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Posts Tagged ‘dam

An epidemic of misreading rain

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RG_rain_misreadings_201406

Who can you turn to? It’s easier to list those whom you shouldn’t turn to, the top rankers being the country’s press and television wallahs, followed at a not respectable distance by academic commentators, then come the government blokes and bureaucrats (some of whom do know the difference between isobars and salad bars, I’ll give them that). Lurking behind this cacophonous mob are the boffins of the IMD and its associated scientific chapters, a number of whom have got their sums right, but who aren’t given the space and encouragement to tell the great Bharatiya public what said public is yearning to hear simply because regulations forbid, just like it was in 1982, 1957, whenever.

As I may have mentioned before, this is Not A Good Thing. It has taken about a decade of mission mode tutoring (how the UPA bureaucrats loved that phrase, mission mode) to get the media wallahs to see the difference between weather and climate. A few may even have learned to read a wet bulb thermometer and puzzle their way through precipitation charts.

RG_rain_misreadings_2But overall, the profusion of android apps that profess to show cool graphics of clouds with lightning bolts erupting topside so that our humble ‘kisans’ know when it’s going to rain (i.e., by looking down at their screens instead of up at the sky) has not helped the Bharatiya public make more sense of less rain. We have squadrons of Insats and Kalpanas buzzing around the globe beaming pictures from the infra-red to the infra dig back home, every 60 or 90 minutes, busy enough to crash a flickr photo server, but the knowledge that said public can sift from it is sparse, rather like the rainfall over Barmer, Bikaner and Ajmer.

And so it goes, with the waiting for rain replacing with an equal banality waiting for Godot but with a far larger cast of characters, most of them insensible to the greater climatic drama being played out, 30,000 feet overhead, and at the poles, in the vast turquoise swells of the eastern Pacific where a malignant El Nino is brooding, in the Himalayan valleys where crystal zephyrs have been shoved aside by an airborne mat of PM2.5, or to the desiccation that creeps outwards from our towns and cities (7,935 of them, India’s triumphant ‘growth story’) that have enclosed sweeping hectares with cement, asphalt, and the hot foetid belches of factories and air-conditioners. GDP, they have been told, is the great liberator.

And that is why we have in place of the quiet concern of our forefathers in their dhotis, an electronic jumble of shrill alarm. “Weak monsoon intensifies drought like conditions in India” was one such headline, the text beneath finding the most ludicrous connections: “… threat of food inflation and weak rural demand in the first year of the Narendra Modi government”. Naturally, the cheerleaders of a demand-centric world cannot do otherwise.

RG_rain_misreadings_1And likewise with “Weak rains deliver India’s new Modi government its first economic challenge” that desultorily spies impending delays in the “sowing of main crops such as paddy, corn and sugarcane” and which notes mournfully that “about half of all farms lack irrigation systems” and, even worse, that “reservoir levels are only a fourth of last year’s levels”, this last despite the best efforts, ham-handed though they are, by the Central Water Commission to show India (for Bharat knows) that the reservoir levels in the 85 major reservoirs are low, but not much lower at this point in 2014 than they were in 2013. The GDP bullies dislike contrary numbers, and would go cross-eyed were someone to mischievously mention the existence of 4,845 large dams in India (the blue-ribboned 85 included) whose many water levels we don’t in fact know at all.

And similar vapidity from another quarter, which like its peers cloaks ineptitude with what it takes to be appropriate jargon, “The cumulative rainfall across the country has so far been 45 per cent below the Long Period Average (LPA) for 1951-2000” and brandishes even more frightful credentials with “a further breakdown of rain data recorded in different meteorological subdivisions shows that normal rainfall has been recorded in only seven of the 36 regions”. But which sere farmer and her wise daughters consider in their universe such things as meteorological subdivisions, when their world is what Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy in 1953 showed us so lambently, is no more than ‘do bigha zamin’?

