[Assam] From NY Times
dilipdeka at yahoo.com
Thu Sep 28 23:44:58 EDT 2006
Think about the root cause.
Too many people concentrated in one area. How do you solve the problem? As a starter, make less populated areas more attractive by providing infrastructure and jobs, in stead of spending more money on Delhi to make it more attractive to the fortune seekers.
May be they are doing just that more efficiently as described below, to drive people out of Delhi. :-)
Chan Mahanta <cmahanta at charter.net> wrote:
In Teeming India, Water Crisis Means Dry Pipes and Foul Sludge
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
Published: September 29, 2006
NEW DELHI, Sept. 28 - The quest for water can drive a woman mad.
First of three articles.
Articles in this series examine India's growing water crisis.
Saturday: Farmers' wells are running dry. Sunday: Floods and how to
harvest ample rains.
Ask Ritu Prasher. Every day, Mrs. Prasher, a homemaker in a
middle-class neighborhood of this capital, rises at 6:30 a.m. and
begins fretting about water.
It is a rare morning when water trickles through the pipes. More
often, not a drop will come. So Mrs. Prasher will have to call a
private water tanker, wait for it to show up, call again, wait some
more and worry about whether enough buckets are filled in the
bathroom in case no water arrives.
"Your whole day goes just planning how you'll get water," a weary
Mrs. Prasher, 45, recounted one morning this summer, cellphone in
hand and ready to press redial for the water tanker. "You become so
edgy all the time."
In the richest city in India, with the nation's economy marching
ahead at an enviable clip, middle-class people like Mrs. Prasher are
reduced to foraging for water. Their predicament testifies to the
government's astonishing inability to deliver the most basic services
to its citizens at a time when India asserts itself as a global power.
The crisis, decades in the making, has grown as fast as India in
recent years. A soaring population, the warp-speed sprawl of cities,
and a vast and thirsty farm belt have all put new strains on a
feeble, ill-kept public water and sanitation network.
The combination has left water all too scarce in some places,
contaminated in others and in cursed surfeit for millions who are
flooded each year. Today the problems threaten India's ability to
fortify its sagging farms, sustain its economic growth and make its
cities healthy and habitable. At stake is not only India's economic
ambition but its very image as the world's largest democracy.
"If we become rich or poor as a nation, it's because of water," said
Sunita Narain, director of the Center for Science and Environment in
Conflicts over water mirror the most vexing changes facing India: the
competing demands of urban and rural areas, the stubborn divide
between rich and poor, and the balance between the needs of a
thriving economy and a fragile environment.
New Delhi's water woes are typical of those of many Indian cities.
Nationwide, the urban water distribution network is in such disrepair
that no city can provide water from the public tap for more than a
few hours a day.
An even bigger problem than demand is disposal. New Delhi can neither
quench its thirst, nor adequately get rid of the ever bigger heaps of
sewage that it produces. Some 45 percent of the population is not
connected to the public sewerage system.
Those issues are amplified nationwide. More than 700 million Indians,
or roughly two-thirds of the population, do not have adequate
sanitation. Largely for lack of clean water, 2.1 million children
under the age of 5 die each year, according to the United Nations.
The government says that 9 out of 10 Indians have access to the
public water supply, but that may include sources that are going dry
or are contaminated.
The World Bank, in rare agreement with Ms. Narain, warned in a report
published last October that India stood on the edge of "an era of
severe water scarcity."
"Unless dramatic changes are made - and made soon - in the way in
which government manages water," the World Bank report concluded,
"India will have neither the cash to maintain and build new
infrastructure, nor the water required for the economy and for
The window to address the crisis is closing. Climate change is
expected only to exacerbate the problems by causing extreme bouts of
weather - heat, deluge or drought.
A River of Waste
The fabled Yamuna River, on whose banks this city was born more than
2,000 years ago, is a case study in the water management crisis
In Hindu mythology, the Yamuna is considered to be a river that fell
from heaven to earth. Today, it is a foul portrait of crippled
infrastructure - and yet, still worshiped. From the bridges that soar
across the river, the faithful toss coins and sweets, lovingly
wrapped in plastic. They scatter the ashes of their dead.
In New Delhi the Yamuna itself is clinically dead.
As the Yamuna enters the capital, still relatively clean from its
246-mile descent from atop the Himalayas, the city's public water
agency, the New Delhi Jal Board, extracts 229 million gallons every
day from the river, its largest single source of drinking water.
As the Yamuna leaves the city, it becomes the principal drain for New
Delhi's waste. Residents pour 950 million gallons of sewage into the
river each day.
Coursing through the capital, the river becomes a noxious black
thread. Clumps of raw sewage float on top. Methane gas gurgles on the
It is hardly safe for fish, let alone bathing or drinking. A
government audit found last year that the level of fecal coliform,
one measure of filth, in the Yamuna was 100,000 times the safe limit
In 1992, a retired Indian Navy officer who once sailed regattas on
the Yamuna took his government to the Supreme Court. The retired
officer, Sureshwar D. Sinha, charged that the state had killed the
Yamuna and violated his constitutional right, as a practicing Hindu,
to perform ritual baths in the river.
Since then, the Supreme Court ordered the city's water authority to
treat all sewage flowing into the river and improve water quality. In
14 years, that command is still unmet.
New Delhi's population, now 16 million, has expanded by roughly 41
percent in the last 15 years, officials estimate. As the number of
people living - and defecating - in the city soars, on average more
than half of the sewage they pour into the river goes untreated.
A government audit last year indicted the Jal Board for having spent
$200 million and yielding "very little value." The construction of
more sewage treatment plants has done little to stanch the flow, in
part because sewage lines are badly clogged and because power
failures leave them inoperable for hours at a time.
