Water resource management key to Chennai’s future

According to the Global Development Research Center (GDRC), integrated water resource management is the key to sustainable development of urban centers in future. According to one of GDRC’s research papers titled ‘An integrated urban water strategy’ prepared by Hari Srinivas (probably from Chennai- how ironic!):
“Clean, safe water can be brought to the 1.4 billion people around the world without it for as little as $50 per person, which can prevent many of the 3.35 billion cases of illness and 5.3 million deaths caused each year by unsafe water, says a United Nations analysis. At any given time, an estimated one half of people in developing countries are suffering from diseases caused either directly by infection through the consumption of contaminated water or food, or indirectly by disease-carrying organisms (vectors), such as mosquitoes, that breed in water. These diseases include diarrhea, schistosomiasis, dengue fever, infection by intestinal worms, malaria, river blindness (onchocerciasis) and trachoma (which alone causes almost six million cases of blindness or severe complications annually).

In many countries, water shortages stem from inefficient use, degradation of the available water by pollution and the unsustainable use of underground water in aquifers, the UN says. For example, 40 to 60 per cent of water used by utilities is lost to leakage, theft and poor accounting.
How bad is the water crisis?
• Every 8 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease
• 50 percent of people in developing countries suffer from one or more water-related diseases
• 80 percent of diseases in the developing world are caused by contaminated water
• 50 percent of people on earth lack adequate sanitation
• 20 percent of freshwater fish species have been pushed to the edge of extinction from contaminated water.
Not only is the toll a human tragedy, but it means these people are less able to carry on productive lives, and this undermines social and economic development,” says Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Dr. Töpfer notes women and girls in developing countries spend more than 10 million person-years in aggregate each year fetching water from distant, often polluted sources. Water can be provided in rural and low-income urban areas through the utilization of low-cost technologies that include handpumps, gravity-fed systems and rainwater collection, which would be built to serve entire rural villages or urban neighborhoods, rather than bringing indoor plumbing to individual houses. The provisions would include pumps, pipes, the training of workers, and the development and strengthening of water management practices.

Urbanization and the Water Crisis

The consequences of the increasing global water scarcity will largely be felt in the arid and semi-arid areas, in rapidly growing coastal regions and in the megacities of the developing world. Water scientists predict that many of these cities already are, or will be, unable to provide safe, clean water and adequate sanitation facilities for their citizens — two fundamental requirements for human well being and dignity. The problem will be magnified by rapid urban growth. In 1950, there were less than 100 cities with a population in excess of 1 million; by 2025, that number is expected to rise to 650. By the year 2000, some 23 cities — 18 of them in the developing world — will have populations exceeding 10 million. On a global scale, half of the world’s people will live in urban areas”.

Want to know more? Read his report here.

And what is Chennai up to? According to P oppili in the Hindu, dated May 29, 2007:
“Chennai and its suburbs once boasted of over 100 small and big water bodies. A majority of them have been gradually destroyed due to a combination of hectic urbanisation and anthropogenic interferences. The city’s important waterbodies include the Adyar Estuary, Adambakkam lake, Ambattur lake, Chitlapakkam lake, Ennore creek, Korattur swamp, Koyambedu marshland, Madhavaram and Manali jheels, Pulicat lake and Vyasarpadi Lake besides Buckingham Canal, Cooum and Adyar Rivers and Otteri Nullah. The wetlands played important roles as groundwater recharging units, natural drain-off mechanisms during monsoon and natural habitat for fish, birds and other aquatic life, said K. V. Sudhakar, secretary, Madras Naturalists Society.

The wetlands are also a haven for bird-watchers and ornithologists. For instance, the Adyar estuary once attracted more than 100 species of birds. Even the doyen of Indian Ornithology, the late Dr. Salim Ali, had stressed the need for protecting the creek not only for the sake of birds but also for the benefit of human beings. Sadly, only a small portion survives today and inlet and outlet channels for seawater have been clogged, Mr. Sudhakar said.
Another classic example is the slow disappearance of Manali jheel ecosystem on the northern fringes of the city. V.Guruswamy, a naturalist overseeing winged visitors at both Madhavaram and Manali jheels, said activities such as release of untreated effluents, drainage water, poaching and illegal creation of a graveyard had reduced the actual jheel area to a great extent.

