July 15, 2019
Latest News

Water mafia thrives as India faces growing water crisis

By Mikaela Viqueira

New Delhi, Jul 9 (efe-epa).- An illegal network of water traffickers is taking advantage of the shortcomings of the government supply system in the most impoverished neighborhoods of India to establish a black market.

The criminals have been selling the precious commodity at steep prices during a scorching summer that has seen temperatures climb up to 50º C (122 F) in some places.

"The water mafia does not allow the (water supply) process to be competed," Dinesh Yadav, a member of the Delhi Jal Board – the public agency responsible for supplying water to the more than 16-million residents of New Delhi – told EFE.

In areas such as Sangam Vihar – a neighborhood in the south of New Delhi – residents depend on private water tankers to fulfill their needs, with the operators charging between 20-50 rupees ($0.3-$0.7) per bucket.

This constitutes a huge expense, as around 60 percent of the Indian population earns less than $3.2 per day, according to a female resident who talked to EFE.

"Many people have left this place because of this problem, but those who cannot leave have to face with this every day," the woman said, on condition of anonymity, while washing dishes on the street.

Things are not so different in the rest of the country, which is facing one of the biggest water crisis in its history: around 75 percent of all households lack access to drinking water on their premises, while 84 percent of rural households do not have access to piped water supply, according to official data.

Around 600 million people – nearly half of the Indian population – face extreme water shortage across India, the country ranked third from the bottom in water quality worldwide. Around 70 percent of its water resources have been found to be polluted.

Thus, thousands of neighborhoods across the country face a shortage of water and depend on tankers that arrive in the areas to fulfill a basic need.

This is where the mafias step in, charging unfair prices.

"(Water tanker suppliers) take water from nearby groundwater reserves" to sell them at a much higher price in irregular settlements in cities, according to Himanshu Thakkar, the coordinator of the nonprofit South Asian Network on Dams Rivers and People.

The water mafias have managed to establish a monopoly used for "distributing and overexploiting resources," Madhulika Chaudhary, a member of the environmental NGO Dhruvansh, based in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, told EFE.

She added that the traffickers were well acquainted with the area and had links with local politicians.

The massive population boom in India, where the number of inhabitants has more than doubled in the last 50 years and reached around 1.3 billion, has also contributed to the rise of the black market in areas which do not have access to supply or pipelines connecting them to a water source, Suresh Chandra Rai, a professor of geography in the Delhi University, told EFE.

The crisis has taken ominous overtones as the "population is increasing and the level of groundwater is decreasing," said the professor.

Rai added that the only way to resolve the crisis and ending the mafia's hold over people was to adopt rainwater harvesting technologies in both big and small towns apart from the government making an action-plan to check deforestation. EFE-EPA

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