6 Apr 2014

Water water everywhere, not a drop to drink...

I come from a very small town in one of the so-called bimaru states of India. Being born and brought up in a relatively less well-off middle class household, I recall several memories of my childhood where my parents struggled with day-to-day chores due to the generally low standard of living prevalent in Indian towns and villages at large. None of those memories stand out more than those related to water - one of those commodities most essential for survival . So little justice done to it as well - the old Hindi proverb of Roti, Kapda aur Makaan (Bread, Cloth and House) was probably coined during the good old days when wells were aplenty in small Indian villages, and fetching a pale of water or two was a welcome gossip time for the Indian housewife. (The office water cooler gossip is no different for us the corporate slaves). 

Water was trivial then, but not today. 

I remember dry taps in my house for days running when I was a child. I remember my mother having to wake up every night at 2AM to fill two buckets of water as that was the only time when taps had any water for an hour or so. I remember fetching water in small 3-litre utensils (when I was too young to manage a bucket) from the single hand-pump that served our entire mohalla of ~100 households, slowly graduating to small buckets and then the large ones as I grew older (I felt a sense of accomplishment when my mother smiled each time I got some water home). A more painful memory is several of my family members and neighbours getting sick (hepatitis) due to polluted water from the hand-pump. We could afford to install a water purifier by then; many of my neighbours could not afford it, or were simply not aware enough.

When I read about the water mafia in Delhi, I felt the same pain. A mighty river Yamuna flows through that tiny state which houses the capital of India, and still a large segment of society is forced to depend on tanker water supplied by unreliable private enterprises (the tanker mafias) who charge exorbitant rates - far higher than municipal rates. This was just not done - I cheered AAP as it advocated free water up to a minimum level and making available water connections throughout the city so as to put the tanker mafia out of business. The AAP govt came and went, and apart from announcing free water up to a certain limit, could not do anything substantial and sustainable against the water mafia due to its very short tenure.

At the same time, there were questions raised on water availability in Gujarat related to raising the height of a dam, leading to several debates on SM whether the development claims by Gujarat are indeed true when it comes to water? While water doesn't figure prominently in promise-speeches by politicians in general (exception being AAP in Delhi), I decided to analyse where does India as a whole stands on making available water to its citizens, how has the situation improved over the years, and perhaps most importantly whether some states have been able to out-perform others or is it the same dismal story everywhere.

(Here on this blog, we try finding, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We do so by relying solely on reliable public data, and hence reject cherry-picking of facts, incomplete information, opinions expressed by so-called experts and media houses, propaganda by political parties and so on. Please read this post where we explain this in detail.)

Before we move forward to the analysis, a quick note: Performance evaluation of any person / organization / government needs to be based on two key principles, among others:
  1. Before-and-after: What is the starting point on any performance metric, what is the end point, and hence the increase/decrease in performance over a relevant time period. Only an end-point doesn't suffice. A new coach should be judged by his increase in his team's winning ratio since the day he took the job till the time he left. Merely quoting a 70% win ratio in his last year of coaching is meaningless, what if the team had an 80% win ratio before the new coach?
  2. With-and-without: How does the performance of person/entity in question stack up against a relevant peer set? If someone score 90% marks, where does he figure in his class room - is he 1st or 10th in a class of 25 students? Plain stat of 90% marks doesn't tell the full story. When one claims to outperform, he or she needs to be assessed and benchmarked relative to a relevant set of peer persons - such pressure test is necessary to identify real out-performers.
A previous post "The Most 'Power'-full States" attempted a similar benchmarking of Indian states on power distribution. As noted there as well, Census data provides very good insight into relative performance of Indian states over the ten-year period 2001-11, which fits well with this analysis as Gujarat came under Mr. Modi's leadership in October 2001. 

So here we go. The graph below compares all major states (Top 12 states by population, cover 83%+ of total households as of 2011) on location of the primary source of drinking water, as of 2001 and 2011. Smaller states and UTs are excluded for ease and relevance.

%Households by Location of Drinking Water Source (India & Top 12 states, 2001-11)
Source: Census 2001 and Census 2011

Very clear insights from the above graph as summarized below:
  1. Gujarat is the leading state on improving within-premises access to drinking water between 2001-11: from ~46% households in 2001, now ~64% households draw drinking water from within their premises: that implies an ~18% points jump - a commendable achievement which puts Gujarat ahead of all other states.
  2. Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh also improved by 12-13% points over 2001-11, compared to the highest of 18% recorded by Gujarat. One can argue that both states start from a low base of ~32% in 2001 (lower than all-India average of 39%), and hence needed to have done more, I would still categorize this as a good performance - this is a relative benchmarking exercise, and you don't many governance models who deliver in excess of the average. 
  3. Kerala needs a special mention. 72% households over there already had a drinking water source within premises back in 2001, when the 2nd best state of that time, Maharashtra, could only boast of 53%. One such high base, Kerala added another 6% points to take the tally up to 78% in 2011. 78%!!!  -It's a hit-it-out-of-the-park performance by Kerala, but we refrain from slotting it as numero uno for reasons which would unfold in analyses below
It needs mentioning that a water connection within premises indicates a combination of Govt initiative (laying down water pipelines in ever-remote areas) as well as economic well-being at household level (spending on the last leg of water-pipes and taps etc).

