Tracking India’s Progress in Clean Water and Sanitation: A Sub-National Analysis

Tracking India’s Progress in Clean Water and Sanitation: A Sub-National Analysis

This paper creates an index to track the achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation) across India’s states. The SDG 6 index incorporates both supply-side indicators and demand management variables, as well as institutional interventions. In this paper, state-wise indices are constructed to identify their respective performances in the domains of access to clean water and provision of sanitation facilities. The analysis finds that the worst-performing states in SDG 6 are the ones that are not facing shortages in water supply; this calls for a paradigm shift that will focus policymaking on demand management. While outlining the imperative for such a policy shift, the paper highlights the importance of the index within the broader emerging framework of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM).

Attribution:  Soumya Bhowmick, Nilanjan Ghosh and Roshan Saha, “Tracking India’s Progress in Clean Water and Sanitation: A Sub-National Analysis,”  ORF Occasional Paper No. 250 , June 2020, Observer Research Foundation.

1.  Introduction

In 2015, the international community agreed to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a list of 17 goals targeted to solve the problems of poverty and hunger, and tackle the effects of climate change, amongst others. Almost all the SDGs are embedded in one form of capital or the other: human (SDGs 1 – 6: poverty, hunger, health, education, water, sanitation, and gender equality); physical (SDGs 8 and 9: employment, growth, industry, innovation and infrastructure); natural (SDGs 13, 14 and 15: climate, life below water and life  on land); and social (SDGs 10 and 16: social equality, peace, justice and strong institutions).[1] Amongst these, SDG 6—ensuring inclusive access to clean water and sanitation facilities—is of paramount importance as it is  closely associated with a) health, in terms of water-borne infections and hygiene-related diseases; b) food security, for access to irrigation facilities; and c) livelihoods for millions of people across the globe, especially in the developing world.[2] In other words, SDG 6 should be viewed not only from the perspective of basic human rights but as a measure of how a country’s human capital base operates.[3]

Indeed, SDG 6 is a common developmental agenda in today’s world: to both ensure distribution, and sustainable demand management. Issues like water scarcity, flooding and lack of proper wastewater management impede sustainable socio-economic development. Since independence in 1947, India has been committed to provide water and sanitation to its people. After 1960, India started making progress on clean water and sanitation issues, keeping hygiene education as a primary goal. India’s water and sanitation program, supported by UNICEF, has provided not only services but also long-term training and technical support. The programs have also encouraged technological innovation and sought international expertise while at the same time strengthening inputs from the local communities and private sectors.[4]

The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s  SDG Index Report 2019  places India at a rank of 115 out of 162 countries (score of 61.1 percent),[5] in terms of SDGs performance, lagging behind East Asia and South Asia’s average regional score of 65.7 percent. India’s massive population and its sheer diversity makes the implementation of policies a difficult task and progress on SDG 6 has been moderate. The same SDG Index Report observes that if India does not pick up its pace, the country will fail to reach the SDG 6 targets for 2030. At present, India scores 56.6 percent in terms of its SDG 6 achievement.  The government think tank, NITI Aayog, has also published various reports on India’s water and sanitation situation—the Composite Water Management Index Reports and SDG India Index Reports – that will be discussed in the subsequent sections of the paper. Table 1 illustrates the major objectives of various goals under SDG 6.  

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