The city of Chennai is facing its worst water crisis in 30 years. The four reservoirs that supply water to the city--Poondi, Cholavaram, Sengundram and Chembarambakkam--have run completely dry. Citizens now have to stand in long queues for hours to get water from government tanks. The scarcity is so acute in some areas that hospitals and schools are struggling to function, and people are being forced to reuse dirty water to wash utensils in an effort to save clean water for drinking.
In a scrambling attempt to conserve water, several hotels in the city have shut down, the metro has turned off the air conditioning at stations and several companies have asked their employees to work from home. On the other hand, school kids were asked to use water wisely and were encouraged to read quotes and slogans on water conservation.
"Only rain can save Chennai from this situation," an official told BBC. On June 20, the water-scarce city received its first spell of rains after over six months. However, with the Indian Meteorological Department predicting a weak monsoon this season, the rain might not be able to solve the city’s water woes.
A year ago, the South African city of Cape Town faced its worst-ever water scarcity crisis (pictured below). The government left citizens and the rest of the world stunned when it announced that the city would run out of municipal water over the next three months. Thankfully, South African authorities sprang to action and succeeded in averting the crisis--for now.
However, according to experts, the crisis has only been delayed and not fully solved. Several cities in the continent of Africa seems to be the worst-hit as of now. In Namibia, the government is reportedly selling 1,000 animals from its national parks, which are struggling with drought. According to a report in Business Insider, one of every three people in Africa is affected by water scarcity, and African cities are experiencing devastating water shortages as their populations continue to grow. These water shortages have resulted in sanitation issues, putting the residents at an increased risk of contracting cholera and typhoid, leading to dehydration and malnutrition.
Water is the world’s most essential resource, and yet, according to water.org, 844 million people in the world--one out of every 10 people on this planet--lack access to clean drinking water. On a more alarming note, experts fear that the global water scarcity is expected to become a leading cause of national and international political conflict in the future. According to a UN human rights report, the world is fast approaching a ‘climate apartheid’ where only the wealthy would be able to afford basic resources in the face of fatal droughts, famine and heatwaves.
While dealing with the city’s acute water scarcity crisis, Cape Town authorities introduced the concept of ‘Day Zero’, which is the day they turn off the city’s taps--highly restricting access to water. While Cape Town was able to delay Day Zero, the concept now simply means the day a city runs out of water and taps are officially shut off. Day Zero is already a reality for millions in India.
According to the Drought Early Warning System, more than 43.4 per cent of the country is reeling under drought as of May 30, 2019, owing to two consecutive years of failed monsoon. Chennai may be the first city to run out of groundwater, but a 2018 report by NITI Aayog states that 21 Indian cities will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting access for 100 million people.
India is the second most populated country in the world and is set to overtake the population of China in less than a decade. This increased demand for water is rapidly outgrowing the supply. The Niti Ayog report also stated that by 2030, the country's water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, resulting in disastrous consequences--severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and a 6 per cent drop in India’s GDP.
Adding to that is the issue that India is a country with a large agricultural output, and more specifically a major grain producer--requiring a large amount of water for irrigation purposes, resulting in excess water consumption solely for the production of food.
The city of Chennai is, for now, looking for immediate (albeit temporary) solutions to their crisis, like ferrying water. On July 7, the city is expected to get 10 million litres of Kaveri water from Jolarpettai in Vellore district, Chief Minister K Palaniswami announced last week. While the government is taking measures to provide immediate relief, the focus now needs to shift on long-term solutions to prevent other cities from reaching Day Zero.
One such solution, according to the government, seems to be the setting up of the Jal Shakti ministry, which aims at specifically tackling the water scarcity situation in a more holistic way. The ministry, in fact, has announced that it will provide piped water connections to every household in India by 2024. Experts, however, worry that the plan, ambitious as it is, may fall short when there won’t be any water left to supply.
How can prevent our cities from reaching Day Zero? Here’s a look at some of the possible solutions and some effective ways to conserve water:
According to the World Health Organisation, an individual requires around 20 litres of water daily for meeting their basic hygiene and food needs, while the remaining tasks can make do with non-potable water like cleaning, mopping, flushing etc. This means that treating and reusing water can be economically beneficial as well as sustainable.
According to Down To Earth, at present, India captures only eight per cent of its annual rainfall, which is among the lowest in the world. Given the fact that the country gets its fair share of rainfall, adequately harvesting rainwater would be a step in the right direction. Harvesting rainwater can help recharge local aquifers, reduce urban flooding and ensure water availability in areas with water scarcity. There are several ways to harvest rainwater at home, from something as simple as capturing it in rain barrels to building a reservoir on your rooftop.
A significant cause of water scarcity in India is the wastage of water, owing to leakages and overflows. Keeping leaks in check, along with adopting steps towards judicious usage of water will go a long way. This, however, cannot be the sole responsibility of the government, and the communities need to put in an equal amount of effort towards conservation. If you have a leaking tap at home, it's time to call the plumber.
Featured Image: PTI
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