Explainer: will Mumbai run out of water like Cape Town?

Mumbai, the world’s second-most crowded city, doesn’t stare at a water crisis at the moment, but experts believe that it faces the problem of “water stress”.

By Aayush Ailawadi & Alex Mathew

It’s no secret that Cape Town, the second-most populous city of South Africa, faces a severe water crisis, and it’s only a matter of time before ‘Day Zero’, the day the city is expected to run out of water. Did you know that many parts of India may face such a crisis?

Take Bangalore for instance. Of late, the ‘garden city of India’ has grabbed the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Foaming lakes catching fire, soaring temperatures, and air pollution have earned the city a spot in the unenviable list of 11 cities most likely to run out of drinking water.

The clock is ticking for Mumbai

Mumbai, the world’s second-most crowded city, doesn’t stare at a water crisis at the moment, but experts believe that it faces the problem of “water stress”. That’s a situation when demand for the resource exceeds the available supply.

“There is a great risk for water stress for Mumbai. But, fortunately or unfortunately we have transferred this risk onto the adivasis (tribals) from whose areas we are getting water maybe 100 or more kilometers away,”Janak Daftari, convener of Maharashtra Jal Biradari—a water conservation body—told BloombergQuint in the latest edition of the Weekend Show.

Instead of cutting back and disciplining the supply, sourcing, distribution and leakage or doing something constructive, the government is considering damming rivers, which isn’t the solution, he said.

Mumbai gets 97 percent of its water from dams on rivers Bhatsa, Vaitarna and Tansa, said Sitaram Shelar, convener of Pani Haq Samiti, a collective organisation working on water-related issues.

“But from Mumbai itself, we are not getting a single drop as portable water. We are getting 3,800 MLD (million litre per day) of purified water every day, which is coming into the city and going back out without treatment,” he added.

Although Shelar doesn’t think Mumbaikars are at an immediate risk like Cape Town, he points to an another problem, that of uneven water distribution. “Sixty percent of the city’s population is using 45 litre per capita per day and the rest are using 200. So, there is a clear discrepancy. And three million of the city’s population is not getting access to the water by some norms, rules and regulations.”

The government thinks they can give a piece of land for development. But, when the government defines development without water bodies, is that the development which will help us survive?

Sitaram Shelar, Convener, Pani Haq Samiti

Speaking about the extent of damage done to the city’s lakes, Daftari gave the example of Powai lake, which he said was able to provide portable water a long time ago, but in the last 40-45 years it has been reduced to purely industrial supply.

What’s the solution?

The Maharashtra government in its latest Mumbai Development Plan 2034 allowed to increase the floor space index, or the extent of development allowed on a piece of land, for both commercial and residential buildings. The government needs to conserve its water sources while letting this expansion take place, Shelar said.

“Defining development without including the water body is not sustainable,” he said.

So what can be done to solve this water problem?

Daftari said every citizen would have to inculcate a discipline about water consumption as even saving one spoonful of water today will go a long way. The housing societies can go for recycling used water, which will not only bring down water cost but cut a lot of water. “The recycled water will be bio-rich… people who have used this water told us that this water has killed cockroaches in their pipelines…,” he said.

But the key point is that people will have to learn to contain their aspirations, said Shelar. “There are societies which are 32 storey-tall with four apartments on each floor, and each having a swimming pool or infinity pool, and they will get water supply.” Citizens would have to understand that this is not sustainable. That this may make all the taps run dry in the city.

This article was originally published on Bloomberg Quint