Believe it or not, the Jammu and Kashmir government has failed to utilize funds for the welfare of the rural population and kept millions of people in rural areas deprived of safe drinking water and sanitation facilities despite receiving huge financial assistance from the Union Government.
The National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) of the Central Government is aimed at providing safe and sustainable portable drinking water to the people in rural areas – one of the basic requirements for leading a healthy life. But in J and K the government despite having enough funds chose to return the unutilized money than
achieve the target. Instead of providing safe drinking water to 804 habitations during 2014-15 financial year, it could cover only 379 habitations under NRDWP.
According to a report published in state’s leading newspaper, during the just concluded financial year (2014-15), the unspent balance crossed record of all the previous years as concerned authorities failed to utilize 310.15 crores. It was 141.95 crores in 2012-13 and Rs 59.11 crores in 2013-14.
The uncovered habitations are hugely impacted by the unavailability of safe drinking water. Take for example the border village Nar Balnoi, located near the Krishna Ghati Sector in Tehsil Mendhar of Poonch District. The locals here have spent their entire life facing two things -cross-border firing and unavailability of safe drinking water.
“It requires three hours to fetch water from the nearby chashma (natural water spring). We have to make several rounds walking four to eight kilometers with heavy buckets of water over our heads. It not only is time consuming but affects our lives in a major way,” rues Naseem Akhter.
She further explains how the drill is affecting education of the young ones in Nar Balnoi.
“It is impossible to walk for three or more hours and return home to send children to school on time specially when they accompany us to fetch water. They usually reach school late-in any case there is no
transportation facility-thus missing a lot in their syllabus,” shares a worried Naseem.
Mukhtar Ahmad, in her early twenties, had to opt for correspondence course after completing his schooling as he couldn’t leave his mother alone to handle the task of fetching water.
“Water is the reason for most of our worries. I couldn’t opt for a regular course for my higher studies away from my house as there is no one in my family fit enough to take the responsibility of fulfilling
the water requirement of the house,” said a disappointed Mukhtar who looked for a brighter future, if the government had provided safe drinking water to him and his family.
Other than education, this entire process of fetching water has taken toll of the health of women of such far-off villages.
“Our vessels fall off our head, we ourselves fall several times, and many of us have suffered a miscarriage at least once. But that doesn’t change our daily routine,” rues Naeda Akhter, 28, a resident of village Ari, adding that even after delivery, they barely rest for 15 days before resuming their grinding chores.
Coming from a state ranked among the top seven in terms of average time spent by household members for fetching water from outside the premises, these women walk an average distance of four kilometres in winter and eight in summer, lugging large quantities of water. It has an impact on their physical and reproductive health.
According to a report published by World Health Organization on Gender, Climate Change and Health, at least 30 percent of a woman’s daily energy intake is spent fetching water during the dry season in rural India.
“I have been fetching water for the last 25 years. Today, I suffer from extreme ache in my head, neck, back and knees,” says 49-year-old Hamida Bi.
“Initially, I had a problem only in my back but now my entire body has given up. From a monthly expense of Rs 200 on medicines, I am now spending over Rs 1,000, with little improvement to show for it,” she adds.
Hamida has no regular income so she finds it difficult to pay for her treatment.
Listening to the tales of miseries, the Charkha Development Communication network wonders why the State Government hasn’t taken steps to provide the basic needs of the villagers.
“We are the first ones to face the bullets and shells along with the security forces but the unavailability of water has given us more pain,” says Mohammad Azim as he walks off carrying two empty vessels towards the chashmah.
The views expressed in the above article are that of Mr. Harun Ali Khan.