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Chennai suffers from water woes

An aerial view of Chembarambakkam Lake, one of the major reservoirs delivering water supply to Chennai – which is close to dry. (Image credit: Rehman Abubakr [CC BY-SA 4.0 (])
Chennai – a city reeling under water scarcity – is now battling water contamination woes.

The Tamil Nadu state capital is facing an acute water shortage as temperatures soar in the city. Depletion of water reserves in lakes, wells and reservoirs has led to water scarcity plaguing 9.8 million people. Many Chennaiites are reliant upon tankers dispatched by the Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewage Board (CMWSSB). However, dwindling supplies against to a daily demand for 880 million litres means there is a long wait for water to be delivered. The CMWSSB is able to provide only 550 million litres daily as of February.

Earlier the supply used to be erratic. But gradually water stopped coming and we had to depend on water tankers,” a Velachery resident was quoted as saying in The News Minute. “Nowadays, the situation is so grim that it takes one week for the CMWSSB to send water tanker to our locality after booking.” According to one report, it can take as many as twenty days for a water tanker to arrive at a residential building from the date that it is ordered.

The crisis is not limited to Chennai, or even Tamil Nadu where drought has been declared in 24 districts by the state government. As reported by Health Issues India, around 42 percent of land in India is facing drought across multiple states. This comes on the heels of a WaterAid report revealing that one billion Indians live without access to drinking water for at least one part of the year.

Adding to the city’s water woes is contamination, with an analysis of 621 samples finding that 36 failed bacterial tests. This levies more pressure on the CMWSSB, which has to both cleanse contaminated water sources and arrange provision from alternative roots, placing additional strain on resources. In many parts of the city, residents are complaining of being piped turbid water which officials attribute to the declining stores in the reservoirs.

This has led to Chennai becoming home to a parallel water economy. A 4,000-strong fleet of private water tankers and 492 water packaging units both service the metro according to The Hindustan Times. The water packaging units sell 50,000 litres of water each day, whilst the tankers distribute 33.6 crore litres per day in Chennai. This translates to turnovers of Rs 2.95 crore and Rs 5.92 crore respectively.

To alleviate some of the situation, the CMWSSB plans on increasing the length of delivery times despite a lower water despite criticism from employees. Meanwhile, activists are calling on water conservation measures to be enacted across the city.

“The storage levels of our city’s reservoirs have diminished big time,” stated Kasturi Rangan, secretary of the Choolaimedu branch of environmental group Exnora. “People need to realise its value and stop wastage. We need to use our resources efficiently. Every individual should make it a point to utilise every drop that accumulates within their home. People should also take a lead on inferring the need for rainwater harvesting and maintenance of existing pits in their homes, for a better tomorrow.”

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