Since my arrival in India, I have had access to three different sources of water; tap, which most of the time comes from a tank in my roof and is used mostly to wash dishes and take showers; filtered, for washing vegetables and to cook with; and mineral water, consumed in bottles or from a dispenser.
There are also water tankers (used by millions of families), big trucks that deliver water in case of water shortages, and people selling water in the streets.
Access to drinking water remains one of India’s biggest challenges. This issue is reinforced each day by a growing population, rapid urbanization and the growing demand for water from agriculture, energy and industry.
Access to drinking water is recognized to be, above all, a question of public and domestic health. According to UNICEF, only a quarter of the total population in India has drinking water on their premises and nearly three-quarters of all diseases in India are caused by contaminants in the water supply.
After more than 30 years working in the water sector in France, the Czech Republic, Morocco, Gabon, South Africa and India, I am convinced that working hand-in-hand with municipalities and all stakeholders is the main challenge to implement innovative, sustainable and equitable solutions that meet city’s and industries’ expectations and needs.
Whatever the location and the context, I would say that the water sector has to meet five main requirements to ensure access to water for all.
Capitalize on existing assets
The primary mission of a water operator in India is probably to optimize existing infrastructure, such as water production and treatment plants, water networks and reservoirs. Basically, the idea is to supply water to more people while using the same capacities, rather than waiting for new infrastructures to be built. Efficient management is crucial in extending the scope of existing services.
For instance, since 2006 in Karnataka, as part of a performance contract with the cities of Hubli-Dharwad, Gulbarga and Belgaum and in partnership with the World Bank, it became possible to provide a continuous water supply to 180,000 people who previously, at best, received water for only a few hours a week.
Adapt services to ensure affordability
In the context of public-private partnerships, the public sector retains ownership of the assets and, most importantly, sets the tariffs. One of the main challenges is to ensure that the cost of an individual connection is affordable and that tariffs are not prohibitive for the poorest people.
In the towns of Hubli-Dharwad, Belgaum and Gulbarga, working with the municipal corporations and the World Bank, we devised a solution that ensured charges for individual connection to the water network were affordable for all.
Create local customer services
Designing services for all citizens in partnership with elected representatives is something that most local people will expect. Offering the most well-adapted customer service to all our users by targeting their needs precisely is a duty that every water distributor should have.
For instance, in the city of Nagpur (Maharashtra), a new unit was created within the Customer Services Department of Orange City Water (the joint venture company between Veolia and Vishvaraj Environment Ltd.) named the Social Welfare Team.
All the members of this team are social workers from local communities who visit every household to explain the work of Orange City Water and answer their questions. They also carry out various service operations, such as dealing with applications for a water connection, subscriptions to the service and access to information about the water supply.
Apply the notion of ‘social business’
In a context of economic crisis and with the growing discontent created by mainstream capitalism in recent years, new business models are emerging. One of the most famous of these is “social business”.
Testing new models is another challenge for water operators, particularly when creating access to water to peri-urban and rural areas.
This is why, in 2008, we launched a joint venture between Veolia Water and Grameen Healthcare. Based on the “social business” model, the project set up a quality water service for two villages in Bangladesh where the country’s groundwater reserves are not very deep and are naturally contaminated by lethal levels of arsenic.
The profits of the new service will be reinvested to extend the distribution network and launch other similar projects. Thanks to this model, today more than 2,600 people have access to drinking water in the villages of Goalmari and Padua Union.
Speak to users and raise awareness
If technological expertise is at the root of a project, too often social support is missing, despite the fact that explaining good water use is essential to maximizing the benefits of services for local populations.
Communicating the relation between water, good hygiene and health, for example, should be one of our main responsibilities.
Access to drinking water is a concern that everyone in India faces, rich or poor. By distributing pressurized and potable water via taps, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, we can ensure that everyone has equal access to this precious resource. As long as the will is there, it is possible.
More on India and water
How to solve the world’s water crisis
Six ways to revolutionize India’s water
Can India crowdsource its water?
The world’s battle for water
Author: Patrick Rousseau is the chief executive officer of Veolia India.
