Please Sir, Can I Have Some More Water?

[Note: still waiting ;-)]

Articles like this are always saddening to read. Delhi is facing an extreme water crisis. Even middle class people are foraging from tankers, and the millions of gallons of untreated sewage emptied into the River Yamuna every year are killing it.

One of the main figures cited in the article is Sunita Narain, of the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), the same people who brought us the summer pesticide/soda controversy. I know some readers will find her a controversial figure, but I don't think the scale of Delhi's water problem is really in dispute. Here are some of the stats Somini Sengupta brings to our attention:

  • 25 to 40 percent of the water sent into Delhi's water pipes leaks out before it reaches its destination.
  • 45 percent of Delhi's population isn't connected to the public sewage system, and all of their waste runs back into the Yamuna untreated.
  • 2.1 million (Indian?) children die every year because of inadequate sanitation. [The article is unclear as to which children exactly are dying from sanitation related problems]
  • The river water is so polluted with fecal coliform that it's not even remotely safe for bathing, which is required for devout Hindus.
  • Sewage plants have been constructed to treat waste, but have thus far have "produced little value."

Better management might well make a difference:

Yet the most telling paradox of the city’s water crisis is that New Delhi is not entirely lacking in water. The problem is distribution, hampered by a feeble infrastructure and a lack of resources, concedes Arun Mathur, chief executive of the Jal Board.

The Jal Board estimates that consumers pay no more than 40 percent of the actual cost of water. Raising the rates is unrealistic for now, as Mr. Mathur well knows. “It would be easier to ask people to pay up more if we can make water abundantly available,” he said. A proposal to privatize water supply in some neighborhoods met with stiff opposition last year and was dropped. (link)

Privatization is an extremely risky direction to go in for an essential resource like water. But the government seems to have been so thoroughly incompetent, it's hard to see how simply pumping more money into the system will make a big difference. Government money is--like water--prone to "leak."