INTERMITTENT SUPPLY IN INCREDIBLE INDIA
For those living in Singapore, Seoul or Hong Kong it might be hard to imagine living conditions where house-owners have to make elaborate pumping and storage arrangements for holding on to the few hours of water supplied in a day. Conversely, it is equally hard for those living in India to imagine a house with no arrangement to pump, store or treat water because clean tapwater is supplied 24 hours in a day.
Such is the incredulity about continuous water supply that many people in India think it can never be achieved. Intermittent water supply has become a way of life. It is no surprise that the projects to bring continuous water to pilot areas in cities are being viewed with doubt by many, including engineers.
Where will all the water come from, people ask. Many harbour the erroneous assumption that more water will be consumed on changing to a continuous supply. But in reality, it is possible to have continuous supply with as little as 80 litres per person (capita) per day (lpcd), which is far lesser than the Indian standard of 135 lpcd. Also, it has been largely observed that a person consumes almost the same amount of water whether it is taken from storage tanks in the house or from a continuous supply.
While new sources of water and water recycling will certainly be needed to meet the needs of cities in the coming decades, it is also true that enormous volumes of water are being lost from distribution networks in India today.
You cannot have continuous water supply in a city until you plug the leaks and stop the thefts of water in the network. You cannot plug the leaks until you have universal metering and a dedicated task force, which is solely responsible for controlling leaks and catching water-thieves. But, you cannot stop the poor from drilling holes and stealing water from pipes until all the poor are connected to the network. And you cannot connect everyone, install meters, rehabilitate or replace pipes, valves, fittings and other components of the network without investments. What’s more, you cannot sustainably finance your investments without users paying a tariff which recovers at least the O&M costs and then goes on to generate a return on assets sufficient to cover the interest of its long-term debt and to remunerate the equity invested.
Changing from an intermittent to continuous water supply is rarely a smooth process, and in a raucous democracy like India even more so. Roads have to be dug up, bills appear to be inflated, tempers mount as some zones receive water while others don’t. Blame games begin to be played, especially when the private sector is involved. Partnerships begin to unravel. The media is at hand to make every bad issue worse.
But as it often happens in India, one hopes it will all work out in the end.