Friday, September 29, 2006

Please Sir, Can I Have Some More Water?

[Note: still waiting ;-)]

Articles like this are always saddening to read. Delhi is facing an extreme water crisis. Even middle class people are foraging from tankers, and the millions of gallons of untreated sewage emptied into the River Yamuna every year are killing it.

One of the main figures cited in the article is Sunita Narain, of the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), the same people who brought us the summer pesticide/soda controversy. I know some readers will find her a controversial figure, but I don't think the scale of Delhi's water problem is really in dispute. Here are some of the stats Somini Sengupta brings to our attention:

  • 25 to 40 percent of the water sent into Delhi's water pipes leaks out before it reaches its destination.
  • 45 percent of Delhi's population isn't connected to the public sewage system, and all of their waste runs back into the Yamuna untreated.
  • 2.1 million (Indian?) children die every year because of inadequate sanitation. [The article is unclear as to which children exactly are dying from sanitation related problems]
  • The river water is so polluted with fecal coliform that it's not even remotely safe for bathing, which is required for devout Hindus.
  • Sewage plants have been constructed to treat waste, but have thus far have "produced little value."

Better management might well make a difference:

Yet the most telling paradox of the city’s water crisis is that New Delhi is not entirely lacking in water. The problem is distribution, hampered by a feeble infrastructure and a lack of resources, concedes Arun Mathur, chief executive of the Jal Board.

The Jal Board estimates that consumers pay no more than 40 percent of the actual cost of water. Raising the rates is unrealistic for now, as Mr. Mathur well knows. “It would be easier to ask people to pay up more if we can make water abundantly available,” he said. A proposal to privatize water supply in some neighborhoods met with stiff opposition last year and was dropped. (link)

Privatization is an extremely risky direction to go in for an essential resource like water. But the government seems to have been so thoroughly incompetent, it's hard to see how simply pumping more money into the system will make a big difference. Government money is--like water--prone to "leak."


Ruchira Paul said...

I too am extremely leery of privatizing certain essential services like water, mail delivery and even electricity. But there has been de facto privatization in India for quite some time with citizens digging wells in their backyards for water, using generators and inverters for uninterrupted electric supply and increasing use of courier services for mail. No one trusts the government any more. The government too is quite pleased that people have taken matters in their own hands so that it can sit back on its fat behind and concentrate on more important matters such as stealing from public coffers. The only place in New Delhi with reliable water and electricity is the area around India Gate and Teen Murti Marg where M.P.s and other highly placed bureaucrats live.

The problem with privatization and citizen initiative for basic services is that only the affluent benefit. Also, the widespread use of generators adds to pollution. Sinking wells in the backyard depletes the water table. All things that don't bode well for overall environmental integrity. It is interesting to note though that the government does act when its own ox is gored. Air, unlike water and electricity cannot be parceled and disbursed at whim. Everyone, the rich and the poor have to breathe the same air. When Delhi's air quality reached toxic levels during the 80s and the 90s, people took to wearing masks and there was an alarming spike in respiratory diseases. The fat cats were as vulnerable as the man sleeping on the pavement. Swift and decisive action was taken by banning diesel in most public tranport vehicles and the air in Delhi is now much more tolerable. The government CAN do things, it just WON'T - because of a selfish, contemptuous and callous mind set.

1:24 PM  
Anonymous said...

So much rain water is wasted in India.
Smaller islands in the Carriben use their roofs to collect water in cisterns,
This simple idea seems to go unnoticed,
as far as sewage the indian goverment has a large army it employs maybe it needs to divert some energy to the 21st century.

3:06 PM  
sanjay said...

This is the usual one-sided view from the NYT to present a pessimistic & defeatist picture of India. Lets see the other side of the Yamuna sewage issue:

Of the 1376 km length of the yamuna, it is the 512 km stretch - starting 22 km before delhi and ending 490 kms after delhi - that is the issue. The Yamuna Action Plan (YAP) started in 1993 focuses on this stretch.

The YAP-I was completed in 2003 and targeted delhi plus 14 other towns along this 512 km stretch. The prime focus was on the basics - building sewage carrying pipe network, sewage treatment plant capacity and, perhaps most important, institution building. Approx 131 kms of trunk sewer pipes were installed. Total installed treatment capacity reached 2.34 billion litres per day (bld) against requirement of 3.23 bld, a gap of 927 mld (million litres per day). Problems persisting after YAP-I included silting of pipes and consequent underutilization of installed sewage treatment capacity.

YAP-II is currently underway & new 31 km piping, improved processes have been installed to resolve the capacity untilization issues remaining from YAP-I. Sewage treatment capacity gap has been further reduced by 734 mld. A biogas power generation plant is also being completed.

Recognizing that a lot sewage never reaches the central processing system, pilot projects and studies are being done in YAP-II for decentralized collection, treatment & recharge of water bodies around Delhi. Implementation will be in YAP-III.

YAP-III will start in 2009 and focus more on external aesthetics, landscaping etc around the yamuna.


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