The looming water crisis in Madhya Pradesh, heart of India
Last week hundreds women and men belonging to ward no 3 of the Dabra area, in the Gwalior district of the State of Madhya Pradesh in central region of India got together and presented a memorandum to the district administration, on the issue of the acute water shortage they have been facing for the past months. Similarly State’s High Court directed the Divisional Commissioner, Jabalpur, District Collector and Civil Surgeon to remain present before the Court on a petition challenging the inaction of the district administration and health officers to provide pure drinking water and hygienic atmosphere for the people of several areas and also made adequate medical facilities at the Government Victoria Hospital in Jabalpur district for the treatment of seasonal and infectious and gastrointestinal related diseases inspite of the directions.
Madhya Pradesh state falls in the central region of India and has forty eight districts. As per Central Water Ground Board web site, a Government body which monitors water situation in the country, 24 blocks out of 313 blocks are over exploited and many others are in semi critical and critical stage. Based on the reports of January 2007 on the same site comparing water levels to earlier years in January, a fall upto 2 meters in groundwater level was observed in 40.73% of wells monitored by them. Fall between 2 and 4 m in water levels was observed in 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 fall more than 4m in water levels 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 (> ±5 m.), (mostly heavy fall) have been noted in a number of wells, the reason for which is that a few wells that had dried up have been deepened and now record shallower/deeper water levels. They did observe rise in few places, may be due to efforts of water conservation, but not many.
Just few days back in one of the district Harda, a 14-year-old girl dug a 22-feet deep well, so that her mother does not have to walk miles to fetch water. "My parents were really worried due to water shortage in the area. The lone hand pump in the area was too far off and it was always crowded. People used to fight for water. So, I thought of digging a well to resolve the crippling water shortage," was Reshma 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 for miles in search of water and sometimes they even enter into a brawl.
Many districts of the state have been regularly reporting shortage of water not only now but even winters. Panchayats in Shivpuri district of the state did not vote in by-elections held in April this year. The reason was water shortage and fluorosis which impacted lives of people in the district. Reports from Sagar, another district of the state point out on areas in the district such as Dawari, Bina, Khurai, Raheli, Gadahota and Sagar block which are facing acute water shortage.
Water levels have fallen down to a stage of crisis in the district Shivpuri to an extent local people say district would witness large scale migration in coming years if situation does not change. This is not only in districts but even in the state capital Bhopal people are facing water shortage. Media reports do point out more than 20,000 leakages happen in a year in the water pipes of the city and 30 % of water gets lost due to these leakages, which too contributes to the shortage.
It is not only about water shortage in the state but even issues of water quality need immediate attention. Thousands of children and women suffer from diarrhea in the state due to lack of clean safe drinking water. State every year witness thousands of cases of gastro – enteritis, probably many of which could be prevented just by safe drinking water. Though there are hand pumps but in many places just for namesake. Thousands hardly work and need immediate repair in the state.
22 districts in the state have excess fluoride in water. It is estimated that about 16,000 children were suffering in Seoni district alone due to fluoride. People in 120 villages in Guna district suffer due to fluoride in water.
Whatever water is there, there are disparities in regards to its access – let’s not play this down. Caste, economic disparities and gender play an important role here and in end it is people especially women and children who have to bear the brunt. A Dalit women was allegedly beaten up by two young men in Thakurpura area of Shivpuri over the issue of water. Districts have been reporting that women (the ones who normally get water) have to travel kilometers on lanes not easy to traverse for ‘water for life’ for their families.
There could be variation or debates on the figures but fact of the matter is that there is an issue not only of water shortage, but even of water quality and access which needs stronger attention – a call not only to media, but also to civil society, water experts, organizations and media advocates working in the state. Government of India has announced the year 2007 as "Water Year" with a view to address water-related issues – probably a need which is immediate here in MP. May be time has come to move away from realm of words, to bring change in reality for people of the state.
By Anil Gulati (All views expressed in the above piece are personal opinion of the writer.) Contact – firstname.lastname@example.org