COVID-19: Is Mumbai ready to combat the upcoming water crisis?

Sharon Singh
Monday, 18 May 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has fuelled the already existing water crisis in India. The challenge now is not only to provide water for drinking but also for washing the hands.

The COVID-19 pandemic has fuelled the already existing water crisis in India. The challenge now is not only to provide water for drinking but also for washing the hands. World Health Organization’s (WHO) safety message of washing hands frequently seem like a prank for those people who are thirsting even for a drop to drink. The upcoming summers coupled with the deadly virus puts double the pressure on the government today.

The gravity of this water crisis can be estimated as the Bhatsa dam, which provides 70 per cent of its water to Mumbai, has the maximum storage capacity of 942,000 million litres is at 46 per cent of its live storage capacity, which is around 437,000 million litres. A volume of around 2,100 million litres of water is daily being pumped out of dam towards Mumbai, the figures don’t seem to be problematic but according to report by Maharashtra water resource department, the city loses around 650 million litres of water every single day due to leaking pipes and around 500 million litres every day to theft and pilferage.

The offices and industries being closed comes as a respite to the water stress but it still doesn’t solve the crisis.

The Aarey forest slums which are mostly inhabited by the migrant workers and local tribal of the city, get their supply from water mafias who sell water through tankers or from a local politician who has a municipal water connection. This water cost around Rs 30 for 5 litres or Rs 50 for 10 litres for labourers who earn a couple of hundred rupees a day.

“Mujhe bas pine ka pani chaheye, nahana dhona to station me jake kar lete hai (I need water just for drinking purpose, bathing and washing can be managed after I reach the railway station),” told a slum dweller in the Aarey forest who didn’t wish to be named. His words echo the sentiments of his likes.

When inquired about the situation, Pramod Vishwakarma, a resident, replied out of agony, “Main din ka Rs 100-200 kamata hu, usme se bhi Rs 30-40 peene ke pani ke leye dene padte hai (I earn around Rs 100-200 a day, out of which I have to spend around Rs 30-40 on drinking water)”.

Later, after the interview, he briefly narrated how water smuggling can be a business opportunity for those who own tankers and a BMC water connection.

“Abhi sirf ek ghar me connection hai, lagbhag 80 jhugi wale usse pani khareedte hai (As of now, there is only one home with a water connection, around 80 residents purchase water from him),” he added.

When further questioned about the person who has this water connection, Pramod refused to comment as the person is an influential local politician.

Residents have already filed multiple requests for water connection but the situation remains unchanged and may worsen in the upcoming days of summer. Residents who strive for basic sanitation needs will be left with no other option but to break social distancing norms of government to fetch drinking water amidst this lockdown.

Dharavi is already struggling with containing the rising COVID-19 cases on a daily basis. Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), who issued a certificate which spoke about making public toilet free is today facing infrastructural problems and is grappling to keep them clean.

While introducing an economy package is a good idea, the basic needs of people is a question that remains unanswered. It’s easy to show an advertisement requesting people to wash their hands for 30 seconds, but providing water for the same is the step one that administration must ensure.
Data Source: Maharashtra Water Resources Department

Photograph: Sharon Singh

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