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| Last Updated:15/10/2019

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42% of urban, 60% of rural Indian houses getting contaminated water: Study

 Sometimes, a shard of reality can raise serious doubts about what looks like a grand feat. A small study of water samples from urban and rural households declared as getting drinking water from "improved" sources has shown that about 42% of urban and 60% of rural households were actually getting contaminated water. About half of the surveyed anganwadis where small children and pregnant mothers were taken care of also had contaminated water. 

Last year Unicef and WHO, two prominent UN organizations had reported that India has done very impressive work in providing safe drinking water to its citizens, with over 90% now getting treated water. This was cause of much celebration because it also meant that India had achieved one of the Millennium Development Goals (#7c) of halving the number of those without access to safe drinking water. 

But serious doubts have been raised about this by this study of water quality that is considered "safe". Published in the medical journal Lancet today, the study was done by a team of researchers from Pratham Education Foundation, Delhi, Montreal University and Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies between May and October 2013. 

The survey covered 685 households in a New Delhi slum (Kirti Nagar) and 1192 households in 60 villages of Hardoi, a poor rural district of Uttar Pradesh. Apart from interviews with people, the survey carried out tests on the water used by the household for drinking purposes using a UNICEF-validated rapid test for coliform bacteria. This test determines whether the water carries bacteria that originate in human faeces. Water was found contaminated in 415% (284 of 685) of urban and 60% (715 of 1191) of rural households. 

"In view of India's population size, there is every reason to question claims to have achieved the Indian and global MDG drinking water targets. Flawed data undermine effective research and appropriate action. The MDG target 7c indicator requires urgent reconsideration," the researchers write in the Lancet. 

The consequences of drinking contaminated water were evident in the survey. Mothers in the surveyed households were asked about recent cases of their children falling ill. In urban homes 24% and in rural homes 55% of children had suffered diarrhea in the past 15 days, the mothers reported. Fever was reported in 34% urban children and 49% rural children. 

Bad water has the most harmful effect on small children because immunities have not yet developed. The survey found that 11% of urban homes and 23% of rural homes had experienced the death of an infant.