Image: Boys hold buckets as they stand in a queue to collect drinking water for the Iftar (evening breaking fast) meal on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan in India, inside a mosque in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad June 30, 2014. REUTERS/Amit Dave
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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The Water Shortage in India
- Length: 980 words (2.8 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
India is the seventh largest country in the world by geographical area which is located on the South Asia. Moreover, India is the second populous country and second country which gets the most frequent rainfalls. Then why is India experiencing water shortage? Unfortunately, there is an ecological unbalance on the global scale. India is one of the eight countries which are seriously facing a sharp increase in water crisis that threatens humans, while a huge percentage of the world has no access to sanitation and clean water. The average person only needs 20 or 30 liters of water, while every Indian uses a big amount of water per day for different purposes than they are supposed to. Additionally, overpopulation and pollution have also been a cause of water poverty in India. Therefore, young children under the age of five make up the 75% of 37.7 million people who are affected by water-borne disease (Khurana 2008). The aim of this project was to create three possible solutions, and finally the most effective solution is recommended. Thus, several ways to deal with the problem of water shortage in India include harvesting rain water, watershed management, and river interlinking.
Harvesting rain water is one of the possible solutions to avoid water crisis. Water harvesting is one of the old methods of storing the priceless rain drop rather than letting it to flow away in India. Experts of this area say that collected rain water can be used right away or directly can be reloaded into the ground. As an example of this, about 366000 liters of water are harvested annually by CSE office building in Tughlaqabad institutional area (Bansil 2004 p.372). According to Bansil (2004): “And even the short spell of rain on May 12, 2002 which was only 8.5 mm. was enough to provide six days of drinking water for the 110 CSE staffers” (p.372). Additionally, roof-top water harvesting is one of the effective ways of harvesting rain water. Roof-top water harvesting enables people to economize water for drinking purposes up to 4-5 months (Bansil 2004 p 381). The Government of Rajasthan, one of the state governments in India, has made an obligatory provision for roof-top harvesting (Bansil 2004 p.386). However, the water used for harvesting is full of substances, which cause health problems.
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The water used for harvesting contains a large amount of nitrates and fluorides, cadmium, and chrome which are toxic. Furthermore, water is always invaded by various kinds of insects hence it should be upheld very carefully.
One of the proposed solutions to the water shortage in India is watershed management. Watershed management is landscape-based approach or strategy which aims to put into action management systems of natural resources for making living conditions better and providing conservation beneficially, economical usage of water and management of natural resources (Shiferaw, Kebede,and Reddy 2008 p.1). The Government of India conforms a high priority to watershed programs as a plan for structured expansion of rural areas “especially in rain-fed and drought-prone areas (Shiferaw, Kebede,and Reddy 2008 p.1).” Therefore, experts admitted that watershed projects have a positive impact on crop productivity, saving water that had been frequently used for farming (Yoganand and Gebremedhin 2008 p.11).Bansil (2004 p.392) states that “management of 4207 ha of the Sukhna lake (Chandigarh) catchment in the Shiwalik hills reduced runoff from 29% to 7% and sediment load from 140 to 18 tonne/ha over 20 years.”However, putting watershed projects into action is really expensive. As an example of this, year by year about $400 million is spent on watershed management projects in India (Kotru 2003 p.85). Furthermore, realization of these projects takes a long period of time. As Bansil stated above even the runoff process took about 20 years.
Water scarcity can also be avoided by river interlinking.As a name reveals, the aim of this project is to interlink all rivers with an attempt to cure India’s water problems (Goel 2005 p.3). First, this project will lessen the yearly floods in Ganga and Brahmputra (Shiva and Jalees 2003 p.1). Second, as Shiva and Jalees (2003 p.1) claims that “interlinking would lead to a permanent drought proofing of the country by raising the irrigation potential to equal the current net sown area of about150 million hectares.” Finally, “it would add 34,000 MW of hydropower to the national pool” (and Jalees 2003 p.1).However, river interlinking causes more problems rather than it proposes to solve. According to Alagh, Pangare, and Gujja (2006 p.160) “a single project, the Sardar Sarovar is estimated to destroy at least 14 000 hectare of the forest upon completion. In the case of Narmada Sagar, over 40 000 hectare of the forest land was destroyed and not compensated for.” On other hand, the cost of such projects is considered to be over billion dollars, which is a huge undertaking for Indian government to fund.
To sum up, several ways to deal with the problem of water shortage in India include harvesting rain water, watershed management, and river interlinking. Best efficient solution to water scarcity in India, perhaps, is harvesting rain water. First, it saves energy: “to lift ground water, one metre rise in water level saves about 0.40 kilo watt hour of electricity (Bansil 2004 p.375).” In addition to this, harvesting structures are very basic and simple, eco-friendly, and economical (Bansil 2004 p.381). River interlinking projects as one of the possible solutions may result in environmental concerns like pollution due to transportation and construction, and destruction of natural landscaping. Also another response to water scarcity, watershed management, is a large project for Indian government to afford. However, there can more effective solutions to avoid future crisis. The water shortage in India can be a perfect sample for the rest of the world to look at and learn from. The actions need to be taken right now in order to make human’s priceless liquid gold available for a future generation.