Mapping the Shift in Access to Drinking Water – I

The Census splits households into three categories based on their access to drinking water. The first one is those households who have a source of drinking water ‘on premises’. A second category covers households whose source of drinking water is ‘near’ the premises i.e. within half a km in rural areas, or 100m in urban areas. The last category (and presumably the worst off) are those households who have to travel more than half a km in rural areas, or more 100m in urban areas, to get drinking water. Below, I’ve mapped this last category of households by subdistricts across the country. The darker the colour of an area, the greater the share of such households in any given tehsil/subdistrict. Click or tap on the map to switch from 2001 to 2011 and back again.

It was Varsha Joshi who made the point (in a larger context of how Census 2011 reveals sharp gender disparities)  that the percentage of households in rural areas who have to travel a distance to find drinking water has actually increased between 2001 and 2011 from 19% to 22%. In urban areas, there was an improvement, but a relatively weak one. In net terms, the percentage of households who had to travel ‘away’ from home to find drinking water, increased by almost two percentage points.

(Apologies but this post may take a while to load on a slow connection, and/or if you are using a tablet or phone. Click or tap on the map to switch between 2001 and 2011. Hover your mouse over a tehsil/subdistrict to see its details. The greyed-out regions are those for whom data couldn’t be compiled, or those which are not relevant e.g. PoK)

The worst impact is visible in a belt stretching across Central India – from large parts of Madhya Pradesh, to Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Parts of Chattisgarh, Assam and Karnataka have also seen a decrease in access to drinking water sources.

But there’s another side to this story and it’s important to point that out. Between 2001 and 2011, the share of households for whom access to water was ‘near’ the premises, actually fell by about 8.5 percentage points. Offsetting this, the share of households who had access to water at home increased by about 7.6 percentage points (rural and urban households together).  As did the third category of households, mapped above. Put simply, the middle category of households saw a drop while the two opposite ends of the spectrum (the least privileged and the most privileged), saw their numbers increase. I’ve mapped one part of this story here  – the other side is next.

The census data on drinking water is even richer than this – it actually breaks the data down further by source of drinking water – taps, tubewells and so forth. It’s all well worth checking out.


The map is based on the 2001 tehsil boundaries so I had to map the 2011 data to those boundaries.

The mapping across the census years is imperfect since I only did it with the data available at the sub-district level. Real accuracy would require mapping at the village level and then aggregating upwards but that’s really difficult and time-consuming.

For the map, I converted the shapefiles which come with the DevInfo software into SVG format for easier handling.

The drinking water data is from the Census 2001 and Census 2011 tables.

Maps coloured using the d3 library, and the colours are from colorbrewer.

January 7, 2014

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