"It has not improved at all because the quantity of sewage is
constantly increasing," said R. C. Trivedi, a director of the Central
Pollution Control Board, which monitors the quality of the Yamuna
River. "The gap is continually widening."
Making matters worse, many New Delhi neighborhoods, like Janata
Colony - Hindi for People's Colony - are not even connected to sewage
pipes. Open sewers hem the narrow lanes of the slum. Every alley
carries their stench.
Some canals are so clogged with trash and sludge that they are no
more than green-black ribbons of muck. It is a mosquitoes' paradise.
Malaria and dengue fever are regular visitors.
Not long ago, a 2-year-old boy named Arman Mustakeem fell into one
such canal and drowned. His parents said they found him floating in
the open sewer in front of their home.
These canals empty into a wide storm drain. It, in turn, runs through
the eastern edges of the city, raking in more sewage and cascades of
trash, before it merges with effluent from two sewage treatment
plants, and finally, enters the Yamuna.
Carrying the capital's waste on its back, the Yamuna meanders south
to cities like Mathura and Agra, home to the Taj Mahal. It is their
principal source of drinking water, too. New Delhi's downstream
neighbors are forced to treat the water heavily, hiking up the cost.
With New Delhi slated to host the Commonwealth Games in 2010, the
government proposes to remake this riverfront with a sports and
recreation complex. In the meantime, the Yamuna, vital and befouled
as it is, bears the weight of New Delhi's ambitions.
At dawn each morning, men sink into the still, black waters to
retrieve whatever can be bartered or sold: rings from a dead man's
finger, coins dropped by the faithful, the remnants of rubber
sandals, plastic water bottles.
The dhobis, who launder clothes, line up on one stretch of riverbank,
pounding saris and bedsheets on stone tablets. A man shovels sand
from the river bottom: every bullock cart he fills for a cement maker
will fetch him a coveted $5.50. Men and boys bathe.
"This river is worshiped," said a bewildered Sunny Verma, 24. "Is
this the right way of worshiping it?"
So shaken was Mr. Verma on his first visit to the Yamuna this year
that he now works full time to shake up others. He joined an
environmental group called We for Yamuna.
"If you want to worship the river, you should give it more respect,"
he said. "You should treat it the right way. You should question the
government. You should ask the state to actually do something for the
Deluge and Drought
Mrs. Prasher has the misfortune of living in a neighborhood on New
Delhi's poorly served southern fringe.
As the city's water supply runs through a 5,600-mile network of
battered public pipes, 25 to 40 percent leaks out. By the time it
reaches her, there is hardly enough.
On average, she gets no more than 13 gallons a month from the tap and
a water bill from the water board that fluctuates from $6 to $20, at
its whimsy, she complains, since there is never a meter reading
That means she has to look for other sources, scrimp and scavenge to
meet her family's water needs.
She buys an additional 265 gallons from private tankers, for roughly
$20 a month. On top of that she pays $2.50 toward the worker who
pipes water from a private tube-well she and other residents of her
apartment block have installed in the courtyard.
Nearly a fourth of New Delhi households, according to the government
commissioned Delhi Human Development Report, rely at least in some
part on such wells. It is one of the principal reasons groundwater in
New Delhi is drying up faster than virtually anywhere in the country:
78 percent of it is considered overexploited.
Still, the new posh apartment buildings sprouting across New Delhi
and its suburbs sell themselves by ensuring a 24-hour water supply -
usually by drilling wells deep underground. "Imagine never being
thirsty for water," boasts a newspaper advertisement for one new
Warning of "an unparalleled water crisis," the study released in
August found that 25 percent of New Delhi households had no access to
piped water, and that 27 percent got water for less than three hours
a day. Nearly two million households, the report also found, had no
The daily New Delhi hustle for water only adds to the strains on the
A few years ago, for instance, to compensate for the low water
pressure in the public pipeline, Mrs. Prasher and her neighbors began
tapping directly into the public water main with so-called booster
pumps, each one sucking out as much water as possible.
It was a me-first approach to a limited and unreliable public
resource, and it proliferated across this me-first city, each booster
pump further draining the water supply.
The situation for New Delhi, and all of India, is only expected to
worsen. India now uses an estimated 829 billion cubic yards of water
every year - that is more than guzzling an entire Lake Erie. But its
water needs are growing by leaps. By 2050, official projections
indicate, demand will more than double, and exceed the 1.4 trillion
cubic yards that India has at its disposal.
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.
So the city's pipe network remains a punctured mess. That means, like
most everything else in this country, some people have more than
enough, and others too little.
The slums built higgledy-piggledy behind Mrs. Prasher's neighborhood
have no public pipes at all. The Jal Board sends tankers instead. The
women here waste their days waiting for water, and its arrival sets
off desperate wrestling in the streets.
Kamal Krishnan quit her job for the sake of securing her share. Five
days a week, she would clean offices in the next neighborhood. Five
nights a week, she would go home to find no water at home. The
buckets would stand empty. Finally, her husband ordered her to quit.
"I want to work, but I can't," she said glumly. "I go mad waiting for water."
Elsewhere, in the central city, where the nation's top politicians
have their official homes, the average daily water supply is three
times what finally arrives even in Mrs. Prasher's neighborhood.
Mrs. Prasher rations her water day to day as if New Delhi were a
desert. She uses the leftover water from the dog bowl to water the
plants. She recycles soapy water from the laundry to mop the balcony.
And even when she gets it, the quality is another question altogether.
Her well water has turned salty as it has receded over the years. The
water from the private tanker is mucky-brown. Still, Mrs. Prasher
says, she can hardly afford to reject it. "Beggars can't be
choosers," she said. "It's water."
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