Chennai is practically the first Indian city to have gone dry with the Central Water Commission reporting a rainfall deficit of 41% in Tamil Nadu this year.
Most of Chennai’s population today is dependent on water tankers and curtailed municipal supply for daily requirement of drinking water. News television screens show women waiting for hours in long queues and scurrying to water tankers to get water which barely meets the drinking and kitchen requirements. Water for sanitation is scarce. Laundry and bathing are nothing short of luxury in today’s Chennai.
Price of bottled water is reported to have gone up four times while packaged water can only be sustained by wealthier middle-class. IT sector companies have asked employees to work from home. Several restaurants have shut down operations. The city is filled with ‘don’t waste water’ bills, stickers and banners.
India is facing one of its major and most serious water crisis.
After two consecutive years of weak monsoons, 330 million people — a quarter of the country’s population — are affected by a severe drought. With nearly 50% of India grappling with drought-like conditions, the situation has been particularly grim this year in western and southern states that received below average rainfall.
According to the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) report released by the Niti Aayog in 2018, 21 major cities (Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, and others) are racing to reach zero groundwater levels by 2020, affecting access to 100 million people.
However, 12% of India’s population is already living the ‘Day Zero’ scenario, thanks to excessive groundwater pumping, an inefficient and wasteful water management system and years of deficient rains. The CWMI report also states that by 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual 6% loss in the country’s GDP.
The government recently formed a new ‘Jal Shakti’ (water) ministry, which aims at tackling water issues with a holistic and integrated perspective on the subject. The ministry has announced an ambitious plan to provide piped water connections to every household in India by 2024.
The ministry has set a tough target at a time when hundreds of millions don’t have access to clean water. Aiming at laying huge pipeline networks for water supply means that yet again, the government is giving more preference to infrastructure.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that an individual requires around 25 liters of water daily for meeting his/her basic hygiene and food needs. The rest is used for non-potable purposes like mopping and cleaning.
Issues of leakage losses, water pricing, and metering of water, lack of proper maintenance of existing infrastructure cause further losses of almost 40% of piped water in urban areas.
With worsening conditions of availability of water, the Indian government is facing questions that have no easy answers.
Will India be able to survive this man-made calamity? Only time will tell.