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By Nathaniel Dkhar and Girija K Bharat

The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 is at the core of sustainable development agenda and calls upon all nations to “Ensure Availability and Sustainable Management of Water and Sanitation for all”. There are strong synergies between the targets of Goal 6 and those of the other sixteen SDGs and cuts across sectors and regions. The overall success in achieving the SDGs rests to a large extent on India achieving the SDGs and India achieving SDGs rests to a large extent on India’s progress towards achieving the targets of SDG 6.

India’s large population and the dependency on monsoon makes it vulnerable towards hydrological shocks. The temporal and spatial variability of water further exacerbates the issue of availability of water. India not only faces the challenge of geonic and anthropogenic pollutants but also social, economic, institutional and governance challenges. The water crisis in India is in considerable part a governance crisis. The national goals, acts, policies, programmes and guidelines in India seem to have significant alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A systematic governance approach needs to be used in order to understand the synergistic relations between the different SDGs as well as possible trade-offs.

The National Indicator Framework in India for SDGs has been prepared by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI). Within this indicator framework, we are able to see the strong synergies between the targets of Goal 6 and those of the other SDGs. For example, the target 6.6 which states that “By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes”, even though the framework does not have specific indicators for this target for protection and restoration of mountains, forest, and wetlands, however, specific indicators for mountains and forest are mentioned under the Goal 15 (Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss). Though there is an indicator 14.2.1 “Percentage change in area under mangroves” which accounts for coastal wetlands, it is noteworthy to mention that there are no specific indicators for the sustainable management of inland wetlands apart from the indicator 6.6.3. “Biological assessment information of surface water bodies”. Hence there is a need to incorporate the Wetland Extent Trends (WET) index that the UN Environment Programme – World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) had created for measuring the change in wetlands to the set of indicators developed by MoSPI.

In the Sanitation sector, India has made major headway. The Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban and rural) have catalyzed the sanitation scenario in India. A large number of States and Union Territories have now become open defecation free (ODF). However, several reports have stated that these numbers are about toilets built and does not necessarily translate into usage. Another argument is that even when a toilet that is used, could have instances where it not used by the entire household members or used only at certain periods while the practice of open defecation still persists. This claim is supported by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS 4), which was conducted between January 2015 and December 2016 which showed that only 48.4% of households are using improved sanitation facility. There is a significant increase from 2005-2006 survey which showed that only 29.1% of households are using improved sanitation facility.

The National Institute for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog, acknowledges the fact that water problems and lack of access to water and sanitation has an adverse impact on economic growth and job creation. It further states that India is not able to achieve its potential growth due to massive problems that are faced in the water and sanitation sector. Improving sectoral management on the one hand and deftly handling trade-off issues with other sectors (and even within the water sector) for achieving the SDGs requires huge re-engineering of the governance, planning and implementational framework at National, State, and local (community) levels. Addressing the regulatory, institutional and management issues will plug a huge gap in the governance crisis in the water sector in India.

Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), development, planning, water use efficiency, and for budgeting the adoption of a river basin approach, restructuring and reforming of CWC and CGWB to a more comprehensive institution is necessary so that they do not work in silos. Equally important is the need for restructuring, strengthening, and empowerment of the existing institutions at the State, District and Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) which are involved in different aspects of service delivery to improve efficiency in management and sustainability of the water resources. Local community institution should be a key stakeholder in all decisions at the local level impacting on water resources.

The draft National Water Framework Bill, 2016, has laid out the architecture for planning, regulation, technical, and institutional support. This document should be finalized at the earliest and implemented in convergence with targets of SDG 6. There is an urgent need for effective legislation at State level (based on the Central Model Groundwater Bill) for regulation of groundwater and surface water providing an explicit and increasing role for municipal and Panchayati Raj bodies in planning, management, and regulation.

There is also a need for increased investment in water storage capacity building from the smallest village pond to the largest multi-purpose reservoir. The earlier focus on water management of dryland and rainfed areas needs to be renewed, particularly given the context of climate change. The implementation of different SDG targets which either enable SDG 6 or are enabled by SDG 6 should be taken up in an integrated manner at the district level for increased efficiency and better outcomes. Similarly, the SDGs that hinder SDG 6 needs to be optimized so as to minimize the negative impact on the poor and vulnerable sections of society.

About the Authors
Nathaniel B. Dkhar is working with Center for Himalayan Ecology and Water Resources Policy and Management, Water Resources Division, TERI.

Dr. Girija K Bharat is the Founder Director of Mu Gamma Consultants Pvt Ltd, Gurgaon and is a Senior Consultant with TERI.

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