Sometimes numbers don’t tell the real story. Say, how people suffer from lack of access to water.

“You can’t really tell how a person or a community is impacted if someone just tells you the per capita availability of water in a State or country,” Sera Young, who is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at North Western University, Illinois,US, told BusinessLine .

“We measure and tell people the per capita cubic metre availability of water. But that doesn’t tell you how much water is there in a community,” says Young.

“Instead, you ask them a few questions on how often they get water, how often they sleep thirsty or how difficult is it for them to clean their hands due to water scarcity.

“Have you changed schedules or plans due to problems with your water situation? Have you gone without washing hands after dirty activities because of problems with water? Not had enough water to wash clothes,” are some of the other questions asked in the surveys.

Young, who is representing Household Water InSecure Experiences (HWISE Consortium), made a presentation at the just-concluded ANH Week 2019 here. HWIE Consortium is a global initiative by a group of researchers to build an indicator by asking a set of 12 questions to people in a particular site. The consortium is doing a study in 28 sites in 25 countries to develop a qualitative measurement of how water scarcity impacts the quality of life and the economy. In India, it has selected Pune and Rajasthan for the study.

“It just take three minutes to get answers, which will give you an idea how a community is impacted due to lack of water,” she says.

Info for policy makers

At the heart of Global Water Insecurity Indicator is the questionnaire that culls information which could help policy-makers take measures to mitigate the problem.

The ease of use makes it easy to adopt in both community-led self-evaluation efforts and for large-scale monitoring and evaluation.

“The answers will be — rarely, never, often or zero. It is very easy to collate the answers and come out with a measurable impact quickly,” Young says.

The questionnaire is validated for cross-cultural use. It can be used in urban and rural areas, and in places that experienced floods or droughts.

The consortium has joined hands with Gallup World Poll to raise funds to expand the scope of the study to 140 countries. The Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), a few US universities and non-governmental organisations are also part of the initiative.

In 120 languages

The consortium plans to translate the HWISE Scale in 120 different languages.

“A minimum of 1,000 interviews per country will be conducted among a nationally representative sample of randomly selected individuals,” Young said.

“Collecting such data elsewhere in India, and the world would be really valuable, especially given that some 20 cities are expected to run out of water by 2020,” she pointed out.

“Having these data will help us understand where to invest, if interventions are effective, and how things are changing across time,” she said.