Alarming: 21 Indian Cities Will Run Out Of Water By 2030

By  Anuradha Shukla

New Delhi : High five digit salary and a dream job with a top IT company could not hold Ratnesh Khanna to stay in India’s IT capital, Bangalore.  Ratnesh who had shifted only last year to Bengaluru, left it for a reason which his friends still find ‘flimsy’ – water scarcity.

“Most of the times, there would be no water coming from the tap. Water used to come in private tankers and to drink water, we had to depend completely on bottled water supply. I would always feel sick and unhealthy and just wanted to return back home. Our Delhi is not better but at least we have water supply daily,” added Ratnesh.

While one may dismiss Ratnesh’s decision as an overreaction, many experts feel that water crisis can upset Bengaluru’s dream to become India’s Silicon Valley.

Bengaluru’s population is around 0.5 million and by 2020, more than 2 million IT professionals are expected to live here. The ground water level of the city has reached zero in many pockets and the city is dependent on private water tankers for its water supply. Question is how can the city, which is dependent on ground water for 40 per cent of its supply, meet the increased demand for water in future?

Let’s now come to the national capital. Experts aver that relief for Ratnesh is only short lived in Delhi where he is getting better water supply now. Gurgaon which is hardly 30 km away from the Lutyens Delhi zone, is facing severe water crisis and is dependent on water tankers for daily water supply. Many large cities like Hyderabad, Chennai, Coimbatore, Vijaywada, Amravati, Solapur, Shimla, Kochi are moving towards acute water crisis. Climate change, early summer, deficit rain-fall, depleting water level, rising population and lack of water management policy is making it difficult for the urban local bodies to meet the increasing demand of water. According to a World Bank report, at least 21 Indian cities are moving towards zero ground water level by 2020, which has already set the alarm bell ringing for policy makers and urban planners.

Are We Moving Towards A Water Crisis?

The case of Latur, one of the districts from Marathwada region in Maharashtra, still haunts public memory. Poor monsoon, over exploitation of groundwater and lack of policy planning forced the Latur Municipal Corporation to announce that they can provide water only once in a month. The crisis forced the government to send water through railways and a large number of farmers and residents had to move out of the city, bringing the city’s economy to standstill.

According to Rajendra Singh, an expert on water management, “the over exploitation of groundwater, unplanned construction, mindless destruction of environment in the name of development and no water management plan on the part of government has resulted in the current situation. The government must take urgent steps to prevent misuse of water resources”.

And while the focus remained on Marathwada in general and Latur in particular, Maharashtra’s total water storage has gone down to 30 per cent and in many districts, sources of water have dried up completely. A report by World Resources Institute, says 54 per cent of India’s total area is under high to extremely high water stress and groundwater levels are declining in 54 per cent of wells across India. The study further says that water demand in India will reach 1.5 trillion cubic meters in 2030 while India’s current water supply is only 740 billion cubic meter.

“So far as water is concerned, Indian cities are moving towards a serious water crisis. We are over relying on ground water which is over exploited. Even by very conservative estimation, 40 per cent people in India may not have water to drink by 2030.  The clock is already ticking and given the climate change, the crisis can come earlier than anticipated if we do not take proactive measures now,” says Naina Lal Kidwai, chair, FICCI Sustainability Council and Water Mission, and chair, India Sanitation Coalition.

According to India’s official Ground Water Resources Assessment, more than one-sixth of the country’s groundwater supply is currently overused, which is forcing cities to go for temporary measures like water imports which has economic implications.

According to the World Bank’s study, water scarcity can affect long-term economic growth prospects. Water scarcity will cost India 6 per cent of its GDP if the country continues to mismanage water resources by 2050. The major impact will be on health, agriculture, income and property.

“Water scarcity can stall projects. In cities such as Solapur, which was also selected as a Smart City, most projects have been stalled due to scarcity of water. Companies are not showing interest to invest in these districts and water scarcity is a crucial factor for this,” said one of the officials in the ministry for water supply and sanitation in government of Maharashtra.

In another example, IT City Hyderabad, is facing shortfall of drinking water by 45-47 per cent.  Last summer was challenging as many restaurants put the board of no water in their toilets. Many top IT companies like Amazon, Novartis were waiting to start their construction in Ranga Reddy district, surrounding Hyderabad but the work could not start as these companies needed to sink deep bore-wells to commence their projects and the ground water department was not allowing this.

According to a senior official in Hyderabad Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board, the reason for the delay was that groundwater is estimated at 20 metres below the ground level in some areas and allowing such activities can aggravate the water crisis. The board already spent Rs. 30 crore to build temporary pumping stations to pump in emergency supplies from Nagarjuna Sagar reservoir. Even in Andhra Pradesh, groundwater table has dropped to 14.34 metres, Kerala too witnessed deficit rain level and Tamil Nadu is already facing draught. Worst affected are the slum dwellers in cities like Chennai, who have to beg for water from middle class houses.

Another critical issue is the increasing levels of pollutants in drinking water making it unsafe for consumption. According to data by the Central Pollution Control Board, nearly half of the country’s 445 rivers are polluted for safe consumption without extensive treatment. The UN has ranked India 120th of 122 countries for water quality, estimating that 70 per cent of the supply is contaminated, with high arsenic levels.

