Wilting and withering, Hyderabad faces an arid future

Submitted by alvin on Fri, 2016-04-29 09:55 Drinking water shortage is notthing new for Hyderabad. This crisis looms on the city every summer for almost three months. But this time around, the situation is very grave and Telangana is facing one of the worst water crisis in recent times. The summer hasn’t reached its peak yet, but all the four water reservoirs of the city have completely dried up already. This has happened for the first time in 30 years. Himayat Sagar and Osman Sagar, two historic reservoirs of Hyderabad, have no water to offer. And the other two lifelines, Singur and Manjira rivers, also have failed to quench the thirst of the Hyderabadis.Now the city is surviving on Krishna and Godavari water. The water from theses two rivers is reaching the city through giant pipelines from a distance of almost 200 km. But the situation is grim here too. The water levels in these rivers are falling rapidly. According to some estimates, Hyderabad is facing a drinking water deficit of almost 50pc. Hyderabad Metro Water Supply and Sewage Board is able supply only 335 million gallons of water per day, while the demand is 660 million gallons.With the levels of ground water declining rapidly, the majority of the bore wells have also gone bone dry. So the residents in many areas are now completely at the mercy of the water tankers. The residential areas at the fringes of the city, including many high-rise buildings, posh gated communities, which lack piped water connections, are now left with dried up bore wells. So booking water tankers is the only way to keep life moving for the residents here. To check the private water tanker lobby and to prevent uncontrolled and illegal drawing of underground water, HMWSSB has taken up the task of supplying water through tankers. The HMWSSB which controls the movement of nearly 1,000 water tankers is now unable to keep up with the increasing demand. So after booking the tankers, people have to wait for more than a week. The only way to get water within a day is to book a private tanker which costs double the water board tanker. Private water tankers are charging anywhere between Rs 800 – 900, depending on the distance and the urgency of the customer.  Many apartments have increased the maintenance charge by Rs 4000 - 5000 owing to the extra bucks they have to spend to get water.So, the monthly budget of many households has increased by almost Rs 5000 only for water. This summer is proving to be the cruelest time especially for the slum dwellers. With sporadic and insufficient supply of piped water, people of 200-odd slums are the worst-hit. As they can’t afford private tankers, they are at the mercy of government tankers. In some areas, when the tanker arrives, people pay Rs10 per barrel to the driver and collect water. Many poor families are spending around Rs 500 per month on water alone.  So, does this mean private tanker owners are making a killing? Though it seems to be the case with growing demand for water, the reality is completely different. Because even these private water suppliers are finding it hard to get water and the situation is becoming more and more dangerous with every passing day because of the fast depleting underground water. There is a complete ban on commercial use or digging of bore wells in the city limits. But with the private water supply business thriving in the city, the menace of illegal bore wells too also increased many folds. Many open plot owners have rented out their plots to these water vendors to dig bore wells and extract water. This abuse of underground water has resulted in drying up of other bore wells in the vicinity. So this water tanker business can survive only till the ground water is available. More alarming is the situation where agricultural fields located at the city borders have been reduced to mere water-drawing facilities. To fulfill the growing needs of newly-urbanized areas at the edge of the city, the farmers have become water business entrepreneurs. As these agricutural fields are located outside the GHMC limit and are not covered by HMWSSB rules, setting up water business unit is legally easier. Many farmers have sold their lands to become tanker owners and some others are selling water from their fields to private companies. A few others have started new ventures by setting up mineral water plants, resulting in the fast depletion of ground water levels in these border villages. All these facts are pointing at a very dangerous future. What would happen in coming years? Of course, a few more drinking water projects might come up to satiate the thirst of the ever-growing city and the distance from where the water is getting piped may increase from 200km to 500 km. But what will happen if we end up consuming all available sources of water? Had there been a little delay in bringing the Godavari water to the city, Hyderabad would have faced a water emergency. This means Hyderabad is the new Latur in making. Environmental activism is not so vibrant in Hyderabad. With an existential disaster facing them, Hyderabadis remain blasé and laidback as ever.Are we not supposed to take terminologies like rain water harvesting and sustainable development out of books and put them to everyday use? Or may be we wait for a waterless Gotterdammerung, a future where the city will witness violent conflicts over water? Perhaps that is when we will wake up to the reality. Author H S Arpana is a journalist with 10 years of experience in Television Media and presently works as a freelance translator, voice over artist and writer. She was a bulletin producer with television channel ETV Kannada and has won awards for her short stories published popular regional dailies Kannada Prabha and Vijayavani. She also has had a brush with documentary film making for government projects.