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Global Water Crisis and Local Community Antidotes

Global Water Crisis and Local Community Antidotes

ChandrasekaranBy : Chandrasekaran

  |  5 Sep 2019 9:32 AM GMT


Ever since the human civilization
embarked out of the caves have time and again realized that for the living of
all species on the earth, water is most indispensable. It is a natural right to
access it for basic living. Nobody whined until a half-century ago that the
world would face an acute shortage of water for basic living. But still, the
world is made up of three quarters with water and one-quarter of the earth for
a living. Of the most species on the earth, the human being has been known for
its hard strives to preserve the natural resources by various forms for
centuries but the last half of the century has been a difficult time for
negating the scarcity of water to ensure for all. It is folly to blame on
population!


Throughout the civilization, nature
has been more of the neutral player generously with immense potential for
access to water but some segments of the human civilization have emerged as
scarcity penetrator instead of nurturing the water conversation with which the
human beings were so obsessed for centuries to enable access for all species.


In India, it becomes quite strange
that how the Government policies have promoted for social and economic
development during the last half-century have caused unprecedentedly towards
the deepening of water scarcity. At the same time, the local community
ownerships over natural resources were misguided by the wrong policies of the
governments across the country. Also, the government's policies were
discriminative on both social and economic perspectives leave alone the
environment and natural resources management for peril. For example, by 2015,
more than 90 percent of people in urban areas were getting access to basic
drinking water but only one-third of India’s wastewater was treated leaving
large water-borne diseases affecting the large segments of poor people.


So far, the only woman Nobel
Prize-winning economist Professor Elinor Ostrom who scientifically studied the
governing institutions of common properties resource wrote a classic book
titled "Governing the Commons- The evolution of institutions for
Collective Action"
(1990) after decades of field-level experiments in
different countries about the common property resources and vividly observed
that "What one can observe in the world, however, is that neither the
state nor the market is uniformly successful in enabling individuals to sustain
long-term, productive use of natural resource systems. Further, communities of
individuals have relied on institutions resembling neither the state nor the
market to govern some resource systems with reasonable degrees of success over
long periods of time."
This
is a great warning for policymakers who often think about government
interventions is the antidote for saving common property resources like water
bodies.


In the first week of August, a new
study titled "Unaffordable and Undrinkable: Rethinking Urban Water
Access in the Global South"
(2019) was released by the US-based The
World Resources Institute which paves some lights on the way forward for better
water management in urban areas. According to the report, among the 17
water-stressed countries studied, India has been ranked at 13th which
is neither good nor bad but the big warning is needed. The Report has termed
that India is fast emerging with threats of water scarcity. India has more than
three times (1.36 billion) the population of the other 16 extremely highly
stressed countries combined (1.75 billion) which have been studied to map the
city level comparable data.


In India, on an average 80 percent of
surface and groundwater is used in Agriculture, Industries, and municipalities.
Nearly 40 percent of groundwater is extracted for the utility which is more
than what we recharge. However, as compared to industry and municipalities,
agriculture uses probably a large quantity of water for food grains production
but leaves the least amount of wastewater to drains. While it has been a
serious concern that the wastewater let out by both industries and
municipalities across the country has been polluting every kind of natural
resources- land, air and water bodies.


Though, the Report leaves out the
Maharashtra state, the top 10 most water-stressed States/UT are Chandigarh (1),
Haryana (2), Rajasthan (3), Uttar Pradesh (4), Punjab (5), Gujarat (6),
Uttarakhand (7), Madhya Pradesh (8), Jammu and Kashmir (9) and Puducherry (10).
It is interesting to see most of the northern States are fast running to dry up
the aquifer. Indeed, these are the States in the north are catching up with
western and southern States on the social and economic ladders. At this
juncture, the north needs more water than ever before to save millions of poor
people who are living with the bare minimum and need to uplift themselves out
of abject poverty. However, it is interestingly to note, the officials of WRI
in India mentioned that "There is no lack of water in India; it's just
that we lack the best practices in managing our demand and supply. We need to
improve our efficiency in water consumption in all sectors, most importantly in
agriculture."


The Report has 15 case studies in Global
South
including two important Indian cities, the Mumbai and Bengaluru which
are financial capital and IT capital of the country giving the most dynamic
attention globally. As per the report, both are fast emerging with threats of
water scarcity.


