Home Emergency Management News Chennai Water Crisis Portends Nationwide Drought in India
Chennai Water Crisis Portends Nationwide Drought in India

Chennai Water Crisis Portends Nationwide Drought in India

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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest

The 10 million residents of the southern Indian city of Chennai are in the midst of a dire water shortage that experts say is only worsening and spreading.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently created the Ministry of Water Power to oversee water resource management. He also reiterated his election campaign promise to provide piped water to every rural home by 2024.

Cities Other than Chennai Likely to Experience Drought in the Future

Chennai is not the only Indian city experiencing the possibility of a waterless future. A total of 21 major cities are poised to run out of groundwater next year, the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog, a government think tank, warned in a 2018 report.

"In view of limitations on availability of water resources and rising demand for water, sustainable management of water resources has acquired critical importance," the report said.

"It’s a matter of concern that 600 million people in India face high to extreme water stress in the country. About three-fourth of the households in the country do not have drinking water at their premise," NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant wrote in the preface to the report.

Chennai's problem is simple -- demand for water far outstrips supply. Three of the four reservoirs that provide water to the rapidly growing metropolitan area have run dry. That has forced authorities to take extreme and costly measures because the monsoon season is not expected until November.

Of all of India's southern cities, Chennai is the most vulnerable to both droughts and floods, the Deccan Herald explained. "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."

Chennai Crippled by Poor Municipal Management, Weak Monsoon Season in 2018 and Rapid Population Growth

The capital of Tamil Nadu state and the second largest city in India, Chennai's water shortage was brought on by poor municipal management, a disappointing monsoon season in 2018, and a rapidly growing population, CNN reported.

As a result, each week the government sends in thousands of water tankers, each of which is met by long lines of residents desperate to fill their pots and canisters. "Some get a daily ration, while others, such as residents from low-income neighborhoods, wait longer for their share due to an unsteady supply," CNN added.

Also, a special 50-car train brings in some 2.5 million liters (660,000 gallons) of water a day from a dam 216 kilometers (134 miles) and four hours away. The arrangement "is likely to continue till the water situation improves in Chennai area," Indian Railways told CNN in a statement. There are plans to increase the number of water trains to as many as four a day.

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Poor Government Management Gets Most of the Blame for the Crisis

"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," according to "On Point," a syndicated public radio program produced by WBUR in Boston.

"Officials have failed to regulate water usage, allowing farmers and residents to drain aquifers beyond sustainable levels," the current affairs program explained. "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."

Even after the devastating floods of 2015, the "water supply from Chennai’s desalination plants and a pipeline from Veeranam Lake in the Cauvery delta barely meet a quarter of its demand. Over the summer, piped supply virtually shut down," the Deccan Herald said.

That has led residents to take extraordinary steps to save what little water they have. People wash their utensils in dirty water to save clean water for cooking and drinking.

"I clean my house with the water used for rinsing the clothes. I water the plants with the water used in cleaning the vegetables. And despite of that, there is a shortage," Muniamma K. told CNN.

David Hubler David E. Hubler brings a variety of government, journalism and teaching experience to his position as a Quality Assurance Editor at APUS. David’s professional background includes serving as a senior editor at CIA and the Voice of America. He has also been a managing editor for several business-to-business and business-to-government publishing companies. David has taught high school English in Connecticut and at Northern Virginia Community College. He has a master’s degree for Teachers of English from the University of New Hampshire and a B.A. in English from New York University. In March 2017, Rowman & Littlefield published the paperback edition of David’s latest book, "The Nats and the Grays, How Baseball in the Nation's Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever."