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Sundarbans, the rural coastal districts of West Bengal in India, has the largest mangrove in the world and is a biodiversity-rich world heritage site in the Gangetic Delta famous for, among other things, the Royal Bengal Tiger. The area is inhabited by 0.5 million indigenous marginal communities, who are victims of extreme climate events and remain trapped in an energy-water-poverty nexus, consistently ostracized from mainstream development.
It is calculated that six hours are lost per household per day to fetch bottled drinking water at often unreasonably high prices in Gosaba Block, where 90 new tube wells have been dug in an area of 0.3 km, denying equitable access to all the communities that use them.
Currently, 400 tube wells in this block are depleting 300-350 litres of groundwater per day for irrigation. 18% of these tube wells are already defunct and 7% are delivering saline water. Seawater inundation of the local farmland has increased the salinity of shallow tube wells water to 800 ppm, which is neither suitable for drinking nor irrigation. Deep tube wells of average depth of 1200 ft, installed by the Public Health and Engineering Division have put the community at high risk of arsenic and heavy metal contamination. Climate justice is grossly denied here.
An estimated 79% of economically challenged Indians still lack access to safe water and improved sanitation facilities. As of 2010, the UN estimation based on Indian statistics shows that 626 million people still practice open defecation. In June 2012, Indian Minister of Rural Development stated that India is the world’s largest “open air toilet”. According to Indian norms, access to improved water supply exists, if at least 40 litres/capita/day of safe drinking water are provided within a distance of 1.6 km. At the moment, households are forced to supplement a deficient public water service at a prohibitive coping cost, roughly 35% of their income in the rural sector.