Bangalore, India’s third largest city and one of the fastest growing economic hubs in South Asia, stares at an almost certain water crisis in the near future as both the civic administration and the citizens struggle to cope with the already dwindling fresh water resources.
Home to more than 9.5 million people and rapidly adding migrants to this number who come every day to this city to find their dream job, Bangalore is fighting to cope with the increasing demands of its population. The most important demand remains for fresh water.
In a recently concluded discussion on Bangalore’s water crisis, local administrative board Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Treatment Board, Chairman Gaurav Gupta claimed:
If you are taking a property in Bengaluru, especially in the peripheral areas, take at your own risk! We really don’t have water for those areas.
Bangalore’s primary sources of fresh water are the Cauvery river, its 600-odd lakes and the ever reliable underground water resources. However, the local authorities claim that Bangalore only has 189 live lakes. The rest of the lakes are either carelessly encroached upon or have severe contamination by sewage water.
Bangalore has doubled its population since 2001 and mindless planning of infrastructure has led to depletion and contamination of ground water. The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board, which was so far drawing 1.15 billion litres of water per day through all the four stages of the Cauvery, is now drawing only 800 million litres per day taking the shortage to 350 litres per day.
This contaminated water was found to have at least four strains of bacteria which can cause severe intestinal infections. Where does this water end up? It seeps through the lake bed into the city’s underground water, which is pumped into the city’s households by bore wells. A shocking study by Eureka Forbes Limited, Mumbai claims that the people of Bangalore are immune to some strains of these bacteria as they have been drinking this water for more than ten years now.
It’s not just contamination, Bangalore is the fastest growing real estate market in the country, and this translates to large apartments, villas, and bungalows in all parts of the city. Since the landscape is dotted by concrete structures, the rain water runs off into drains without seeping through the soil, thereby severely depleting the underground water resources. What’s worse is that the construction of elevated expressways and the Bangalore Metro Rail has rapidly depleted Bangalore’s green cover, effecting rainfall adversely.
The causes for this acute shortage are highlighted in Goutham Sampath's blog “Bangalore Realty”:
Bangalore was free of air-conditioned malls and multiplexes, but shopping and entertainment options were still plentiful. Bangalore was free of its Information Technology tag, but was still a reasonably significant industrial manufacturing hub. With its tree-lined roads, large open spaces and now abundant Cauvery water, Bangalore was really the Pensioner's Paradise, where retired folks could live without any worries.
Ritwik Kaikini, an engineering student from south Bangalore, told Global Voices how even the trucks used to transport fresh water are faulty: “There is leakage in almost all the water trucks, always. Half the water leaks away till they reach the destination and this is just criminal wastage of water”.
Purushotham Daldur, a student and a resident of the same area, said, “I feel even the pipes used to transport fresh water are faulty.”
Ananth Narayan S wrote in his blog how even the most perennial sources of water in Bangalore are running dry:
With an extremely poor monsoon in the previous year, most lakes had dried up. What was surprising however was that the only perennial water body in Bangalore – the sewer lines – had also dried up. The citizens and the Bangalore municipal corporation (BBMP) are at a loss on how to handle the situation. The BBMP said “We have water treatment plants in the city. Those used to satisfy a small portion of the city's water needs. Now even that is lost. We are not sure how to handle the situation; for now an ad hoc committee has been constituted”.
This problem is being faced by Pune, Hyderabad, and other growing cities too, as Sainath P in newspaper the Hindu reported:
Every apartment is a dream come true — the coronet that tops the king-sized lifestyle of true blue blood. So run the ads. Yup, the blue bloods do it big. Each apartment has its own private swimming pool. These are, after all, super-luxurious, supersized designer apartments. The kind that match the royal lifestyles.
It seems the thousands of skyscrapers in India’s big cities are luxuriously using fresh water to fill-up the pools of the super-rich but on the other hand, the middle class and the poor reel under what is one of Bangalore’s worst civic problems in centuries.
At a time when the city of Bangalore is reeling under an acute water crisis, more than 150 volunteers of the Art of Living Foundation in Bangalore along with founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar led a walkathon with posters on how to save water in July 2013.
The spiritual guru told NDTV, a national news channel:
Water is such a scarce thing now and we must do all we can to judiciously use it. Our volunteers are trying to prevent one of the small rivers, the Kumudvathi in Bangalore from drying up. They are planting trees in the area which can help prevent soil erosion, building boulder checks. Anything which can help rejuvenate and revive our natural resources must be done, today and now.
Among all the negative information come a few rays of hope when citizens take it upon themselves to save water and check water wastage by doing common things around the house and offices.
Another story that offers a glimmer of hope is that of A.R. Shivakumar, a senior fellow of Karnataka State Council for Science and Technology, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Shivkumar, who is nicknamed as Bangalore's rain catcher, says that to meet the Bangalore's high water consumption (1.4 billion litres per day or 18 billion cubic feet) rain water harvesting is the answer.
While the authorities have made it mandatory for all houses in Bangalore larger than 2,400 square feet to harvest rain water, many have avoided the trouble of installing a rain water harvest system. The local authorities must swing into action in order to ensure this ingenious solution is implanted at a time of a crisis like this one.
How Bangalore tackles this issue is going to be critical, as the same model can be used to solve the water crisis in other cities which are on the verge of urbanization. What is needed now is swift action by the civic authorities and a united front by the citizens to help preserve what little water is available.