But still the misreading gathers pace, as vexed fixations upon an existence merely economic chase away plain common-sense. For rains may come or rains may go, but in tractors – for so we are instructed by the agents of hardened merchants – we trust. To wit: “… tractor sales have typically expanded at a double-digit pace in the years when rains have disappointed… In the 11 years between fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2013, rains fell short by 5% or more on six occasions… In four of those six years, tractor sales grew at a double-digit pace”. Let us then leave behind our cares and go rollicking over the dusty, still dustier now, plains of the Deccan in tractors tooting red.

But a shadow of monsoon yet for Bharat, and at June’s end. It is past time that the prattling ceased and the learning began.

You made the fish disappear, you rob the bones of our ancestors

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About 200 indigenous people on the Xingu, Tapajós and Teles Pires rivers began an occupation of the largest construction site of the Belo Monte Dam, demanding the withdrawal of troops from their land and the suspension of dam construction. Photo: Ruy Sposati / Agência Raízes

About 200 indigenous people on the Xingu, Tapajós and Teles Pires rivers began an occupation of the largest construction site of the Belo Monte Dam, demanding the withdrawal of troops from their land and the suspension of dam construction. Photo: Ruy Sposati / Agência Raízes

Powerful and searing, this statement from a people pushed to the brink by their own state, Brazil, and who have begun an indefinite protest at the main construction site of the Belo Monte Dam, which is in the Xingu and Tapajós river basins:

“We are the people who live in the rivers where you want to build dams. We are the Munduruku, Juruna, Kayapó, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakanã, Arara, fishermen and peoples who live in riverine communities. We are Amazonian peoples and we want the forest to stand. We are Brazilians. The river and the forest are our supermarket. Our ancestors are older than Jesus Christ.

“You are pointing guns at our heads. You raid our territories with war trucks and soldiers. You have made the fish disappear and you are robbing the bones of our ancestors who are buried on our lands.

“You do this because you are afraid to listen to us. You are afraid to hear that we don’t want dams on our rivers, and afraid to understand why we don’t want them.

“You invent stories that we are violent and that we want war. Who are the ones killing our relatives? How many white people have died in comparison to how many Indigenous people have died? You are the ones killing us, quickly or slowly. We’re dying and with each dam that is built, more of us will die. When we try to talk with you, you bring tanks, helicopters, soldiers, machine guns and stun weapons.

“What we want is simple: You need to uphold the law and promote enacting legislation on free, prior and informed consent for indigenous peoples. Until that happens you need to stop all construction, studies, and police operations in the Xingu, Tapajós and Teles Pires rivers. And then you need to consult us.

“We want dialogue, but you are not letting us speak. This is why we are occupying your dam-building site. You need to stop everything and simply listen to us.

More at International Rivers.

Written by makanaka

May 11, 2013 at 09:16

The 6 June water event that our planners have missed

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This was in January 2013, in Mysore district, Karnataka. Can these women even reach the little island today?

This was in January 2013, in Mysore district, Karnataka. Can these women even use their coracle today?

In just under six weeks from today, the water available per head in India from our major reservoirs will drop under the 100 litres per day mark. This will happen on or around 06 June 2013, give or take a day.

Two charts with water levels for half the 84 major reservoirs, early February to late April 2013. Data taken from CWC

Two charts with water levels for half the 84 major reservoirs, early February to late April 2013. Data taken from CWC

For India’s 59 cities with populations of over a million (this will be so in mid-2013, see ‘India in 2015 – 63 million-plus cities’) this will mean an ever more frantic and dangerous race to secure water stocks by urban water mafia, who plunder public water storage and groundwater aquifers alike.

In the largest of these cities, their water boards claim to supply between 160 and 200 litres per capita per day (lpcd). This amount is roughly in line with what residents in comparably large East and South-East Asian cities are supplied, and is well above the lower end (100 lpcd) offered by the World Health Organisation as the minimum ‘optimal’ daily water stock required by an individual to maintain health and hygiene (100-200 lpcd is the band).

That’s the WHO view, but even in the Tenth Five Year Plan (2002-07) it was recommended that in India’s largest metropolitan cities the minimum must be 150 lpcd and in large non-metro cities the minimum must be 135 lpcd.

