Parched taps of urban India

Partnered November 10, 2016 14:25:14 IST
Parched taps of urban India

India has witnessed a rapid economic growth over the past two decades. Glass facade offices, gated residential complexes, swanky malls are the norm in major metros across the country. Supplanted by rising incomes and funding, the construction sector has witnessed a boom accounting for 11 percent of the nation’s GDP, employing 32 million people with a market size of Rs 2,48,000 crores.

However, this rampant growth begs the question; can our cities and towns keep up? What of the infrastructure necessary to support these new residential and commercial complexes? A vital public amenity affected by urban growth is the availability of clean water.

Researchers and civic activists have long warned that India faces a grave water supply crisis if we keep up our present rates of water consumption using antiquated methods of water collection, storage, and distribution. In 2006, the World Bank commissioned a report on water stress in India which outlined the severity of the problem: India can store the equivalent of only 30 days of rainfall which is minuscule compared to 900 days in developed countries, such as Australia and the United States. With a growing population, the situation hasn’t improved  10 years on. A recent report by the World Bank estimates that 21% of communicable diseases in India are due to unsafe water with diarrhea alone causes more than 1,600 deaths daily. The death toll is equivalent of 10 Airbus A320 (used by multiple Indian airlines) crashing every day.

The Indian government’s own figures corroborate these findings: 22 of India’s 32 largest cities already face daily water shortages due to rising demand. The gap between demand and supply is now 24% and 17% for Delhi and Mumbai respectively, approximately 30% in cities like Kanpur, Meerut, Madurai, and Hyderabad, and a staggering 70% in Jamshedpur. These statistics make it abundantly clear that urban India can no longer depend solely on the municipal water supply for meeting its ever-increasing water needs.

Parched taps of urban India

Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

While the public water distribution system struggles to keep up with demand, many residential and commercial projects, have turned to the private sector for solutions. The practice of supplementing erratic municipal supplies with alternative sources like bore wells, tube wells, and tankers is fairly well-established in cities and towns across the country. For example, in Bangalore, new housing complexes on the periphery of the city which have yet to be connected to the municipal water system (a process that can take years owing to bureaucratic lethargy) must rely on private suppliers in the interim, with residents shelling out between Rs 600-1,000 per month for potable water. In Delhi, an estimated 2,000 private tankers supplement the municipal supply provided by the Delhi Jal Board. In Mumbai, there is a thriving market for large quantities of packaged and bottled water, particularly in offices and commercial complexes. However, private suppliers normally source their exorbitantly-priced product, often by paying bribes and in blatant violation of rules, from the public water supply itself, so this does not solve the problem of water scarcity.

What residential and commercial complexes must do, instead, is follow a two-fold strategy: (a) conserve existing water supply, and (b) supplement the municipal supply through innovative means. The former can be achieved by educating residents about water conservation, but also through the use of “smart” water metering. A report commissioned by a leading water meter manufacturer notes that “smart” metering helped the city of Mumbai reduce domestic water consumption by as much as 50% due to reductions in water leakage and wastage! The installation of modern, “smart” water meters is now being undertaken on a large scale in Navi Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore. Technology can play a decisive role in water conservation in other ways: for instance, the government could incentivize installation of efficient low-flow taps, showers, and flushing systems in new residential and commercial complexes by providing tax breaks or subsidies to builders. Subsidies may also be provided to existing, i.e. already-built, complexes to retrofit their plumbing systems.

Municipal water supplies can be supplemented through innovations like rainwater harvesting and used/waste water recycling. In the past decade, several cities and states have taken the lead in making rainwater harvesting mandatory for certain types of residential and commercial construction projects. Pioneering rainwater harvesting legislation has been passed and implemented in Kerala, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Gujarat, among others. While this patchwork of laws is perhaps inevitable in a federal setup like India, the need of the hour is a national mandate for incorporating innovating technologies like rainwater harvesting in the construction of all new residential and commercial complexes nationwide, with a view to achieving water security.

This is the very reason, why initiatives like Jaldaan are very relevant and pertinent. By pledging to share 5 litres of purified water, citizens can help each other especially in an urban setting.  Thus, if you care about water or your fellow citizens, do take the pledge and do your bit.

This is a partnered post.

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