Urban India Needs Zero Waste Approach To Mitigate Water Crisis

In the urban sector of most of the countries, particularly a water-stressed country like India, the per capita consumption of water is much more compared to that of a person living in rural areas.

In urban India, most of the water is drawn from nearby rivers and in some cases from aquifers available in the ground without much effort, creating more water resources either on the surface or recharging the aquifer. Almost in all cities, unaccounted water is over 40 per cent and in most of these cases, the importance of the quality of water is lost sight of, causing a lot of water borne and water related diseases. This is due to the fact that almost all the untreated sewage is released to nearby rivers and lakes. Further, due to the disappearance of most of the wetlands and the cutting down of trees during urban settlement, an acute shortage of water takes place particularly during the winter and summer months.

Some of the activities necessary to undertake the conservation of water in urban areas of India are summarised below.

  1. In most of the cities, due to lack of proper maintenance and faulty transport system, a huge amount of water is wasted. For example, it is estimated that in a city like Delhi, 35-40 per cent of water is wasted due to leaking pipes). Therefore, proper maintenance of water transportation system particularly through pipelines and repair of the leaks in time should be carried out.
  2. Various measures to minimise the use of water in domestic sectors particularly for bathing, brushing teeth, shaving, washing clothes, and floors etc. should be carried out.
  3. Installation of high-pressure low volume nozzles on spray washers can reduce water consumption. 
  4. Minimising the use of water for watering of lawns and gardens and washing vehicles should be followed strictly.
  5. Treatment of sewerage to remove the solid wastes and use of treated water obtained for purposes other than domestic should be carried out in all the cities.
  6. Hotels, large offices, college and school hostels, community centers etc should have a dual pipes water supply system where one provides portable water mainly for drinking, bathing or other such purposes and the second one carries recycled water to be used for flushing of human excreta, gardening, washing vehicles etc. 
  7. For maintaining gardens in public places or washing roads, the urban authority should avoid run off and use sprinklers. This will reduce considerably the consumption of water. 
  8. Specially designed latrines and compact toilets should be built where human excreta can be converted into organic manure and biogas through anaerobic digestion instead of connecting the toilets to a piped sewage line.
  9. It is essential to set up guidelines for appropriate price structure to manage the urban water supply so that water can be used most economically. 

In most of the urban areas in India, the current practices of water pricing are deficient in several respects. Some of these are:

  • The users of water pay much less (20 – 25% only) in relation to the cost for collecting and supplying water.
  • As pricing of water is very low, particularly for well-to-do families, their water consumption is much high compared to those with a poor living.
  • The objective of providing water to low income group people in urban areas with a subsidised rate has not been achieved. As a matter of fact, the system is such that subsidy meant for  the  poor is practically enjoyed by others. 
  • Due to financial constraints, mainly because of low water rents, the State Government does not get enough opportunities to improve water supply services to the urban households.

The water charges in most parts of urban India are far below the basic operation and maintenance cost.  The existing pricing system and structures are inadequate and unsustainable. There should be a price reform for an efficient system for supply of water to urban India. Therefore, a water price reform in urban Indian is essential. It is necessary to bring a drastic change in water collection and distribution systems with reduction of leakages (to save 30-40 per cent of wastage), change over from unmetered to metered water supply and greater efficiency in revenue collection for improving the operation of water services to make the urban water resources management financially viable.

The restructuring is suggested for better management of urban water supply by introducing separate charges for water connection, distribution system and consumption. The connection charges should cover the direct cost of connection to the municipal main supplies, the distribution system should be streamlined and the consumption charge of water should be on a volumetric basis. 

Rapid expansion is leading to increased water consumption in urban India. Unless the pricing of water is done in a rational manner in this sector, the situation may be out of control. In urban areas, the well to do people waste water for various secondary purposes compared to the poor ones. Therefore, in most of the developed countries,  water is charged on block and with the increasing block of water consumption the charge becomes higher and higher.

This system restricts water consumption. In Beijing, the new pricing system with increasing amount of water, has resulted in appreciable water conservation. In Bogor, Indonesia, by introducing a similar pricing system, there has been a decrease in consumption of water by nearly 30 per cent. In Hermanus, South Africa, by introducing an 11-step rate structure and with technology improvement, it has been possible to bring a lot of reduction in water consumption. During the first year of introduction of the system, it has been possible to achieve nearly 30 per cent of water saving. 

Because of increasing scarcity of water all over India, efforts should be made to reclaim waste water produced in the urban sector. From the environmental and sanitation point of view, waste water has to be properly treated and utilised in different sectors depending on its purity. Otherwise, it will pollute fresh water on the land as well as in the ground. 

The treated waste water can be utilised for various purposes like irrigating certain crops or developing social forests. It is reported that, in the Middle East, some parts of Africa and also in USA, such treated water is being extensively used for industrial, commercial and other purposes.

In Windhoek, Namibia, such treated water has been used for potable purposes since 1968 and during drought years, up to 30 per cent of the city’s drinking water supply has been treated waste water. Similarly, Israel has undertaken extensive programmes for treating waste water and using it for various purposes. Nearly 70 per cent of Israel’s waste water is treated and used for agricultural purposes. Further efforts are being made in this direction to utilise more and more of such waste water. In California (USA) by 2000, around 646 million cubic meters of reclaimed water has been used for agricultural purposes, ground water recharge, landscape irrigation and environmental protection and was expected to go up by 2000 million cube meter by 2020.

In view of all this, it is necessary to encourage the utilisation of waste water with proper treatment, particularly in the water-stressed regions of India. Such treatment programme can be partially subsidised by the government. 

To mitigate water crisis in urban India, it is necessary to undertake certain major projects with zero waste approach:

  1. Rain Water Harvesting projects at suitable sites in urban areas should be planned and implemented scientifically for increasing both surface and ground water resources.
  2. Existing wetlands should be developed and new ones be created in and around the urban areas to enhance both surface and ground water resources.
  3. Programmes to keep rivers and other water bodies away from wastes and effluents from point and non-point sources should be undertaken.
  4. Pricing of water per volume and tariff should be fixed in proportion to the benefits derived by consuming agencies.
  5. High priority should be given to provide drinking water to all, preferably extracted from deep aquifers.
  6. A network of water quality monitoring throughout the year should be developed both in the urban areas. 

Government agencies at different levels should have the infrastructure, other resources and responsibility to implement these programmes and also to bring awareness amongst the public for proper management of water resource in the urban areas.

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