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Nearly 11 Million People In The Indian City Of Chennai Are Almost Out Of Water46:50
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In this Monday, July 15, 2019, photo, people fill drinking water from a water tanker truck in Chennai, in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Demand for water in India’s Motor City, a manufacturing and IT hub on the Bay of Bengal, far outstrips supply, forcing authorities to take extreme and costly measures to deliver potable water to its residents. (Manish Swarup/AP)
In this Monday, July 15, 2019, photo, people fill drinking water from a water tanker truck in Chennai, in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Demand for water in India’s Motor City, a manufacturing and IT hub on the Bay of Bengal, far outstrips supply, forcing authorities to take extreme and costly measures to deliver potable water to its residents. (Manish Swarup/AP)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

The water crisis in the Indian city of Chennai is worsening. Its population is roughly the same as New York City’s. What lessons does Chennai hold for other major cities around the world?

Guests

Emily Schmall, South Asia correspondent for the Associated Press. (@emilyschmall)

Veena Srinivasan, fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bangalore, where she leads the Water, Land and Society Program. (@veenas_water)

Rimjhim Aggarwal, associate professor at the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University.

From The Reading List

Associated Press: "This Indian City Doesn’t Have Enough Drinking Water — So it's Shipping it in by Train" — "Amid the green Yelagiri hills of southern India, the train inches along the tracks, carrying what has become precious cargo: drinking water bound for Chennai, India’s parched Motor City.

"Demand for water in the manufacturing and IT hub on the Bay of Bengal far outstrips supply, forcing authorities to take extreme and costly measures to serve the city’s 10 million people. And so, every day, the train sets out on a four-hour, 216-kilometer (134-mile) journey, its 50 tank cars carrying 2.5 million liters (660,000 gallons) of water drawn from a dam on the Cauvery River.

"The train is classic Indian 'jugaad,' the Hindi word for a makeshift solution to a complicated problem.

"Executive engineer K. Raju confessed this is not the best engineering solution to Chennai’s water problem. 'But this is a timely way to help and that’s all. This is not a permanent solution,' he said. Building an underground pipeline that brings in water from closer areas would be better, he said."

National Geographic: "India’s water crisis could be helped by better building, planning" — "Once the wettest place on Earth, Cherrapunji, a town in northeastern India, has faced a drought each winter for the past few years. Kerala, a state in the southwest, flooded devastatingly in 2018, but saw its wells run dry soon after.

"Chennai, a growing south-Indian metropolis, was inundated by rains in 2015—but this summer, waiting for the monsoon, its 11 million residents have watched three of its four reservoirs run dry. Meanwhile, across India, the groundwater that provides an invaluable buffer between monsoons is severely depleted and in danger of being irreversibly lost.

"Welcome to the new India: hot and desiccated and wet and flooded, all at once, with the fates of 1.3 billion people and rich biodiversity hotspots riding upon increasingly unpredictable rains.

"The southwest monsoon, which usually drenches India from June to September, has come ten days late this year, bringing 30 percent less rain than normal for the month of June. In the north, Delhi has thus far seen almost no rain, while in southern India reservoir levels in southern India are running dangerously low. Headlines in newspapers scream 'zero-day' and 'running dry' and 'historic drought.'

"Chennai, a megacity now dependent on tanker trucks, leads the grim news. But Bangalore, India’s answer to Silicon Valley, is not far behind. There are murmurs that this burgeoning, bulging city will have used all its groundwater by 2020.

"The dire predicaments of these two urban areas is a cautionary tale—a symptom of the larger malaise that plagues water management in a country that is soon to be the most populous on Earth."

Al Jazeera: "What happens when a megacity runs out of water?" — "One of India's largest metropolitan cities is almost out of water. Over the past year, three of Chennai's four major reservoirs have dried up, upending the lives of many of the south Indian city's nearly 11 million residents. It's become harder to bathe regularly, wash clothes and dishes and keep hospitals running. Some people are leaving the city to stay with relatives. The shortage has also prompted many restaurants, hotels and other businesses to shut.

"The government is sending in thousands of water tankers each week, and there are long lines at each one of them. A special train is also bringing in some 2.5 million liters of water from a dam 250km away. But real relief won't arrive until November, with the beginning of the monsoon season. And that's only if the rain doesn't disappoint like it did in recent years.

"Climate change and a booming population have taxed Chennai’s water supply. But poor government management is getting most of the blame for the current crisis. Officials have failed to regulate water usage, allowing farmers and residents to drain aquifers beyond sustainable levels. Rapid urbanization has also made it difficult to replenish water tables with rain, as much of the city's lakes and wetlands have been paved over.

"Chennai's crisis is being watched closely in India, where 21 major cities are at risk of running out of groundwater by next year, according to a government think tank. But the situation also serves as a cautionary tale for other countries that are water-stressed, including Morocco, Iraq, Spain and South Africa. We'll take a look at Chennai's water woes and ask what the world can learn from this crisis."

Deccan Herald: "Opinion: Wake up, there’s no water!" — "In 2018, Cape Town’s water crisis captured the imagination of the world. As the Indian monsoon lags, people are waiting anxiously for the rains. The question is, how bad will it get in cities in South India and what can we do about it? As with all things water, there are no simple answers.

"Of the southern cities, Chennai is the most vulnerable to both droughts and floods. The city is largely dependent on a set of small reservoirs that are exclusively for its use. The storage is not enough to tide the city over two consecutive dry years and the rapidly urbanizing state has not been able to expand reservoir capacity. As a result, despite the devastating floods of 2015, the reservoirs are completely dry; the city is in the throes of a severe crisis. Supply from Chennai’s desalination plants and a pipe from Veeranam lake in the Cauvery delta barely meet a quarter of its demand. Over the summer, piped supply virtually shut down."

Allison Pohle produced this hour for broadcast.

This program aired on August 1, 2019.

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