Over 41 per cent of urban households and 60 per cent of rural households with access to safe water get contaminated water, a report published in the British medical journal, The Lancet , has said.

Although 99.6 per cent of urban and over 97 per cent of rural households surveyed had access to safe water, as defined by the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target 7c indicator, water was contaminated in 41.5 per cent (284 of 685) of urban and 60 per cent (715 of 1,191) of rural households, the study said.

Similar water quality results were found in a previous study of eight Indian districts, says the latest Lancet study, “MDG 7c for safe drinking water in India: an illusive achievement,” authored by Mira Joshi, Dinesh Chandra, S.V.Subramanian, Maria-Pierre Sylvestre and Smriti Pahwa.

The MDG target 7c aims to halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. With 89 per cent coverage globally and 91 per cent coverage in India in 2011, the U.N. monitoring bodies judge the world to be on track for access to drinking water.

“However, the celebration might be premature. The MDG target 7c indicator does not consider water quality, which relates to pathogens and chemicals that can cause disease. Rather, safe drinking water is defined via provenance from an ‘improved source,’ which includes piped water on premises and channels, such as public taps and hand pumps,” the study says.

Between May 2013 and October 2013, the authors conducted a cross-sectional survey at two sites in India, targeting households with at least one woman and a child aged 12 to 23 months.

Data was collected from random samples of 685 households in a New Delhi slum (Kirti Nagar) and 1,192 households in 60 villages of a rural district of Uttar Pradesh.

The research team tested water for faecal contamination using a UNICEF-validated rapid test for coliform bacteria — TARAenviro aquacheck. Water was also tested in government centres, designed for the health and welfare of mothers and children. About half of the health centres in each site had contaminated water.

“Over-estimation of water quality through the MDG target 7c indicator leads to erroneous assessment of health challenges and living standards. Widespread access to safe drinking water coexists with very high levels of child morbidity and mortality, partly resulting from waterborne disease,” the study concludes.

Over-estimation of water quality through the MDG target 7c indicator leads to erroneous assessment of health challenges, says Lancet report