But six weeks from now, judging by the rate at which water has been used in 2013 from the 84 major reservoirs, we are not going to have, per head per day, even 100 litres of water. (Also see ‘Big dams, scarce water, thirsty India, uncertain monsoon’.)

Two more charts with water levels for the rest of the 84 major reservoirs, early February to late April 2013. For both sets of charts, the trendlines describe water volume as a per cent of the full reservoir volume. Data taken from CWC

Two more charts with water levels for the rest of the 84 major reservoirs, early February to late April 2013. For both sets of charts, the trendlines describe water volume as a per cent of the full reservoir volume. Data taken from CWC

How did we get here, so quickly and so dry? On 14 February 2013, the total water stored in the 84 major reservoirs was 68.718 billion cubic metres (bcm). Over the next ten weeks, until 25 April 2013, that total has dropped steeply to 42.304 bcm.

The Central Water Commission monitors the levels of and volumes in these 84 reservoirs, which if they all were full would store 154.421 bcm. These 84 reservoirs, says the CWC, represent 61% of the country’s water stored in reservoirs, which is altogether 253.388 bcm.

Judging by the same rate of water drawal from these 84 reservoirs, we have used over 43 bcm from all reservoirs in ten weeks, depleting our reservoir stock from 112.6 bcm to 69.3 bcm. This also means that in early February 2013, each of us were (notionally) holding a water stock of about 247 litres per day, a stock that was shrinking at a rate of about 1.3 litres per day to reach 152 litres per day in late April. And remember this is notional water stock per head from reservoirs, water that is used for agriculture and industry too.

What will happen between now and 06 June, when that individual stock drops under 100 lpcd? The Indian Meteorological Department has claimed (the usual bland and bored claim, as if monsoon was just another filing cabinet) that we will have a normal monsoon. As usual, the IMD has made no effort to link water with our alarming depletion of litres per head per day (it does link monsoon with GDP though, typically correct politically, typically unconcerned about human, animal and ecosystem need).

And what if the monsoon is late, scanty or erratic, as has happened with every monsoon since 2009? The IMD doesn’t know, your city’s PWD and municipality don’t know. But the water mafia do, and they’re getting very busy.

Written by makanaka

April 27, 2013 at 18:06

Big dams, scarce water, thirsty India, uncertain monsoon

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India's largest major reservoirs by volume. Indira Sagar (MP, 9.745 bcm), Srisailam (AP, 8.288 bcm), Nagarjuna Sagar (AP, 6.841 bcm), Gandhi Sagar (MP, 6.827 bcm), Ukai (GUJ, 6.615 bcm) and Bhakra (HP, 6.229 bcm).

India’s largest major reservoirs by volume. (from top left to bottom right)) Indira Sagar (MP, 9.745 bcm), Srisailam (AP, 8.288 bcm), Nagarjuna Sagar (AP, 6.841 bcm), Gandhi Sagar (MP, 6.827 bcm), Ukai (GUJ, 6.615 bcm) and Bhakra (HP, 6.229 bcm).

Why did India’s Ministry of Water Resources not start rationing water use at the beginning of 2013? Data on the water levels of the 84 major reservoirs in the country (kept by the Central Water Commission) show an alarming rate of withdrawal over the period January to March 2013.

Over seven weeks, these reservoirs disgorged 20.525 billion cubic metres (BCM) of water – for industrial, commercial, residential and irrigation purposes. By 14 March 2013, the combined water stock in these 84 major reservoirs was 57.355 BCM – on 24 January 2013 that total had been 77.869 BCM. At this rate of water use, by 09 May 2013 – seven weeks hence – there will be a perilous 36.8 BCM in the major reservoirs, and with the possible first onset of the 2013 south-west monsoon still a month away.

