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Last Updated : Aug 05, 2019 04:31 PM IST | Source: Mint

Which Indian city will run out of water first?

In 2015-16, according to data from the National Family Health Survey, 31% of urban households lacked access to piped water or public tap water—a proportion that has not decreased significantly for nearly two decades


Every summer, residents in Indian cities brace themselves for the dreaded combination of extreme heat and water shortage. This summer the biggest victim has been Chennai—but almost all big cities in the country are equally at risk. As India rapidly urbanizes, demand for water is increasing and supply is struggling to keep up. A combination of climate change, wasteful water policies and inadequate infrastructure could turn the water vulnerability into a full-blown crisis.

Urbanization in India is raising many challenges, but none are as critical as the provision of water. And, on many measures, this challenge is far from being entirely met. For a start, a significant portion of urban Indians lacks access to piped water. In 2015-16, according to data from the National Family Health Survey, 31% of urban households lacked access to piped water or public tap water—a proportion that has not decreased significantly for nearly two decades.

Even for the households with connections, their pipes are in danger of running dry because of dwindling water supply. One estimation of this is per capita water availability, which measures the total amount of water supplied in the country after adjusting for population. India’s per capita water availability is decreasing and is expected to continue to do so dramatically. For a country with a growing share of urban population, this will only add another stress point.

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Significant portion of urban households still do not have access to piped water

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And as population increases, water supply is not keeping up

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Since water is a state subject, the responsibility for sourcing and delivering water to urban households falls to dedicated water boards (for example, the Delhi Jal Board) or municipal corporations. These entities typically source water from a combination of groundwater and surface water sources (dams, reservoirs and lakes). Natural sources of water, though, are susceptible to changes in nature—especially because of climate change.

Across India, climate change is disrupting the quantity and frequency of rainfall. A deficient monsoon can mean reservoirs struggle to fill up and less water seeps into the ground (especially in areas with significant urban construction). There is no data on water levels in all reservoirs that supply India’s cities, but in the 91 important reservoirs that the Central Water Commission tracks, storage levels have never crossed more than half their total capacity in the past five years.

India's major reservoirs are rarely half-full

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Out of the top 10 most populous cities in India, the depth to groundwater (a measure of groundwater availability) in seven has increased significantly over the last two decades. Greater depths imply more difficulty in reaching water, and in Delhi, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad depths have nearly doubled.

In India's biggest cities, ground water levels have fallen significantly



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First Published on Aug 5, 2019 04:31 pm
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