What's also important is the actual source of drinking water, and not just its location. A water tap and a tube well are better options, as compared to other sources such as a water-well / handpump / river / canal etc: A water tap provides treated water from municipality and hence expected to be safer than other sources, while a tube well given its depth (30 metre +) is far better than shallow sources as handpump, or surface sources as river which run a much higher risk of pollution. The graph below compares, for all major states, % of households using water tap or tube-well as its primary source of drinking water in 2001 and 2011.

%Households with Tap or Tube-well as primary source of Drinking Water (India & Top 12 states, 2001-11)

Source: Census 2001 and Census 2011

Quick observations:
  1. Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were most successful in improving access to drinking water through tap or tube-well: an increase of 20%+ points during 2001-11. Clear out-performers compared to all other major states. Well-done!
  2. Gujarat and Karnataka are 2nd, both of them improved such drinking water access by 11-14% points. I am slotting Gujarat with Karnataka since 11% points improvement for Gujarat is much more through water tap penetration compared to Karnataka who has a better performance on tube-well. Good performance, but not the best on this metric
  3. Kerala, which had scored very high in the first analysis, has a very peculiar result to show here. 60% + households draw water from sources other than tap-water or a tube-well. Actually, almost of these households use a water-well as its primary source - it seems most households in Kerala have a well within their premises! Any kerala-ite would throw more light on this?
The Kerala phenomenon made us look deeper into the wells (pun intended). Census 2011 provides further information on whether these wells are covered or un-covered (Census 2001 provides no such data). Needless to say, while a well is not a preferred source of water compared to a water-tab or a tube-well, an un-covered water well considerably increases risk of pollution compared to a covered well. The graphs below compare these states on this metric.

%Households (India & Top 12 states, as of 2011)

Blue vertical bar% Households using water well as primary source of Drinking Water 
Red line graph: Of the above households, % households using a covered water-well

Eg: For India as a whole, 11% of its households use a water-well as the primary source of drinking water, of which only 15% use a covered water-well (the remaining 85% use an uncovered water-well).

Source: Census 2011

Two quick insights:
  1. While Gujarat has only 7% of its households dependent on water-wells, 32% of these households use a covered water-well. Not a very high number, but still better than others, the second-best states being Kerala and Tamil Nadu (24%) . Probably wells are in general un-covered, perhaps an area all state Govts should look into.
  2. The Kerala story loses steam when viewed from this angle. A VERY high proportion, 62% households, is dependent on wells for drinking water, and three-fourth of them rely on uncovered wells. Mitigating factor: these wells seem to be within premises of these households, and hence should be much safer than public water-wells. It might be a data-reporting issue as well.
We do not have above data on covered/uncovered well from census 2001, and hence cant make a relative comparison over a timeline.

So to sum it up, Gujarat has a good story to tell on improving access to safe drinking water to its populace during the last decade. An improvement of 18% points on providing drinking water access within premises (46% in 2001, 64% in 2011) is best in class. It is also among top 3-4 states on providing drinking water through safer sources, with 79% of its residents drawing water from water tap and tube well in 2011 compared to 67% in 2001. Finally, a small segment of population (7%) depends on water-well for drinking water, of which almost a third uses a covered well, a better-than-other states performance but not a significant number to write home about.

One should also commend Andhra Pradesh, it matches Gujarat step-to-step. A 12% ponts improvement on providing drinking water access within premises, which is among top 3 states. It posts best performance when considering improvement in access to drinking water through safer sources (water-tap / tube-well), a 24% points improvement is no mean feat! Still, scope for improvement remains in continuous improvement in providing drinking water access within premises, and covering those un-covered wells.

Other states that also post impressive performance in some metrics but not across the board: Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Somehow, the southern states keep demonstrating impressive performance.

As always, when using census data, need to point out that this analysis stops at March-2011. It has been three years since then, and relative positioning amongst states might have changed to some extent. We hope all states have improved significantly in these three years.

India as a whole though, needs to do much more to catch up. We have refrained from pointing out states with bad-performance, but it should be clear from analyses above which states have lagged far behind. While some states have structural challenges unique to them, clearly much more needs to be done and should have been done. As a popular Cameroon proverb goes, "Rain does not fall on one roof alone."

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