Delhi is in the midst of a water crisis of gargantuan proportions. A recent research report from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI)—Urban world: Cities and the rise of the consuming class says “Mumbai and Delhi will grapple with an insatiable demand for municipal water for both drinking and sanitation”. A ride through Delhi’s parched streets shows how little is being done to address this growing demand. Instead, adding to the crippling 365 million gallons a day of shortfall is waste. That one single word encapsulates why the city reels from severe water shortage every summer. The enormity of the problem can be judged by an admission of the Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit on 18 November, 2009 highlighting the issues of bad distribution of water and other aspects like illegal colonies and tankers.
There are several causes for this leak in the pipes. Flawed methods of handling and storage of piping material, inappropriate laying down of pipelines and poor operation and maintenance (O&M) activities are among the most obvious.
Delhi follows Mumbai in the list of the top 20 global cities in terms of municipal water demand in the next 13 years. Pictures by Hindustan Times
In addition, the pipeline gets damaged during transportation of the piping material through defective stacking and incorrect unloading. Leakages also occur due to flaws in the laying procedures like improper bedding, using defective joining, improper compaction of trench backfill and point loads coming on the pipe through the backfill. Exacerbating this are activities like laying down of underground cables and construction of roads.
Watch a slideshow on Delhi’s water crisis, its reasons and potential solutions
As it is, the pipelines in the older parts of Delhi such as in the walled city and Lutyens’ Delhi are very old. They are also at the top of the water distribution network. When water is pumped at high pressure through these pipes, they either burst of leak at the seams. Their joints are also prone to leaking. Water tankers break the pipes to extract water and supply, while people living along these pipelines also break into them for water.
Laments Nitya Jacob, Programme Director, Water, Centre for Science and Environment, “The Jal Board has tried using technology to quickly fix leaking pipes, but their network is so huge that they need more people and better technology. I don’t think these measures are enough since leakages continue.”
The sad part – the current demand supply deficit is about 365 million gallons per day. Plug the leaks and stop the theft and it is eminently possible for 90% of Delhi’s population to receive enough water every day to keep body and soul clean.
Yet while the problem is known and well documented, the silence about the solutions would seem to suggest it is an intractable issue. Except that it isn’t.
Just recycling and reusing of waste water could add about 40 million gallons per day to the available supply. Says Rudresh K Sugam, Research Analyst, Council of Energy, Environment and Water, “There are several ways of handling this issue but the major point is the desire to do it.” Proper collection, treatment and disposal of sewage are essential to ensure the safety of water supplies.
There is available software that detects changes in flow pressure and sends information on the location of the leakage. Bulk flow meters can also give a better idea about supply and consumption. At the very basic level, theft and illegal connections have to be stopped. All construction needs to be regularized keeping water availability in mind.
The pipelines are old and in poor conditions and since they at the top of the water distribution network, when water is pumped at high pressure through these pipes, they either burst of leak at the seams.
The National Water Resources Framework Study (NWRFS), a report by CEEW, suggests the management should be demand side rather than supply side driven (which is being practiced at most of the places) and the government should focus on water resources management activities and not only on supply.
Adds Nitya Jacob of CSE, “There are not enough trained technical people. It remains the preserve of a few NGOs. The government has not been serious. People wanting to harvest rainwater do not know where to go.”
A few of the steps that could alleviate the growing crisis:
• Extend water supply to everybody regardless of what kind of colony they live in
• Extend sewage coverage to all
• Improve metering and cover all households, ensuring bills are paid
• Promote rainwater harvesting to augment local water availability
• Promote water conservation