As per the latest World Bank report, 21 per cent of communicable diseases in India are related to unsafe water. In India, diarrhoea alone causes more than 1,600 deaths daily. Another important aspect is the wastage of water, besides leaky pipes and poor distribution networks in the cities which further aggravates the problem.

Need For A Stringent Policy Initiative

Successive governments have turned a blind eye to water management and till the has been no unified vision regarding water resources. Latur is a classic example of water planning gone horribly wrong.

“What happened in Latur is already a warning note to the policy makers. The government needs to look for long-term and sustainable solutions. There is no instant solution to the water crisis, no matter how much money the government throws at it,” adds Rajendran.

“Integrated water development plans would have gone a long way in avoiding the crisis we see today, said Pradeep Purandare, a retired professor at the Water and Land Management Institute. There is no coordination in various departments which makes the case worse.

For instance in neighbouring Aurangabad, which is facing a water crisis, six crore litres of water is consumed daily by the beer factories. Neighbouring Jalna houses over 30 steel industries, guzzling over one lakh litres of water on daily basis. A unified vision can prevent such situations.

Love for concrete and mindless construction have resulted in disappearing water bodies and this is not only adversely affecting the ground water recharge but also creating man made disasters like the Chennai flood.

“Effective planning, a well- planned strategy and efficient water management can go a long way in improving water supply. Taking the case of Nagpur, as much as 30 per cent of water was lost during transportation from the bulk source to the distribution network. Nagpur replaced canals with pipes and engaged with private players. The solutions have worked out well for the city,” said Isher J Ahluwalia, leading economist and Chairman, ICRIER says.

Nagpur has set a target of achieving 24×7 water supply along with privately funded 200 Million Litre Daily (mld) sewage treatment plant for re-use. The sewage treatment will be re-using treated water from thermal power stations in Nagpur which will also stop contamination of nearby rivers water bodies.  At present about 200 mld of fresh water is being used by thermal power stations, which is sufficient enough for the city.

Rainwater VS Drain Water Harvesting

Experts say that if Mumbai starts harvesting rainwater, it can meet 20 per cent of the city’s daily water supply. In Delhi up to 70 per cent of the demand can be met through water harvesting.  While many cities have taken initiatives in this regard, harvesting rainwater alone is not enough to recharge the ground water level, given the deficit rain in most cities. What India requires is ‘drain water’ harvesting. Rainwater harvesting, along with sewerage treatment, can go a long way to recharge our underground water, ensure safe drinking water and also save millions that we spend every year in cleaning our rivers and water bodies. All that we need is common goal and a holistic approach.

“What is important is the efficient management of water and treating of the sewage which, if goes hand in hand, can help improving the supply and at the same time protect our water bodies from being contaminated,” said Arun Lakhani, chairman and managing director of Vishvaraj Infrastructure. The firm, in partnership with the Nagpur Municipal Corporation, supplies potable and reused water to the city.

To understand the problem better, we can take the case study of Indore and Bhopal, which have emerged as top two cleanest cities in the latest Swachh Sarvekshan. Indore produces 240 million litres per day (MLD) of sewage, of which only 25 per cent is treated and rest finds its way into Kahn Nullah and finally into the Kshipra River, which provides drinking water to Ujjain.  Bhopal generates 285 MLD of sewage, of which only 39 MLD is treated and rest of 246 MLD is discharged into nearby ponds and lakes, polluting them. The state government lifts water from Narmada River, which is 70 km away and this costs Rs.60 per litre on an average. Bhopal has spent nearly Rs.1,500 crore on water and sanitation together in last one decade. Shimla is another example where Ashwani Khud, which caters to 25 per cent of water requirement has been frozen because of contamination due to construction of a sewerage treatment plant (STP) on top of this stream. Now the Shimla Municipal Corporation is struggling to meet the daily requirement for water.

As per government’s estimate, our cities produce nearly 62,000 mld of sewage out of which only 18,883 mld sewage is treated. Rest of the untreated sewage goes directly to water bodies polluting our water resources. Domestic sewage accounts for 70 per cent of the contamination of rivers and ponds. Department of Water and Sanitation are among the top spenders, but if we treat the sewerage water and reuse it for industrial purpose, it will supply water to cities and will also help of saving millions that we spend on cleaning our rivers every year. Countries like Singapore, which faces acute water crisis, have already set an example of how effective management can ensure safe water supply to people. With technology available, there is no reason why India cannot replicate this in its cities.

Public awareness can also go in a long way to save water. People need to be sensitized about the judicious use of water. Cutting wastage of water in showers, toilets, and sinks, which account for approximately 75 per cent of the water used in our daily lives can go a long way in saving water.

Water Facts:

At least 21 Indian cities are moving towards zero ground water level by 2020

About 40 per cent people in India may not have water to drink by 2030 

Water demand in India will reach 1.5 trillion cubic meters in 2030 while India’s current water supply is only 740 billion cubic meter

The UN has ranked India 120th of 122 countries for water quality, About 70 per cent of the supply is contaminated

Source: BW Businessworld

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