In Madhavaram jheel, effluents from a nearby government dairy unit are being systematically released into the southern end, unleashing chaos on the aquatic life. The situation is no better in the northern portions of the jheel, laments Mr. Guruswamy. A tomb erected illegally some time ago for a union leader has set a bad precedent with more and more people using the place to bury or burn dead bodies. Now a compound wall has been constructed around the burial site. In Mr Guruswamy’s assessment, failing drastic salvage efforts, the chances of the Manali jheel surviving are slim. He suggests strengthening the embankment, controlling poaching, suspending the release of drainage and prohibiting cattle grazing. Enlisting local support through awareness initiatives was also imperative for any conservation effort to succeed, he said.

The cascading effect of man-made devastation has had an impact of the avifauna population. With the jheels reeling under severe disturbances, the bird population at the Simpsons factory in Sembium has come down drastically. A total of 53 species of wetland and wetland-oriented birds were reported at the jheels until recently, he said.
Naturalists pointed out that the last wetland that died on the pedestal of development was the Koyambedu marshland. About 15 years ago the area used to have a lot of wild growth attracting a large number of birds. During monsoon, rainwater used to get stored in the marsh and it helped in maintaining the groundwater table in the western parts of the city. A few years ago, the marshland was taken over by the Government for housing the vegetable and fruit markets and bus terminus”.

One can only hope that the government will wake up to this in the near future.

4 Comments so far

  1. sachin (unregistered) on July 19th, 2007 @ 1:03 am


    Unfortunately the flipside of development is the lack of concern for the environment around us. water pollution is a star reality in every urban agglomeration in India, that refuses to be controlled for whatever reason. But with provisions for water management in JNNURM, im hopeful for change. But i guess thats a separate issue.

    Water for chennai will be provided by desalination plants. We will end up paying for water in the same fashion that we pay for electricity. I guess the govt will have it set it up before 2010.

  2. Vivek (unregistered) on July 19th, 2007 @ 10:31 pm

    Govt will do NOTHING and the Indian people will do NOTHING. Indians are always slaves. They were slave to British and now they are slaves to the politicians. They will ever be slaves and die.

  3. mohan (unregistered) on August 7th, 2007 @ 4:08 pm

    Its truly sad that while we feel the pinch of water scarcity we dont care about conserving the water bodies.
    I always wondered why there is a colony called ‘Lakeview colony’ in Nungambakkam with no lake in vicinity. And by chance got my hands on map of madras in 1904. And was surprised to see a large lake running between Saidapet, mambalam upto nungambakkam. But thats completely gone without a trace.
    The Adyar estuary is dead, though the govt. plans to revive it as an eco park. The mouth or the inlet of the estuary has been filled with debri and closed to enable construction. How feasible will it be without the blockages being removed, is a big question mark.
    Porur lake is now a pond. Ramavaram lake is now an engineering college. Pallikaranai is a burning dump yard.
    We kill all the water bodies senselessly and yet expect water flowing through our taps 24/7 ?

    Well, its easy to blame govt for everything. Thats escapism on our part. The govt works on public pressure. We need to create awareness within the community and build the neccessary pressure.

    Otherwise the day is not far when one will have to apply for allotment of fews buckets of water for everyday use and get it delivered like LPG cylinders or rationed thru pipes.

  4. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on August 7th, 2007 @ 8:24 pm

    I’m surprised Vivek didn’t use the word doomed here — because when I see the attitude to the environment, and reading articles like this one, I think that Chennai is doomed.

    Industry gets away with what it wants, government has no interest whatsoever and people are only in interested n their own plot.

    To spend a fortune on an ‘eco-park’ is a joke — when there is no care of the environment in general.

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