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Tuesday, 21 February 2017

First Experience In A Rural Village In Western Uttar Pradesh



First day of internship at Heeals (NGO, Gurgaon, India), first day in rural India. The three and a half hours car trip doesn’t reflect at all the small distance on the map, from Gurgaon to Greater Noida. We just passed through a congested and noisy Monday morning Delhi, and after a while the landscape changes… Just passed through a tollbooth like if it was a time machine, which has zapped us in a new dimension, where nature and silence permeate everything. Lush green fields replacing polluted and dirty streets, no more cars, just shouting children, cows and sometimes a bullock cart. How could it be possible?

We arrive at the village school and a group of 30 children, from 6 to 13 years old appears at the window grates, shy but still very excited. They are shouting “mam” (madam), trying to catch our attention, they want to know who we are and where are we coming from. First worried about how to approach to them, mostly for the linguistic barrier, we start to communicate with them thanks to our tutor and colleague Hindi translation and trough hand gestures. But the best way to break the ice is to play with them, and through our smiles, it is the easiest way to communicate with each other!
A couple of girls want us to see the new toilets that have been recently built outside the school. One proud and brave student takes me by the hand to take a look of the restrooms. They are pretty new, but not clean and there are no sinks to clean their hand or to drink some water.                                       
Next to the school there is a new hand pump, which has been built just 2/3 months ago, and which provides water for all purposes: to wash their hands, to clean toilets, but even used as drinking water. Having access to water near to the school already seems like a huge step for them, since before they had to take it from the village temple, but still this water has not been tested and is not safe to drink.
On the opposite field from the school, very close by, approximately 12 meters from the hand pump, there is a polluted pond with stagnant green water and insects floating on the surface. It's no great stretch to imagine that it is the same water that is provided to the pupils trough the hand pump, since the groundwater are more likely to be contaminated by the pond. 
Having access to safe drinking water should no more be seen as a service or as a commodity, but as a basic human right, that everyone should benefit from. The United Nations’ Human Right statement on right to water says “The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses. An adequate amount of safe water is necessary to prevent death from dehydration, reduce the risk of water-related diseases and it is provided for consumption, cooking, personal and domestic hygienic requirements”.

Even though the access to improved sources of drinking water is increasing, still in 2008, 884 millions of people, especially from developing regions, were not able to have access to safe or unimproved-sources water. Moreover we should point out the disparities between urban and rural areas. Indeed while 94% of developing regions urban citizens have access to improved sources water, it is only 76% of rural population who can benefit from this basic need and the increase in the use of improved drinking-water sources is barely keeping with the massive city population growth.  
In India the right to safe drinking water is part of the right to life, which is contained in Article 21 of the Constitution. The 10t Five Year Plan (2002-2007) tried to cover urban areas basic needs, efficient operation and equitable distribution of water. Unfortunately, even in spite of the importance given to drinking water improvement, still 480 million of Indian citizens at that time hadn’t got access to safe drinking water, and India was ranked 133rd among 180 countries in regards to poor water availability.
Governments and local authorities should take care about this actively and provide primary basic human needs, such as access to clean drinking water, clean toilets and infrastructures where children can play.

Heeals Intern

UNICEF, World Health Organization, Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water, 2010 update, p. 7.
YOJANA, WATER, September 2007, p. 10, “The India Water Portal”, Rohini Nilekani, Chairperson, Arghyam, Akshara Foundation (Bangalore), Pratham.

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