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Managing water resources in the midst of Covid-19


The Global outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus is characterised as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Covid-19 continues to threaten the health conditions of several nations including India which after partial success of the initial phases of the lockdown has now extended it by another two weeks.

Many nation-states have restricted the flow of travelers and have shut economic activities, pushing the world into recession. This could be the worst since the 2009 global financial crisis, according to IMF chief Kristalina Georgiva.

Amidst the ongoing crisis, unwise use of clean water could turn into a possible crisis soon. It becomes imperative to understand the close nexus between the ongoing pandemic and India’s water woes. A proper hand wash involves soap and scrubbing hands on both sides with water for at least 20 seconds, according to WHO guidelines. Government of India promotes this idea of washing of hands constantly. But most Indian states cannot provide universal access to clean water.

A 30-40 second-hand wash would use up almost two litres of water. That means 20 litres per person per day, assuming people wash their hands at least 10 times a day. A family of four would use 75-80 litres a day only to wash hands. The availability of clean water for participating in this public health initiative becomes virtually impossible for the 600 Million people in India who are facing high to extreme water stress.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in its recent report declared that up to 91 million city dwellers cannot engage in basic handwashing facilities at their households. If they try to fetch water from outside, they are hunted by the police and are targeted for non-compliance of restrictions.

How prudent and cautious are we in eliminating wastage of clean water? Most metropolitan cities will run out of clean water during 2020, according to the reports of NITI Aayog. The report further mentions that India’s water quality is 120th amongst 122 countries. The recent 2019 Chennai water crisis indicates how one of India’s largest cities is virtually out of water. Noting the expected change of climatic conditions in the Indian subcontinent, which is nearing the summer season, we should anticipate that lakes and other sources of water may dry up, making it even more difficult to procure fresh water.

Above all, transportation of water will become logistically and financially difficult, partly because of the contagious nature of the virus today.

In the light of recent developments in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world where countries are expecting a six-month lockdown, a lot of international universities are potentially shifting online or considering cancellation of the fall semester. And, it is only a matter of time before India adopts similar measures. If such a step is taken, the water crisis will burgeon. If Indian citizens fail to identify and rectify this issue, we will be inviting the crisis much earlier into all major cities.

Every citizen should engage in usage of water with great caution and especially during these precarious times. As a society we need to understand all of us are interconnected. Every drop of water that enters sewage leads to more contamination of water and more unhygienic conditions.

Everyone is expected to be responsible and should engage in use of water very judiciously and thereby adhere to practices that can preserve water and eliminate the chance of inviting another huge crisis. However, the current conditions present an opportunity to promote the idea of maintaining hygiene as it is imperative now and should be encouraged further in the future as 21 per cent of communicable diseases in India are because of unhygienic conditions.

The writers are, respectively, a student and a professor of law at the Jindal Global University, Sonipat.