The major reservoirs that have disgorged the most water during this period are: Srisailam (Andhra Pradesh) 2.353 bcm; Hirakud (Orissa) 1.808 bcm; Indira Sagar (Madhya Pradesh) 1.652 bcm; Nagarjuna Sagar (Andhra Pradesh) 1.082 bcm; Ukai (Gujarat) 0.976 bcm; Pong (Himachal Pradesh) 0.913 bcm; Gandhi Sagar (Madhya Pradesh) 0.899 bcm; Rihand (Uttar Pradesh) 0.734 bcm; Bhakra (Himachal Pradesh) 0.668 bcm and Koyna (Maharashtra) 0.598 bcm.

India’s water stocks and use, 81 major reservoirs

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There are 81 major reservoirs that India’s water bureaucracy monitors, every day and every week. Weekly data is released regularly, but in a roundabout way meant to ensure that there is little chance of the interested observer maintaining a running data set. There are no readily available numbers, and what there is must be extracted laboriously from badly formatted reports. It’s not a pleasant task, but since India’s towns and cities, farm families and rural settlements depend on stored surface water so greatly, these are hugely important for development work.

This chart is a sort of weekly amplitude of the net water movement into and from the 81 reservoirs. The data is from the Central Water Commission, Government of India. Movement below the x axis indicates water being stored, above the axis shows water being released for use, whether for irrigation, hydropower, urban use or industrial. Below is an example of the relative storage capacities of some of these reservoirs (you can see the Java version at Many Eyes).

Written by makanaka

June 8, 2011 at 19:58

The Yangtze, Three Gorges and China’s 2011 drought

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Huang Xiaohe, a farmer in Huarong county, Hunan province, carries water fetched from a canal to irrigate his cotton field, May 19, 2011. Huang said he has to carry water for irrigation three times a day, each time taking as long as one and a half hours. Photo: China Daily/Xinhua

The water in the Yangtze river, China’s longest, has dropped to its lowest ever recorded level. According to the latest census figures for the People’s Republic, the urban population now represents 49.68% of the country’s total population. Of the more than 600 cities, 400 are haunted by a lack of water and the problem is acute for 200 of them. If seasonal lack of water in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze further expands as it has in the past decade and becomes permanent, said the China Daily, “it will be impossible for North China, long plagued by drought, to rely on its southern counterparts to quench its thirst”. More than 1,000 reservoirs in Central China’s Hubei province dropped to such a low level that 500,000 people face a shortage of drinking water.

The newspaper said: “The government can never attach too much strategic importance to the water problem in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, given its position as one of the most important grain production bases, one of the most densely populated regions and the country’s most developed area. Records show that the seasonal water level in this part of the Yangtze has constantly reached the historical lows of at least 20 years every year in the last decade.”

Shishou city launched a project on May 4, together with neighboring Huarong county, Hunan province, to ease water shortages by drawing supplies from the Yangtze River into the Huarong River, which runs across the border of Hubei and Hunan provinces. The two Central China's provinces are in severe drought,and close to 300,000 people living by the Huarong River are short of water. Photo: China Daily/Xinhua

On May 18, the State Council, China’s cabinet, announced for the first time that “problems that demand prompt solutions exist” in the project’s resettlement of residents, ecological protection, and prevention and control of geological disasters. The project’s follow-up plan says that by 2020, those resettled as a result of the dam should expect to live the average life of residents in Hubei province and Chongqing municipality, which the reservoir spans. About 1.3 million people have been resettled since 1993, fewer than 20% of them outside the reservoir area. The rest had to move to higher ground. The plots there are smaller and, because the slopes are unstable, most are ill suited to farming. With limited access to arable land, compensation, preferential policies, education and transportation, many are still struggling in sheer poverty.

Now, China’s President Hu Jintao has urged local government officials to treat drought relief in rural areas as an “urgent task” as he wraps up a four-day inspection tour in central China’s Hubei Province Friday. According to Xinhua, Hu’s call comes in the midst of the worst drought in 60 years that hit the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River.

