Thursday, February 25, 2016

New Delhi without Water

More than half of the 16 million people who live in New Delhi, India's capital, had been without water for at least four days after protesters seized and then sabotaged a canal which supplies 60% of New Delhi’s water. By Wednesday water was briefly supplied to parts of Central and North Delhi for around half-an-hour in the morning while in some areas of West Delhi, residents said they received water for only 15 minutes. The water was described as dirty and unfit for use.

Over the weekend, protesters in Haryana seized the canal carrying water to New Delhi amid demonstrations by the Jat community demanding inclusion of the group in caste quotas for jobs and education opportunities that have been available to lower castes since 1991. The land-owning Jat community has traditionally been seen as upper caste. According to the BBC 5,000 soldiers were deployed in the region to restore order, and take control of the canal’s gates. However, the protests had damaged the canal’s gates and repairs are still ongoing.

At least a dozen people were reported killed in the violence in Haryana State which surrounds New Delhi on three sides, and fears of water shortages led New Delhi to close its schools to conserve its supply. The main thoroughfare in the area, Grand Trunk Road, which had been reopened on Sunday, was reported by the New York Times to be blocked again by fighting on Monday.

India’s Constitution guarantees equality to all, but it also enshrines caste-based affirmative action for the lowest social group, the Dalits, for indigenous forest-dwellers, known as scheduled tribes, and the Other Backward Classes. Now the Jat and other groups are demanding to be classified as “Other Backward Classes,” demanding to be ranked lower on the socioeconomic ladder in order to have job and education preferences and advance themselves economically.

For the last few days 10 million people have been without running water. Water is being delivered by tanker truck, sadly common in India. The government is reportedly using existing reserves and other water bodies to meet the need. Engineers were able to restore some water flow to northern and central parts of New Delhi, and hoped to reach western neighborhoods by Wednesday according to a news release from the water minister, though at best they are hoping to reach 500 million gallons a day- less than 60% of the normal usage. The Times of India reports that it will take two weeks to fully restore water flow to the 900 million gallon a day level that the city usually has, and sEW DELHI: Water supply in the city is likely to take two weeks to be fully restored as Jat protesters have extensively damaged the Munak canal, Delhi's lifeline, which accounts for close to 45% of the supply, at several places EW DELHI: Water supply in the city is likely to take two weeks to be fully restored as Jat protesters have extensively damaged the Munak canal, Delhi's lifeline, which accounts for close to 45% of the supply, at several placesWatWeveral days without pressure in the system will result in widespread contamination seeping into the water delivery system.

According to the New York Times, 70 water tankers have been sent to western areas of the city where taps have been dry. Yet, even when the Munak canal flow is unimpeded, the overall water supply is not enough to maintain 24/7 water flowing to all households. Water shortages when the taps are dry are common during the dry seasons, and the riverside shanties and slums do not have running water, but instead either draw from the river directly untreated water or depend routinely on water trucks.

The rich often have private water storage tanks and other individual and groups in New Delhi draw directly from private groundwater wells. Each year they use more groundwater than has been recharged, overdrawing the aquifer. There has been so much overuse of the groundwater aquifer that the city's groundwater level has fallen by 13 feet in the last decade, according to the Central Ground Water Board. The water supply in New Delhi is nearing a crisis and the entire system is vulnerable to increasing frequency of emergencies.

For comparison purposes, Fairfax Water supplies drinking water to 1.7 million Virginians in the Washington Metropolitan area. On average, Fairfax Water produces 160 million gallons of water per day using either or both the Corbalis water treatment plant that draws raw water from the Potomac River and the Griffith water treatment plant that draws water from the Occoquan Reservoir. The combined total capacity of both plants is 345 million gallons/day to serve 1.7 million people (actual usage of 94 gallons a day per person minus system loss, but with redundant capacity from two water sources). While the New Delhi water supply of 900 million gallons a day serves a city with a population of 16 million people (56 gallons a day per person less system loss) and lacks adequate redundancy.

Nonetheless, the water infrastructure in our oldest cities has not been maintained and upgraded as needed. Without 24/7 water our great nation falls.  

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