Water woes in Urban India

  • 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 for 100 million people.
  • However, 12 per cent 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.
  • While the supply-demand gap is expected to widen by 50 per cent by 2030, many are still left without access to safe and sustainable water and sanitation services.
  • At least five Indian cities are already reported to have joined the list of world’s 20 largest water-stressed cities.
  • A case in point is the metropolitan regions of Bangalore and Chennai, which source their waters from a distance of 95 kilometres and 200 km, respectively.
  • Water availability in India remains on the mercy of erratic patterns of precipitation. The southwest monsoon alone accounts for 70-75 per cent of the total precipitation falling in India, especially in regions along the west coast, the north-eastern states, West Bengal and Odisha, which are characterised by patterns of heavy rainfall events within limited time duration.
  • It is estimated that India receives its total precipitation within a limited time duration of 100 hours out of 8,760 annual hours in total.
  • With temperatures postulated to rise owing to changing climate, precipitation patterns can only be expected to become more capricious in their operation. Nowhere will these uncertainties and incidental challenges be more pronounced than in our burgeoning towns and cities, which are already facing water shortages during the summer months and at time, experiencing floods during monsoon.
  • A World Bank (2018) study expounded that by 2050, annual average precipitation will increase to 1-2 degrees celsius under climate-sensitive scenario and 1.5-3 degrees celsius under carbon-intensive scenario.
  • Such changes are expected to increase precipitation, which will come in the form of reduced rainy days but more days of extreme precipitation events.
  • Combined with this peculiarity in the evolving unpredictability of precipitation patterns over the Indian subcontinent, the way Indian cities have sprung and continues to develop also pose a risk to their future sustainability.
  • Concretisation of urban landscapes, symbolic of modern town planning imaginaries as to what an exercise in urban development should produce, is found to be increasing flood peaks from 1.8-8 times and volume of flood by up to six times.
  • Storm water drainage systems, installed to allay the threats of urban deluge, are still designed for rainfall intensity of 20-25 millimetre per hour duration. It is, therefore, not unnatural that the carrying capacities of these drains easily get overwhelmed during the incidences of heavy precipitation.
  • Illegal encroachment along storm water drains and urban rivers also aggravates the situation, not least by opening up spaces of active political contestation and negotiations.
  • Over 85 percent of the cultivated area in India is either directly dependent on rain or depends on rain to recharge its groundwater. Seasonal rain provides water for irrigation, drinking, and household needs. It provides water to livestock and is necessary to grow fodder for animals.
  • Harvesting rainwater is a great way of lessening your carbon footprint and becoming self-sufficient in your water needs. Harvested water can tide you through dry periods and can be used for a variety of household needs.
  • Rainwater harvesting is a viable and affordable technology in an urban setting to ensure water self-sufficiency
  • It helps meet the ever-increasing demand for water.
  • Rain water harvesting improves the quality and quantity of groundwater.
  • Reduces urban flooding.
  • Rooftop rainwater structures are perfectly poised to engender a transformative wave of public engagement in water management, thus, as a corollary, making water management an exercise in nurturing democratic routines.
  • To ensure that public enthusiastically purchases this concept, a country-wide behavior change campaign can be launched along the lines of Swachh Bharat Mission that can improve people’s ‘ability’ and ‘motivation’ to romantically welcome these structures in their private premises.
  • Local authorities should accord explicit attention to the designing and management criteria in their respective byelaws and work to strengthen the enforcement thereof.
  • Local non-profits and private stakeholders can be roped in to build area specific water conservation plans in partnership with local residents outlining what can work and what cannot according to the area based hydrogeological and prevailing social conditions.
  • There are several people who have been fervently advocating for the cause of water harvesting. They should be supported to build an arsenal of local champions who can then effectively mobilise the mood of communities in and around their regions for installing roof top rainwater harvesting systems. They will be a key to promote a ‘do-it-yourself’ model of engagement.
  • Adoption of rooftop rainwater harvesting practice provides just the right opportunity for our water managers to leverage this wave of change that is effectively about breaking the boundaries between experts and non-experts.