Booming Economy, but No Water

Water took away Mitlesh Kumar's pride. It took away part of Mahend Naranna's faith. And it took away Mrs. Sevak's son.

"My 4-year-old died of diarrhea," she told ABC News near her home in Kamali, a small village near the banks of the Ganges River. "I took him to the hospital so many times, but nobody cared."

For all the success stories about booming India, all the anecdotes about new affluence in the second-fastest-growing economy in the world, a much more fundamental aspect of life is lacking.

Hundreds of millions of Indians experience it every day when they wait for a government water tanker, when they go to the bathroom in the dirt outside their home, when they catch cholera. There is not enough clean water to drink. There are not enough water pipes to guarantee constant supply. There is not enough electricity to process the sewage.

India is facing a water crisis. Of the 1.1 billion people who live here, some 400 million do not have consistent access to clean water, according to the World Bank. For those who do have water, there is no guarantee that it is clean. Some 400,000 children under the age of 5 die every year from water-borne diseases.

"It's time for us to wake up," says Dr. Veer Bhadra Mishra, a priest and the former chairman of the civil engineering department at Benares Hindu University. He has been fighting to clean up the Ganges River for the past 25 years. "If we are not able to manage our water … we will die. I see us as an endangered species of human beings."

The shortage reduces the poor to bribing government workers to deliver water. It reduces them to finding a shady spot outside to go to the bathroom. Some 700 million people in this country don't have adequate sanitation.

It moves the rich to use water tanks and pumps to ensure adequate supply to their homes. Even the most powerful are not exempt: last month the prime minister had to go without water for a day. And just this week the lieutenant governor of New Delhi, India's capital, had no water in his home.

This is a country that plans to send a spaceship to the moon. But it cannot provide its citizens with the most basic of services: water and functioning sewers.

New Delhi: Quantity and Distribution

The lack of both can be seen in the Kalkaji section of New Delhi, a working class neighborhood in one of India's richest cities. This community has a single communal tap but it only works for one hour each day, and that's only when there's electricity.

So every morning a few hours after sunrise, women in saris walk bicycles to the main road, empty jugs hanging from the sides and clanging against the wheels. Fathers and sons carry their containers to the road and sleep in a rickshaw as they wait.

They are all waiting for a government water tanker to arrive. Sometimes it's late. Sometimes it never comes.

"The tanker doesn't have a fixed time; sometimes it comes at eight, sometimes at nine or ten," Mitlesh Kumar, the president of the local council, told ABC News as she waited one recent morning.

Sixteen million people call New Delhi home, and about 4 million of them don't have access to water in their houses. The problem is growing as fast as the city is — New Delhi adds half a million residents each year.

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