India’s water crisis

The Editourmobil roadshow rolls on from Delhi to Mumbai via Rajasthan, the hottest spot in the whole of India. We are sweating in 50-degree Celsius heat in the shade! It is unusually hot even for this desert area; which brings us nicely onto the subject of water in India!

In recent days, the city of Chennai with its population of 10 million has found itself completely without water. At the moment, it is being brought in by train from nearby Kerala. What is the reason for this? Is it down to global warming? This year’s rather late monsoon has exacerbated the problem but ultimately the cause is self-inflicted.

The Editour stops at KHS

The former 200 km2 wetland area outside the city gates had been reduced “slightly” by 1980 to an area of 186.3 km2. However, today, according to a study undertaken by the Care Earth charity, it is only 15% of its original size.

The main reasons for this are the rapid growth of IT companies to the south of Chennai, coupled with an overall increase in the real estate market. 35% of the water for Chennai’s increasing population is now being pumped from Lake Veeranam, some 235 kilometres away. In addition, huge amounts of groundwater are being extracted. The high population density of the metropolis is resulting in groundwater levels not being replenished which are likely to be completely empty in the near future.

Even today, those in charge are not taking the opportunity to make use of greater amounts of rainwater. Although efforts have been made to store rainwater in Chennai since 2001, the Government so far has been unable to monitor compliance with newly created laws, such as building regulations. Although water in some cases is being stored in ways that could be replicated more widely, the approach remains piecemeal.

“The Tamil Nadu Government needs a water plan for both the state and Chennai”, Dr Avilash Roul of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chennai told Telepolis.  And he continued, “Chennai needs 1,200 million litres of water every day but at present the Government is only able to supply 550 million litres. By 2030, Chennai will require as much as 2,100 million litres a day”.

A lot of different organisations are trying to solve the water crisis. For example, the German GIZ agency on a smaller scale and the Dutch Government, which is carrying out a number of their own water projects. The IIT is doing its bit in making a contribution to a solution, although the Institute is having problems of its own as they do not have enough water for use on their own site. The Government needs to develop an overall plan to ensure these projects are not in competition with those being undertaken by major stakeholders and various development banks.

A visit at Bisleri

A study carried out by the World Bank has highlighted Kolkata as one of 10 cities that will at some point in the future be affected most by global climate change and that it will be the poor who will suffer more than anyone.

However, it is not only in Bengal or Tamil Nadu where those in positions of authority have been turning a blind eye to the climate change problem over the years: 21 Indian cities, including the capital, New Delhi, are expected to run out of groundwater by 2020, according to research conducted by the Government think-tank, Niti Aayog. Their study predicts that 40% of the Indian population will no longer have access to drinking water by the year 2030.

In future, there will probably be no need for such studies as the Environment Ministry had to hand over responsibility for rivers to the Ministry of Water. Following this year’s parliamentary elections, it was renamed the Ministry of Jal Shakti, which plans to develop the world’s largest irrigation infrastructure programme involving interconnecting rivers and water reservoirs throughout India. This will create an additional 3,000 dams and 15,000 kms of new canals connecting 30 major rivers in order to supply water to large Indian cities. You do not need to be a clairvoyant to realise that such a project will inevitably lead to water shortages elsewhere. Perhaps in India too there will be a heightened awareness of the need to use water wisely at some point.

The arguments highlighted above have been taken from an article entitled “India’s water crisis: We get what we deserve”.