It is lunchtime here in Uttar Pradesh, and the students are thrilled about it. Founder of NGO HEEALS, Gaurav Kashyap, reminds us all of the importance of washing our hands before we eat. So we walk to the hand pump. Students lather their hands with soap, and rinse, and all seems well, until I see them starting to drink from it. My instincts tell me to stop them- I know the water isn’t clean. And then I remember that I am not at home anymore, and that sadly enough, this is the case in many rural communities in India.
My name is Jayde Lavoie. I am a twenty-year old Canadian intern, working at HEEALS for my summer CO-OP term with the University of Ottawa. I come from a country which is home to 7% of the global supply of renewable fresh water; What juxtaposition now, for me, to be surrounded by communities where access to clean drinking water is a real, serious concern. A lack of clean drinking water can lead to a plethora of diseases, including (but not limited to): cholera, dysentery, malaria, dengue, hepatitis, intestinal worms, typhoid fever, ringworm, salmonellosis, skin diseases, and conjunctivitis.
Thanks to information compiled by India’s Ministry of Home Affairs on a ten-year basis, we know that more than 20% of homes in 13 states across the country have no access to clean drinking water. In states such as Kerala, Lakshadweep, Meghalaya and Manipur, over 50% of the population lacks safe access. These numbers speak for themselves, and explain why each year, 1.5 million Indian children die due to diarrhea alone.
Of course, this not only impacts children’s health and safety, but as well, their access to a fully developed education. As of 2015-2016, 17.94% of primary schools in the state of Nagaland, 18.53% of primary schools in Arunachal Pradesh and 36.19% of primary schools in the state of Meghalaya do not have access to clean drinking water.
As a small, grassroots organization based in Gurgaon, HEEALS works primarily within the states of NCR (National Capital Region) in states such as Haryana Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. In rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, up to 5.7% of households do not have access to toilets. In Rural Haryana, this number increases to 8%, and in rural Delhi, up to 12.1% of households do not have access to clean drinking water.
The statistics are overwhelming. What has been more overwhelming, for me, however, is seeing the impacts of lack of safe access to water, firsthand. Seeing children with the utmost potential to be successful, held back by something that I take for granted with my 15 minute showers on a daily basis. Seeing my coworker bedridden with symptoms of typhoid fever upon the week of arrival, for simply eating fruit washed with hand pump water. Having to fill my bottle from a purifier each day, and knowing just how lucky I am to have access to one, as so many don’t.
Here at HEEALS, we are doing our best to change that.
We are currently working on a project that seeks, in part, to distribute water filters, throughout villages across the states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Access to these water filters will be accompanied by awareness-themed workshops, teaching youth and communities about the importance of drinking clean water, and the benefits it has for our health and wellbeing.
In the next week, the organization will be releasing a crowdfunding page, and if this post and information strikes a chord with you, I encourage you to donate. At the very least, take a moment to reflect on what water means to you- in the baths that you take, and the ice in your drinks. Imagine, for a moment, a life without clean water - a dream for much of the privileged West, but a reality for many here.