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Source: Asia Development Bank

Over 15 million people in the Indian state of West Bengal live with arsenic and fluoride in its groundwater.

Its coastal residents suffer from salinity ingress, frequent flooding and cyclones.

West Bengal’s rural population: 74.6 million. Only about 47% have piped water supply. That too through public standposts.

Woman beneficiary: “The water we get from taps in the school smells foul – it is impossible to drink it. The children fall sick after consuming this water, they suffer from fever, sores, rashes on the skin and stomachache and so they are unable to attend school.”

With Asian Development Bank’s support of $240 million loan and $5 million grant and technical assistance, around 2.6 million people in four affected districts will receive piped drinking water flowing into their own houses 24 X 7.

Approved by ADB in 2018, the West Bengal Drinking Water Sector Improvement Project adopts an innovative, smart, and inclusive service delivery approach.

Partners, the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund, and the World Health Organization have also joined in to further improve resilience, public health and gender equity.

Aditi Basu Majumder, Additional Project Director, WBDWSIP: “I think it will be very helpful for the rural sector… to the development of the rural sector and other aspects of empowerment of women and other things.”

Saswati Ghosh Beliappa, Social Safeguards Specialist, Asian Development Bank: “Earlier piped water connections were seen only in homes in cities. Now this change can be witnessed in rural areas (of the state) as well.”

For the first time for rural water supply in India, the project adopts a technology-based smart water management system.

New systems will create lot of jobs for locals, 33% of whom will be women.

Plumbers receive alerts on mobile phones and register repairs.

Accountants maintain and update customer and assets data.

Customer service assistant manages customer grievance using mobile and computer.

Project design with such innovations took extensive stakeholder consultations and shedding of biases on rural water schemes.

Neeta Pokhrel, Project Officer, WBDWSIP and Unit Head, Project Administration in ADB’s South Asia Urban and Water Division: “The fear is there… it’s actually fear of precedence and fear of processes that people don’t innovate. You sit and really listen – that why are they really apprehensive. Where is the bias coming from… and tackle and deconstruct that bias.”

Woman beneficiary: “I have come to know that in the future, clean drinking water supply will reach every house. This will be a great facility for us. I will have more time to do house work and teach our children.”

The government order to cement the institutional reforms are being adopted in 66 Gram Panchayats.

The project’s innovative features are being replicated in schemes across the state.

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