As Chennai city dries up, India stares down growing water crisis
A young worker refills barrels of water that will be given to people who do not have access to the distribution network, in Udaipur, in western India, Jun. 20, 2019. EFE-EPA/Indira Guerrero
A man refills a bottle of water, his only way of procuring the resource since he is not connected to the distribution network, in the city of Udaipur, in the west of India, Jun. 20, 2019. EFE-EPA/Indira Guerrero
By David Asta Alares.
New Delhi, Jun 22 (efe-epa).- Unending queues for filling up vessels with water from tanker trucks has become part of the landscape in the southern Indian city of Chennai, which has been facing a severe water crisis for many weeks.
Other big Indian cities such as the capital New Delhi are also facing the threat of similar water crises in the peak of summer and with a heatwave in progress.
According to an official report, this is just a sign of things to come as millions of people are set to face serious water shortages in a little over a decade.
"Chennai city is suffering from a severe drought. That is because we do not get enough municipal water through our supply — it's almost zero," Sekhar Raghavan, director of the water resources protection NGO Rain Centre, told EFE from the city.
Raghavan said that the main water reserves of the city were practically dry and private transporters of the precious liquid have taken advantage of the demand to charge double prices, despite their service being unreliable.
"Some of them take days to deliver a tanker… We have these irrigation tanks far way from Chennai. Water used to come from there but (their) water is also drying out," he said.
The last rains in the city took place as far back as December, during the monsoon, and now the only reliable source of water is the desalinization plants which treat around 200 million liters of seawater per day, Raghavan said.
“They are somehow managing, God alone knows how. Things are going from bad to worse," he warned.
Chennai residents aren’t left with many alternatives to the long wait in front of water tanks to collect whatever meager amount of the liquid they can get, in order to cover their minimum necessities and survive. This is on top of temperatures often exceeding 40 degrees Celsius.
The crisis has reached such a mammoth scale that schools, offices, hotels and restaurants are struggling to function normally.
R Srinivasan, the secretary of the Tamil Nadu Hotels Association told EFE that businesses in the city are facing serious difficulties in staying open and some establishments had to reduce their services.
"Usually hotels and apartments buy water from tankers during the whole year, but now with the extra cost and the delays in distribution, some places are cutting down services," he said.
A bleaker future looms over the horizon even as the country struggles to supply water to citizens this summer.
Far from being a temporary problem caused by lack of rain or mismanagement of public resources, the water crisis has spread everywhere — from major cities to rural areas — while recurring droughts have worsened the situation.
Nearly half of India's population — or 600 million people — struggle to fulfill their daily water needs and around 200,000 people die every year due to the lack of potable water, according to a 2018 report by the government research center NITI Aayog.
"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 percent loss in the country’s GDP," the report said.
According to the institution, groundwater resources, which account for 40 percent of the country's water supply, are being depleted at an "unsustainable rate" and droughts are becoming more common.
Twenty-one major Indian cities are expected to run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people, the report said.
On Saturday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to supply drinking water to all households in the country by 2024, an ambitious target given the current limited reach of the supply network.
In New Delhi, residents of the poorest neighborhoods are the worst-hit by the crisis as the public piped water supply is not available in their areas.
In the Sanjay Camp area, south of the city, residents are forced to depend on the tanker services which arrive at their doorstep with prices that are often difficult for the low-income families to pay.
"We have to collect water from tankers and carry it in a container of 20-30 kilos to our houses," a resident in the area, Ram Prasad, told EFE, adding that the water was not enough to fill the vessels of all the houses in the neighborhood.