24/7 water supply in cities of IndiaJanuary 13, 2008
The saga of 24/7 water supply S. VISHWANATH
|Ensuring safe and sustainable supply for all should be the mantra of our city water managers|
For the uninitiated, 24/7 means getting water at sufficient pressure in the pipes 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. This may sound like a fairy tale to most Indian cities though, what with some areas of Bangalore getting two hours of water every alternate day.
Most cities in India are doing exactly that, supplying some hours of water at insufficient pressure for some part of the day or some days in a week. How then does water still flow in our taps all through the day? The sophisticated word for it is called ‘coping strategy’. That is why we build a sump as one of the first items of a house or an apartment.
The sump is to store water when it comes in the pipes at whatever pressure and whatever time of the day or night; to store water from the borewell that we dig; to store water delivered in a tanker and basically act as a reserve. Then water is pumped up to the overhead tank to deliver it to our taps all through the day.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aId139F15l4 But if the city is to ensure that there is always water in the pipe with sufficient pressure would it not render all these investments in borewells, sumps, pumps, overhead tanks redundant and would it not save a huge chunk of money for a lot of home and apartment builders?
Sure it would and thus the movement through many institutions and programmes to push water supply institutions towards 24/7 water supply. Parts of Hubli-Dharwad, Belgaum and Gulbarga are testing out the 24/7 supply. Hyderabad aims to cover the whole city. Jamshedpur has signed up for it, Coimbatore targets it and the list goes on.
Other advantages include the non-entry of sewage or waste water into water pipes when they are empty and of course the assurance of water availability when needed and thus not having to get up in the night and store water as many poor households do.
Prerequisite The first and foremost is a demand from citizens that there water utilities be accountable and deliver a certain standard of water supply. Quantity, quality, pressure and time are four important parameters that need to be maintained by water supply providers. This demand has to come from pressure groups — citizens, resident welfare associations, civil society, apartment owners association and politicians.
The institutions themselves have to gear up and fix all leaks in the network. Typical losses in the system range from 30 to 50 per cent. These will need to be fixed. Then again metering of water and an Increasing Block tariff to reward low consumers and to punish the excessive users will need to be introduced sensitively. A lifeline tariff for the urban poor and a socially owned water distribution point for public stand posts will have to be put in place.
There are other challenges but none that cannot be overcome in a well functioning system.
Fears There are legitimate fears that the cost of water would go up with such a system and that this is the first step in the privatisation of public water. There are also fears that public standposts giving access to the homeless would disappear and that water to the poor would become unaffordable. These fears would need to be addressed pro-actively rather than being dismissed as populist slogan-mongering.
Openness and transparency of operations in the water sector would help to a large extent in bringing the dysfunctional system into the public discussion domain. By taking a distinct pro-poor stance and removing the misdirected subsidies to the rich, utilities need to win public support for reform. Without well functioning and democratically accountable institutions, the booming urban areas of India could easily disintegrate into chaos with regard to water supply and sewage management.
While most Indians would be satisfied with a regular two hour supply in a day from their water provider, 24/7 sets the gold standard for the water supply institutions of our urban area.
In a phased manner, ratcheted and gradual reforms are urgently needed to ensure water for all in our cities. If Phnom Penh in Kampuchea can do it, there is no reason why a Bangalore, Chennai, Kochi or Hyderabad cannot achieve regular water supply.
Ensuring safe water, sustainable water always and for all should be the mantra of all our city water managers. In this lies water wisdom.