The Bengaluru city case study has
been based on the water situation at Koramangala Slum, which is the largest
slum in the IT capital city. Bengaluru city has a population of close to 8.4
million with the average household size is 4.0. About 30 percent of the
population settled informally without land titles with the filthy environment
but has 60 percent workforce doing all kinds of odd jobs to meet the ends. The
population of Koramangala Slum is 38,500 with a family size of 4.5. While
Bengaluru city's average income is Rs.43,000/ per month and Koramangala Slum's
income is Rs.15,000/- per month.


According to the Report, "The
informal settlement in Bengaluru, where 60 percent of households receive piped
supplies (compared to 71 percent of households in the city as a whole), has
higher piped water access than other slums because it is a formally
"declared" slum."
However, 56 percent of households citywide
do not treat their wastewater. Though, Bengaluru gets water from its reservoirs
situated in the long-distance through pipes not only at higher elevations but
also in an energy-intensive manner. Alas, the Report mentions that there are "presence
of powerful water mafias that control water valves in Bengaluru".
It
is not surprising to see such things given the nexus between the governments
and the bigots of lawbreakers for vested interests.


The case study of Mumbai was chosen
at Siddarth Nagar. The population of Mumbai city is 1.24 crore with average
households size of 4.5. The city has 40 percent of informal settlements which
is called slums with a poor living environment. The population of Siddarth
Nagar is 2160 with an average households' size of 4.2. Informal settlements
face unique challenges that are different from those that characterize water
access in the city as a whole. In Mumbai, 8 percent of households relied on
surface water, groundwater, and rainwater.


Unlike in Bengaluru's Koramangala
slum, Siddharth Nagar did not get piped water for families settled in slums
which are not recognized by the government. Hence, mostly the Siddarth Nagar
gets water either through surface/groundwater/rainwater or tanker trucks. It is
interesting to note the average household income per month in Mumbai is
Rs.15,728/- while for Siddarth Nagar, it is Rs.13,000/-.


In order to overcome the lack of
access to water noticed in the above two city’s case studies, the Report urges
the respective city government and all stakeholders to act on the following
four vital aspects to reduce the fast-emerging threats to water: (i) efficient
infrastructure management system for universal access to water for all with innovative
models like "Kiosks and standpipes"; (ii) reduce uncertainty
causes to common people due to irregularity of water supply which impacts on
employment and other aspects of people, governments have to regularly maintain
infrastructure, which helps to prevent, detect, and resolve leakages;
(iii). Low-Income households suffer the most because they are not connected to
the piped water system. Thus, there is a need for subsidies for either free
basic water or reducing the cost for different slaps with adequate frequency of
water supply; and (iv) more importantly the "Local and national
governments need to support informal settlement upgrading to improve water
access to the urban under-served in the short and medium terms."
The
households settled in unrecognized slums are too paying indirect taxes to the
government by way of purchasing goods and services.


However, the scarcity of water issues
has become global after the Durban city experience in South Africa. But most of
these debates are either about government provisioning universal access to
water or human rights-based approach. These approaches will not help to solve
the water crisis and rather it will blow up more for less water!


Though, India's Niti Aayog's Reports
on Water Management has been strongly emphasizing the need for local
community-led intervention for rejuvenation of bodies and creating a new one wherever
feasible. However, it did not spell out the roadmap for financing and enabling
the local community-led organizations across the country.


During the last few years, there have
been several community-based interventions for rejuvenation of water bodies in
Tamil Nadu which have helped to increase access to water for not just drinking
but also for irrigation and other utilities. The efforts of Siruthuli, an NGO
working last 16 years in reviving several water bodies in the Coimbatore
district. Similarly, the efforts of the Olirum Erodu Foundation and Erodai
Trust in Erode district, Environmentalist Foundation of India in Chennai,
People's Forum in Salem, Vettri Trust in Tiruppur and more recently the Olirum
Krishnagiri Foundation in Krishnagiri have all done tremendous works to improve
the groundwater table.


Moreover, the Madurai based Dhan
Foundation has been pioneering the water management systems covering 2000 tanks
and104 watersheds across all south Indian states in the last two decades. The
community-based approaches are more sustainable for improving access to water for
all segments by improving the groundwater table. Further, these models of
community-led rejuvenation of water bodies were effectively stakeholders driven
involving the local community, farmers, philanthropists and close coordination
with government officials. We need to scale up these models across the States
and country to effectively implement the water conservation intervention to
improve the groundwater tables.


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