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Save That Drop!

Save That Drop!

Despite supporting 17 per cent of the world´s population, India has barely 4 per cent of the globe´s water resources.
Two of the most crucial UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set in 2000, were to halve the numbers of those in the world without drinking water and sanitation by 2015. India, as the poorest country in the world in terms of number of people, also has the correspondingly highest number of people without access to water in absolute terms, although there may well be a higher proportion in some African countries. India´s situation is unique. It has to support 17 per cent of the world´s population with 4 per cent of the world´s water resources. The precipitation, which is an indicator of annual availability of water resources, varies both in time and space.

Around 75 per cent of precipitation occurs in about three-four months of the year. It is also a fact that while on one hand, Mausynram in Meghalaya receives rainfall of the order of 10,000 mm, western parts of Rajasthan receive merely 100 mm.

Accordingly, India faces a problem of flood in one area and drought in others. The pressure on our water resources is continuously increasing with the rise in population, urbanisation, industrialisation and also due to the threat of adverse impacts of climate change. The challenges in the water sector call for timely and effective redressal. The average annual per capita water availability in the country, as per latest data, is 1,545 cubic metre (cum), which is above the internationally accepted standards of water scarcity (1,000 cum per capita per year). However, many areas face water scarcity. That´s not all. The situation is expected to exacerbate in the future with the availability of water dropping further down to 1341 cum by 2025 and to 1140 cum in 2050. The quality of water in rivers, water bodies and underground aquifers, too, is deteriorating daily.

The condition with respect to management of supply of water resources is also not promising. Even though our country has made impressive progress in creation of storage since Independence, the ground situation is that India still lags behind several other countries with respect to achieving per capita storage capacity.

About 85 per cent of the rural population of the country uses ground water for drinking and domestic purposes. High concentration of fluoride in ground water beyond the permissible limit of 1.5 mg/l poses a health problem. Studies conducted by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) have indicated that ground water in 224 districts in 19 states contains excessive fluoride content. Arsenic as a contaminant is significant in terms of its toxic nature with exceedingly diverse manifestations of poisoning. Elevated concentrations of arsenic in ground water are reported from various parts of India but particularly affecting the large parts of the Ganga-Brahmaputra Plains. High concentration of arsenic beyond the permissible limit of 0.05 mg/l in ground water has been reported from 86 districts of 10 states.

High concentration of iron (>1.0 mg/l) in ground water has been observed in more than 1.1 lakh habitations in the country. Ground water contaminated by iron has been reported from 22 states and the Union Territory of Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Excessive use of fertiliser and pesticides are not only contaminating the ground water, but surface water as well.

What is worrisome is in India, more than 90 per cent of the rural and nearly 30 per cent of the urban population depend on groundwater for meeting their drinking and domestic requirements. The high cost that India continues to pay by way of ill health due to lack of safe water sources is hardly taken into account. One can loosely measure the progress of any country by a simple yardstick: whether the water from its taps is potable.

No wonder then, a significant reduction in stomach-related illnesses and water-borne diseases have been reported in the handful of towns and cities where 24×7 water supply projects have been implemented. Thus far, Nagpur is the first in India to have achieved 24×7 water supply using modern water networks and encouragingly, there are at least a few other projects ongoing in other parts of the country. Also encouragingly, both Indian and multinational professional contractors and experts are showing an interest in water supply, distribution and reuse projects. However, being an essential commodity, the issue of water availability and its supply is unfortunately a political one. This has proved to be a deterrent to some who are keen to invest in water projects. Therefore, with respect to private partnerships, in principle, it is indeed correct to move away from subsidies and require all consumers to bear the cost of providing water. However, when slums have come up across India´s towns and cities, what should be done about them? In the master plan of the city, these areas are not provided any services because they are not supposed to be there.

However, they do exist and maybe occupy half the area of the city. In South Africa, when poor consumers were metered and could not pay for their supply, they were cut off. This was then the cause of severe cholera epidemics in that country. Do the authorities responsible for managing this precious resource have a solution?
The right way is of course, that better-off consumers pay more for their water supply with tariffs imposed on volumes consumed. The example of Nagpur is again appropriate here where the city imposes higher tariffs on volumes consumed as well as higher tariffs for commercial and industrial uses.

In Europe, environmentalists have for long talked about ´ecological sanitation,´ that reduces the volume of water used. Instead of looking to forever increase the supply of this precious resource, one will do well to consider how best to curb demand, at least in urban localities. It is worth noting that in spite of a better and wealthier lifestyle, developed and high-income countries like the Netherlands and Germany make do with about 130 lpd per capita. This shows just how much more efficiently they use and re-use water.

Shashikant Hastak, Superintending Engineer (Public Works), Nagpur Municipal Corporation.
Earlier, there were small contracts given out to multiple parties to supply water in Nagpur, but there was no accountability. So we made a contract with proper norms and a clearly defined output. Accountability obviously increased and we looked at making a long-term contract. What is feel is that the ULB should adopt the role of a regulator and not the service provider, since there are a lot of limitations for the ULB to act as a service provider. There is no dedicated professional expert manpower available. People keep getting transferred and there are no real incentives.

Therefore, for essential services, it is better that they are managed by the experts and the professionals. That is the idea.

For this concept, there was willingness from both the political and the administrative side. What used to happen was that we used to augment water supply but there was no performance-based management contract. That was an area where we were lacking.

We had already taken care of the supply-side efficiency, but on the demand side, efficiencies in terms of the tariff, losses, customer policy – those needed to be addressed on priority. As a result, we first implemented a pilot to demonstrate best practices. After showcasing results, a decision was taken for a city-wide PPP project. We have now rehabilitated our system partially, at around 40 per cent. We are still to complete about 60 per cent and we should be able to complete the entire rehabilitation in another one and a half year´s time. This will ensure water supply at the committed norms to the citizens for the next 25 years.

Tariff is not in the domain of the private operator. That is the domain of the ULB. There is no adverse effect on the consumer. Where 24×7 has been implemented, there has been a considerable increase in the billed volume as well as the required volume. All the consumer information is available to the respective consumer through GPS, and we can also track who is paying and who isn´t. Non-revenue has come down from 51 per cent to 32 per cent.

There is a considerable improvement in public health where we have implemented 24×7. In terms of complaints of polluted water supply, water samples reported, the incidents have come down.


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