Chennai, once known as Madras, is India's sixth most populous city and continues to grow. However, despite being inundated with new residents, it remains thirsty. Together with the eastern city of Ranchi, it witnessed violence earlier this week over the sharing of water, as supplies remained suspended due to a shortage.
The civic authorities in these cities blame a prevailing drought and global climate change, which have left the region with less rain and a water shortage. Experts, however, contend that poor city planning and the unsustainable extraction of groundwater, which doesnt get replinished, are the main causes.
NITI Aayog, a government thinktank in India, warned in 2018 that the country is on the brink of its worst water crisis in history. In its report, NITI Aayog projected that more than 600 million people faced an acute water shortage in 21 cities.
In an interview, Professor S. Janakarajan, a water management and disaster risk reduction expert and Dr. Anal Sinha, a geologist and environmentalist from Ranchi, the capital of the eastern state of Jharkhand, spoke about the root causes of the problem.
Sputnik: What led to such an unprecedented water emergency in Chennai?
Prof. Janakarajan: Even when we had rainfall, we suffered. It is an absolute lack of water management strategy, that results in this kind of misery for people. For example, 2019 is considered to have been the worst year for water shortages. We had 2100 mm of rain in 2018, which is a good rainfall. In comparison, in Jaipur city, it was 560-600 mm, Ahmedabad 900 mm, Hyderabad 890-900 mm. If you have 810 mm of rain in Chennai, you call it a very bigger drought year. The normal average rainfall is 1,350 mm.
Sputnik: Is it also due to the disappearance of bodies of water in and around Chennai?
Prof. Janakarajan: On the one hand, you have been taking away the groundwater as an immediate solution but on the other, you don’t have any plans to replenish it. If you don’t maintain the water table, this is bound to happen.
Sputnik: What do you suggest as a short-term measure and long-term measure to tide over the situation?
Prof. Janakarajan: As a short-term measure, (you must) take as many water conservation measures as possible and every citizen should take it on as his responsibility to conserve water. People should think about recycling the water and they should aim at zero discharge of water everywhere. This is what I would suggest as a short and medium-term solution. In the long-term, you really have to think about maintaining rainfall account, recharging the groundwater, and storeing and conserving the water bodies. You have thousands of bodies of water around Chennai city. You have plenty of rainfall and plenty of reservoirs to store it in. If someone suffers, it is mainly because of a lack of application of mind.
Chennai requires 650 million litres of water per day, but the civic authorities supply just 200 million litres a day, less than one-third of the requirement. The rest is met by water tankers, which in the present circumstances is erratic. The city gets its water from four major reservoirs or lakes – Poondy, Chembarambakkam, Red Hills and Porur. However, water levels in these reservoirs are woefully low for meeting the present crisis.
Sputnik: Ranchi faced an unprecedented water shortage this year. What are the reasons for this situation?
Dr. Anal Sinha: There are three dams that have catered to the water requirements of Ranchi city since 1950. Though the population has multiplied – from one 100,000 in Ranchi in 1950 to 1.5 million now, no new reservoir has been built to meet the burgeoning demand. The government hasn't carried out the desiltation of the existing dams. Earlier, there were more than 100 lakes and ponds in and around Ranchi. But now only 22 are left, with less reservoir area.
The urban areas have been encroached upon and the city has been converted into a concrete jungle. Even rivers have been encroached upon as a result of the population influx. The construction of concrete buildings has reduced the area for the natural recharge of aquifers.
Secondly, the green cover has been denuded in the name of urbanisation, even as no compensatory forestation has been carried out to balance the loss.
Sputnik: What is the current requirement and availability of water in Ranchi? Is the rainfall in the region sufficient to meet the water requirement?
Dr Sinha: The region gets about 1250 mm of rainfall annually, whereas the requirement of water is about 740 billion litres, which is insufficient with the present population.