recalled how a brawl over a water tanker carrying clean drinking water in March killed her two relatives and finally prompted the government to drill a tube-well.
“Now things are better. But earlier…the water used to be rusty, we could not even wash our hands or feet with that kind of water,” she told the *Thomson Reuters Foundation* in Delhi.
India is “suffering from the worst water crisis in its history”, threatening hundreds of millions of lives and jeopardising economic growth, a government think-tank report said in June.
From the northern Himalayas to the sandy, palm-fringed beaches in the south, 600 million people–nearly half India’s population–face acute water shortage, with close to 200,000 dying each year from polluted water.
Residents like Devi queue daily with pipes, jerry cans and buckets in hand for water from tankers – a common lifeline for those without a safe, reliable municipal supply – often involving elbowing, pushing and punching. On the rare occasions water does flow from taps, it is often dirty, leading to disease, infection, disability and even death, experts say.
“The water was like poison,” said Devi, who still relies on the tanker for drinking water, outside her one-room shanty in the chronically water-stressed Wazirpur area of the capital Delhi.
“It is better now, but still it is not completely drinkable. It is alright for bathing and washing the dishes.” Water pollution is a major challenge, the report said, with nearly 70% of India’s water contaminated, impacting three in four Indians and contributing to 20% of the country’s disease burden. Yet only one-third of its wastewater is currently treated, meaning raw sewage flows into rivers, lakes and ponds–and eventually gets into the groundwater.
“Our surface water is contaminated, our groundwater is contaminated. See, everywhere water is being contaminated because we are not managing our solid waste properly,” said the report’s author Avinash Mishra.