In recent times, in our fight against the Novel Corona Virus COVID-19, the need for staying connected and being informed has been felt more than ever before especially in the case of rural communities in far flung areas. Since women share majority space as frontline health workers both in rural and urban areas, they are bearing the brunt of water scarcity. Unclean water is the source of diseases and effects our immune system which is vital in fighting Corona Virus. Since frequent hand wash is critical to contain the spread of COVID-19, access to clean and sufficient water sources is important. As per the NSO survey, in rural areas, less than 20% have exclusive access and less than 15% have access to public sources of water. The rest walk for miles in search of water especially women and girls. Effective implementation of COVID-19 protocols of frequent hand wash will thus be difficult to implement among the rural poor.
Additional water requirements to contain COVID are impacting the rural women more than men due to the stereotypical role that they play as primary users, providers and managers of water in the households. In order to reduce such disparities, we need to think of designing smart solutions. Such solutions should be able to meet both the information needs and also the special needs of disadvantaged women and girl children for their domestic needs, personal needs such as menstrual hygiene and for maintaining clean sanitation facility, besides the farm tending needs of women farmers.
To reduce gender disparities and to design a gender sensitive ‘new normal’, we need to find smarter ways of communication, newer ways of augmenting more clean water not only for COVID related preventive health measures, but health and immunity protection in general. As part of the efforts for COVID prevention awareness, Oxfam India has reached out to large number of people across India using a mobile app-based training. Development Alternatives (DA) has joined hands with Oxfam in training the field staff, frontline health workers especially women, Panchayat level officials etc. in Bundelkhand, one of India’s most drought prone regions and the National Capital Region. DA has also been reaching out to women who do not have android phones through its community radio programmes.
DA’s other efforts such as catching every drop in the villages of Bundelkhand with the approach of “Khet ka pani khet mein, Gaon ka pani gaon mein” is yielding results in increasing water tables in the wells and making water available for agriculture needs in their farm ponds. These efforts are helping the water scarce villages to not only become water surplus but help them meet the additional water needs. Besides this, promotion of water efficient agricultural practices and water budgeting through water users’ associations with a focus on women representation are ensuring source sustainability and efficient use of available water sources. Coupled with this, we are training village youth and school children in testing the water quality using field kits and encouraging them to display the information on quality and quantity in their village “Panchayat Ghars” which are the equivalent of village water dash boards. Through wall paintings, radio and phone messages, we are building awareness on sanitation and water handling practices to prevent diseases.
It is high time that we design gender sensitive water policies, focus on both quality and quantity and tone down the exploitation of water sources by agriculture, industry and urban sectors through pricing of water, removing energy subsidies to farmers, incentivising reduce, reuse and recycle measures with a focus on health and safety.
Dr. K. Vijayalakshmi
The views expressed in the article are those of the author’s and not necessarily those of Development Alternatives.
This blog first appeared as an editorial in Development Alternatives Newsletter September, 2020