With a population of approximately 1.2 billion, India is one of the most populous nations on earth. It is also one of the fastest growing economies in the world today. Poverty in India, while on the decline in the last decade, is still pervasive and crippling for the vast majority of the population – approximately 750 million people live in rural areas, relying on a subsistence economy. The UN estimates that 28% of Indians live below the poverty line of $1 per day and the infant mortality rates sits at around 63/1000.
Water supply coverage is reported to be around 88% though this number reflects an average that does not accurately portray the true situation in every region. India is vast and many provinces are either prone to devastating droughts or torrential rains that cause seasonal flooding. In many areas that do have a water supply, it is either unreliable and intermittent or not potable.
Sanitation across India is very poor with the national average for sanitation cover at 38%. Although the Indian Government has used – and continues to use – its tax resources to help alleviate this situation (and puts a large sum every year towards better drinking water supply and household sanitation), on the ground the population clings to age old cultures. This is mainly because there is a lack of understanding about the need for hygiene and sanitation and a general lack of awareness about what is the best way to improve their position and as a result, enjoy better health. It is not uncommon to see shallow canals on the sides of the roads in India flowing with raw, untreated sewage. The health risks that this represents, especially to the vulnerable young, are severe. More than 1.8 million children under the age of five years are affected annually by diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia due to poor sanitary habits in daily life and that 400,000 die from diarrhoea alone.
When one focuses on the sheer scale of the poverty in India, and the resultant need for services like water and sanitation, it is easy to become overwhelmed and wonder what difference can really be made.
Outside assistance has to be targeted. It must complement and support what the National and State Governments are doing. Introducing benchmark standards, new but appropriate technology and providing capacity building for the many NGOs that are helping to implement the government programmes are but a few of the ways to help. Funds raised to aid this process must maximise the impact and take what is done by the NGOs to a scale that makes the difference.
The philosophy we at Just a Drop hold is that if we all contribute just a little, collectively we can make a huge difference. This is especially applicable in the case of India.