Archive for July, 2013


On 24/7 water supply for urban india

July 25, 2013

24/7 water supply revisited 

David Foster, Adviser at the Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad, is a champion of 24/7 water supply for cities. His talk is compelling and makes us ask and reflect why we do not have 24/7 pressurised water in our pipes. He was in Bangalore recently at a workshop organised for water and sanitation practitioners from all across India in their annual meet called ‘Solutions Exchange.’

Mr. Foster mentions city after city in Africa and Asia, and particularly Phnom Penh, where 24/7 water is available not for the rich as a luxury but to the poor too. The key advantage of 24/7 supply is that the distribution pipes are always under positive pressure and, therefore, even when it leaks, it leaks out. When the pipes is not under positive pressure — that is when pipes are running dry — there is negative pressure inside the pipes and this sucks in water or sewage and, therefore, ends up contaminating water when it flows in the pipes.

Questions unanswered 

In cities such as Bangalore and Hyderabad, water is supplied two to four hours every alternate day. It seems impossible to even remember that in the 1970s, Bangalore had almost 24/7 water supply. Why is it that quality of the service provided deteriorated so fast over time? Why have sumps, pumps, overhead tanks and water treatment devices become the norm rather than the exception and adding a huge burden to house construction? Why do poor people pay the highest price for water and the rich who have piped connection get the cheapest water in our cities? Why is there an outbreak of water-borne disease frequently from polluted water? The answer lies in the lack of investment in infrastructure, the inability to price water correctly to recover costs and to keep systems in repair, the lack of accountability which we place on our utility service providers and the breakdown in governance especially of our water and sewerage.

The result is cheap water for the rich and the middle class, limited access in quantity and quality of the water supplied to the poor, a huge amount of time spent by the poor and especially women in hauling water and regular outbreaks of cholera and water-borne disease again among the poor.

Leaking infrastructure 

The result also is a hugely leaking infrastructure with close to 40 per cent of the water put into the system simply leaking away either as direct physical loss or as financial loss and euphemistically called non-revenue water.

It results in institutions not being held legally responsible for the quality of water they supply. It results in the consumer having virtually no rights for service either in terms of quantity or timeliness of supply or the quality of the water delivered. So we live at the mercy of the service provider and get water based on the whims and fancies of the staff involved.

The flip side of 24/7


Unfortunately reforms in the water have not been focussed on serving all, especially the poor, and have become a privatisation or private sector participation initiative. Pro-poor policies are defined in a completely undemocratic and non-participative mode. Contracts are awarded to large multinationals whose intentions and reputation are not exactly covered in glory. Prepaid meters are proposed for the low income and slum communities. No effort is made to plug leakages and to target subsidies and take them away from the rich.

These are but some of the problems in bringing reform in the water sector. Unless we get our act together and ensure justice and equity as the fulcrum of reform and accountability of our service providing institutions our water and sanitation sector will continue to flounder holding back economic growth and negatively impacting the health and well being of a large section of our populace.






On the water culture of the Naxi people of Yunnan , China.

July 13, 2013

Fostering a water culture


The province of Yunnan is in the South-East of China. The mighty Yangtze River, the Mekong and the Salween rivers flow through this water rich land. The rivers come very close to each other here and then separate to flow in different directions. The Salween goes to Burma, the Mekong to Vietnam and the Yangtze stays in China to empty itself into the sea near Shanghai. The high mountain area is declared a UNESCO Heritage site for its sheer natural beauty, its rich water resource and its high bio-diversity. This ensures that the area is preserved and managed in such a fashion that the community needs are met without disturbing the ecology of the place. Our rivers which originate in the Western Ghats deserve this ecological protection too and those who benefit the most from the rivers should be at the fore-front of protecting it at source.

In the town of Lijiang in the North of the province is the town of Lijiang. The old town was inhabited for long by the Naxi people, an ethnic minority population in China known for their beautiful cloth embroidery but also for the way they have integrated water into their habitat and managed it. A Water Wheel stands in the town, also declared a UNESCO Heritage site for its water wisdom and use, and still works. In fact water wheels dot the landscape and in the old town it looks like almost every house had one , to grind the corn , to lift water and to have a myriad other purpose. Lijiang has a series of canals, waterways and water bodies which dot the landscape. The Naxi were and are truly the masters of water.

The spirit of one of their systems truly captures the way the community dealt with water and recognized its quality value. It is called the Three wells model. Water from springs and small channels are led into three beautifully designed storage structures. In the language of the Naxi it is the three wells.

The first well upstream or where the water enters is used for drinking and cooking purpose only. This is the cleanest water. The second well is used for washing vegetables for here the water is less clean. The third well is used for washing clothes, dishes and for other use for this is the lowest water quality of the three yet still clean.


By not polluting the water channels and using the water therein directly, by creating a beautiful architecture around the use of water and by inculcating a discipline and a culture for water use ingrained in the behaviour of the society, the clean water of the area has been used and protected for centuries. Modernity and the lack of understanding of this concept by other communities is a concern now for the entire water system can be destroyed by the bad behaviour of the few.

In India too we see water bodies and wells being strewn with garbage and a lack of discipline in maintaining the water resource. Destroying the local will only create a dependency on the outside water and we will find that there is not enough for us to come in from the ‘outside’. Education, discipline and behavior become culture and in wise water culture is the preservation and sustainable use of the resource.

We can all learn from the Naxi people how to use water wisely. In that lies water wisdom.