Designful

Sustainability

The Essence of Life
The Essence of Life

In the Global North, the idea of water shortages may conjure up images of hosepipe bans and requests to wash your car less. Across the Global South, however, water scarcity is already an everyday challenge. According to the United Nations, out of 11 regions, 5 are water stressed, with 2 highly water stressed and another extremely water stressed.

More than 2 billion people live in water-stressed countries, with 733 million living in highly and critically water-stressed nations. Climate change will only make this situation worse; research suggests that almost 5.5 billion people will be living in water-scarce areas for at least one month per year by 2050. 

Water shortage. Photo credit: Unsplash
Water shortage. Photo credit: Unsplash

This affects India, in particular. “Approximately 550 million people, 40 percent of India’s population, defecate in the open,” says Kumar. “This number makes up more than half the total number of people around the world who practice open defecation.” The implications are far-reaching; Kumar says that half of the world’s malnutrition cases are linked to chronic diarrhea caused by a lack of clean water, decent sanitation, and good hygiene, including washing hands with soap.

“The shortage of clean water and proper toilets has an enormous impact on the futures of millions of malnourished children,” he says. “Without better sanitation facilities and awareness, the risks of infections or other illnesses from fecal sludge or wastewater are extremely high.”

Case study: India

UN data states that 12 percent of water withdrawals worldwide are by industry and 16 percent by municipalities for households and services, while the remaining 72 percent is used for agriculture, with serious knock-on effects.

“As a global agricultural powerhouse, there are significant pressures on water supplies in India,” explains Dr. Naho Mirumachi, Reader in Environmental Politics at King’s College London and co-author of The Human Right to Drinking Water: Impact of Large-Scale Agriculture and Industry, a recent report commissioned by European Parliament. “The water demand to grow various crops—often for export to places like Europe—has put a strain on both rivers and groundwater. Intensified agricultural practices have impacted the quality of water as well,” she explains. 

The farmer in India. Photo credit: Unsplash
The farmer in India. Photo credit: Unsplash

“This is important as it is the most vulnerable members of society who are most affected,”  Mirumachi continues. “For example, women and girls often carry the burden of water collection. Those who are affected by poverty have no fallback when they become ill from poor water quality.”

Issues related to water scarcity are compounded by sanitation issues. “Open defecation— using open spaces rather than using the toilet—is a leading cause of diarrheal disease,” says Kohler Co.s Vipin Kumar, Associate Director HR, India Manufacturing. “The global diarrhea death rate stands at around 6,000 people per day, mostly young children.”

Women bear the burden of India's water crisis. Photo credit: Prashant Panjiar
Women bear the burden of India's water crisis. Photo credit: Prashant Panjiar

This affects India, in particular. “Approximately 550 million people, 40 percent of India’s population, defecate in the open,” says Kumar. “This number makes up more than half the total number of people around the world who practice open defecation.” The implications are far-reaching; Kumar says that half of the world’s malnutrition cases are linked to chronic diarrhea caused by a lack of clean water, decent sanitation, and good hygiene, including washing hands with soap.

“The shortage of clean water and proper toilets has an enormous impact on the futures of millions of malnourished children,” he says. “Without better sanitation facilities and awareness, the risks of infections or other illnesses from fecal sludge or wastewater are extremely high.”

In 2019, Kohler launched its inaugural Water Impact Project to study pressing water and sanitation-related issues and discover and implement solutions. Photo credit: Prashant Panjiar
In 2019, Kohler launched its inaugural Water Impact Project to study pressing water and sanitation-related issues and discover and implement solutions. Photo credit: Prashant Panjiar

But those involved know that improving facilities isn’t enough to tackle the prevalence of open defecation. As Kumar observes, “Behavior change is the most important aspect of any sanitation program.” This is partly why we decided to collaborate with the Gram Vikas, a nongovernmental organization that works with rural communities in India to develop and implement strategies in response to their needs.

Our collaborations with Gram Vikas involved launching awareness campaigns and training local volunteers to educate other residents about the advantages of using toilets. “Participants are divided into five groups and encouraged to speak about the challenges they’re facing in trying to make a village 100% open-defecation-free (ODF),” explains Gram Vikas founder and president Ramesh Kasondra. “With this approach, we break myths related to traditions and customs.”

Kohler India’s Water LAB
Kohler India’s Water LAB

In another program, also in a Jhagadia village, Kohler India installed a Water LAB, a centralized kiosk housing a large-scale reverse osmosis filtration system that can provide 500 liters of clean water per hour. “People are very happy with the Water LAB,” reports Sarpanch (village head) Vitthalbhai Vasava. “Now the entire population of the village has access to safe water, and for past two years we have seen a decline in waterborne diseases.”

These benefits have now spread even further. “After seeing the success of the village’s Water LAB, other village leaders also approached me,” says Vasava, who then spoke to the Kohler team on their behalf. The partnership saw two more Water LABS installed in two other villages, providing the communities with access to clean water and furthering our mission of Safe Water for All.

Kohler India’s Water LAB
The water filtration system.