Coronavirus cases are surging in India. With the total number of confirmed cases above 5,000 and numbers doubling in just six days, India is definitely witnessing community transmission. India missed the early window of testing and screening of foreign travellers and as such measures like social distancing and washing of hands are only one of the few ways left to slow down the pandemic.
But with summers approaching, many Indians now face a dire choice: Either maintain social distance or wash their hands. Water scarcity during the summer season is a routine affair in many parts of India. Surveys in drought-prone areas like Bundelkhand have revealed that there is one shared tap for every five households.
Just before the lockdown, India’s water ministry urged state governments to pass on the message to the public about regular hand washing. But in a country where getting adequate water for cooking, drinking and bathing is a luxury, washing hands for 20 seconds several times a day is simply an absurd advisory which many of the Indians will find impossible to follow.
And the problem is not confined to rural areas. Last year, Chennai, India’s sixth-largest city, ran out of water during a prolonged drought.
This year, even before summer, almost 33% of India is facing drought or drought-like conditions.
Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to provide every rural household with piped water, at the rate of 55 litres of water, per person per day, by 2024. But with COVID-19 cases surging in 2020, the government may have to find out some immediate solution as, without water, there will be no handwashing and without regular handwashing and social distancing, India’s COVID-19 outbreak could easily become one of the largest in the world.