How can India avoid South Africa's Zero Day?

Back in 2017, a Conde Nast Traveler Survey named Cape Town, the capital of South Africa, as one of the World’s Best 20 Cities. Cape Town is an international city at par with New York, Paris and London. For many of us, that’s what makes what’s happening to it so hard to comprehend. A severe water crisis has resulted in many homes and businesses having no access to water.

Can you imagine opening your tap only to hear a terrible guttural sound and no water? For those living in the urban areas of India, such a reality is not far away.

Bengaluru has a rapidly growing population- it is estimated that between 2012 and 2018 the population grew from 9 to 11 million. A city of that size requires 1,400 MLD (million litres per day) but has access to only 1,250 MLD of water that is being pumped from 98 KM away.

Similarly, Delhi receives 3467 MLD to meet its estimated requirement of 3600 MLD, but this summer it received only 3221 MLD. Furthermore, the World Bank highlighted that as much as 21 Indian cities could reach zero ground water by 2020.

Most water policies fail to address this rocket-ship growth and the long-term expansion plan of cities. In 2014, a year before Day Zero hit South Africa, reports identified that the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation and National Development Plan did not have accurate forecasts of how water demand would grow. India cannot make the same mistake.

What is even more worrying, is the amount of water lost simply through the transportation of water from the reserves to homes. Mumbai loses 22% of its water due to leakages and illegal connections. Delhi experiences an estimated 40% of water wastage, while Bengaluru's water wastage is an estimated 49%. The biggest cause of water loss is a poor and aging piping system, in addition to pilferage in key locations. Water leakages usually appear at distribution mains, service pipes and stand posts.

And so, while the dependency on a centralized solution requires upgrades and more effective technology, we also need to focus our attention on creating more reliable decentralized solutions that can cater to smaller neighborhoods within cities. Water harvesting is an obvious solution, but as the urban landscape changes, so must our methods for harvesting rainwater.

The cost of creating a holding tank, retention pond or waterbody for rainwater harvesting has always been difficult to justify given the current price of water. Unfortunately, ROI cannot be a factor for implementation of these measures, I’m sure cities like Cape Town will agree.

While simplified means of harvesting water through groundwater recharge positively impacts the overall water system at large, there is an emerging need for innovation that addresses the complexity of capturing, storing and using rainwater. Every urban city has great potential to harvest rainwater. For example, according to the Centre for Science and Environment, Mumbai can harvest as much as 2400 MLD. So while cities brace themselves via better technologies to measure and manage their centralized water supply, decentralized and local means of using rainwater will help us bridge the gap between demand and supply of cities in trouble.

We all hold responsibility to better manage our water resources. Look within our own homes and communities on what action can be taken. It’s only from there we can build momentum to prevent our cities from growing parched and having their own Day Zero.

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