New Delhi: A serious water shortage in the peak summer months has made life miserable for hundreds of thousands in the Indian capital, sparking street protests. Experts say the crisis can only worsen in the long run.
Opposition activists and ordinary residents who suffer the most have clashed with authorities during the past two weeks when the water shortage reached its peak amid the searing heat.
One reason was a major breach in a main water line in south Delhi after a school building collapsed on it. By the time the pipeline was repaired, even parts of Delhi which rarely see water shortage were desperate for water.
The bigger problem came after neighbouring Haryana allegedly reduced water supply to Delhi.
Delhi, with over 18 million people, needs around 1,100 million gallons of water a day. Officially, the supply is falling short by 50 million gallons. Some say the shortage is much more.
Other problems too have been blamed for the present situation including leaky infrastructure in the water pipelines. Water theft is common.
The result, every day there is a mad scramble for water in scores of residential localities of Delhi. The crisis has affected almost everyone -- the poor, the middle class and even some affluent areas. Parts of north Delhi, central Delhi and south Delhi are the worst hit.
The Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has accused Haryana of holding up supply of raw water from the Tajewala dam. In summer, demand for water anyway rises by 15-20 percent. Even on normal days, most parts of Delhi get to do with just about two hours of potable water supply.
But with even that disrupted badly, there is predictable anger.
"It has now been a week without water," banker Ajay Bisht complained. "Our neighours have bored a well, so we get some for bathing."
Bisht, who lives in north Delhi`s Kamla Nagar, said his family of four buys mineral water daily.
"Nearly 50 percent of water is lost in leakage and pilferage as the pipes are obsolete and rusty," Nitya Jacob, programme director for water with the Centre for Science and Environment, said.
The DJB, however, says it is a result of its "efficient management" that Delhi gets its abundant water supply to meet the demands of swelling population in the country`s capital.
"There is some amount of leakage in our system, and it is likely to be in any system. But we also have lakhs of people coming to Delhi every year and the rising pressure of demnds cannot be ignored," Sanjam Chima, DJB spokespreson, said.
"It`s just this year that we have this crisis due to shortage of raw water. Otherwise our recycling system is efficient with enough water treatment plants to reuse water," Chima added.
Reeling under shortage, the DJB will also soon be sharing a new water recycling model used in Singapore for management and operation of sewage.
But the crisis will go beyond such models, as Jacob, like other experts, said even if the present shortage was somehow overcome, in the long term Delhi would face an unprecedented water crisis.
"Our ground water level is falling. Local sources have dried up due to pollution.
"The Yamuna (river) is the best example of how we have lost natural resources," he said, referring to the city`s only river, parts of which look like a drain. "Demand for water will only rise with population growth."
With the retreating Himalayan glaciers, the dominant external sources for Delhi`s water supply are the Tehri dam, upper Ganga canal and Bhakra storage.
Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People group pointed out other problem areas.
"Delhi has never realised the issues of unequal distribution, huge distribution losses and near-to-zero water conservation," Thakkar said.
"Sadly, we have never realised how we have destroyed our natural water sources such as the Ganga and the Yamuna," he said. "This is just the beginning of the water crisis."
The Planning Commission, however, insists that per capita water availability in Delhi is more compared to even European cities like Paris. There are few takers for this.
The one section which says it is not facing any crisis live in shanties -- because they rarely ever get water, any day.
"Crisis?What crisis?" asked 22-year old Vimal Kumari, a shanty dweller in south Delhi`s R K Puram area.
"We have no authorised supply. The DJB tanker man asks for bribe which we can`t afford," she said. "So we get water from the nearest public convenience facility."