He Yan, a resident in Huarong county, Hunan province, stores water at her home May 19, 2011. The county has begun rationing water supply. Photo: China Daily/Xinhua

These areas are China’s important agricultural production bases. Hu asked government officials to provide fiscal and technological support to farmers and work to ensure they have enough drinking water. Efforts should be made to give full play to the role of reservoirs in offsetting the impact of the drought, Hu stressed when visiting the Danjiangkou Reservoir, which is part of China’s massive south-to-north water diversion project.

On Friday 03 June 2011, Vice Minister of Environmental Protection Li Ganjie told the press that the drought has caused the deterioration of water quality in several major lakes. The long-lasting drought has led to the sharp reduction of water levels in major lakes such as Poyang Lake, Dongting Lake and Honghu Lake. Monitoring statistics showed that water quality in these lakes saw a noticeable decline in March and April, compared to the same period last year, according to Li.

Wetlands and migrant birds in these regions have also suffered from the drought, the worst to hit the region in decades, said Li. Over 1,333 hectares of wetlands located east of Dongting Lake have dried up. The drought has left the Yangtze River, China’s longest river, with its lowest levels of rainfall since 1961.

Li denied that the drought was aggravated by the river’s Three Gorges Dam. He stressed that a shortage of rainfall tcaused the drought. The long-lasting drought has affected parts of Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, which are located near the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River. These areas have seen 40 to 60 percent less rainfall than usual.

By lanternlight in rural Asia

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The Shivalaya Bazaar, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India

One of the magazines of the CR Media group of Singapore interviewed me about energy needs in rural Asia. My responses to some thoughtful questions have been published, although I don’t have a link yet to any of the material online. Until then, here’s a selection of questions and replies.

Do you have a case study or know of an innovative instance when an Asian country has broken the mould successfully in generating energy for its citizens in a way that is remarkable?

When you travel in rural South Asia you see that in almost every unelectrified village there is a flourishing local trade in kerosene and kerosene lanterns for lighting, car batteries and battery-charging stations for small TV sets, dry cell batteries for radios, diesel fuel and diesel generator sets for shops and small businesses and appliances. It’s common to spot people carrying jerricans or bottles of kerosene from the local shop, or a battery strapped to the back of a bicycle, being taken to the nearest charging station several kilometres away. People want the benefits that electricity can bring and will go out of their way, and spend relatively large amounts of their income, to get it. That represents the opportunity of providing power for energy appliances at the household level (LED lamps, cookstoves, solar- and human-powered products) and of community-level power generation systems (village bio-gasification, solar and small-scale hydro and wind power).

Household income and electricity access in developing countries, IEA, World Energy Outlook 2010

Household income and electricity access in developing countries, IEA, World Energy Outlook 2010

In areas such as western China, the South American rainforest or the Himalayan foothills, the cost of a rural connection can be seven times that in the cities. Solar power has spread rapidly among off-grid communities in developing countries, only sometimes subsidised. A typical solar home system today in South Asia provides light, power for TVs, radios and CD players, and most important charges mobile phones. At US$ 400-500, such a system is not cheap for rural Asia, especially when households are struggling with rising food and transport costs. But targeted subsidies and cheap micro-credit has made this energy option more affordable.

How can Asian countries cooperate to bring a new energy reality into Asia and balance development with conservation?

Let’s see what some authoritative forecasts say. The Sustainable World Energy Outlook 2010 from Greenpeace makes projections of renewable energy generation capacity in 2020: India 146 GW, developing Asia 133 GW, China 456 GW. These are enormous quantities that are being forecast and illustrate what has begun to be called the continental shift eastwards of generation and power. India dwarfs developing Asia the way China dwarfs India – the conventional economies today reflect this difference in scale. It’s important to keep in mind, while talking about energy, that Asia’s committed investment and planned expansion is centred to a very great degree around fossil fuel.

Factory and high-tension power lines, Mumbai, India

Certainly there are models of regional cooperation in other areas from where lessons can be drawn, the Mekong basin water sharing is a prominent example. But cooperation in energy is a difficult matter as it is such an essential factor of national GDP, which has become the paramount indicator for East and South Asia. Conversely, it is because the renewables sector is still relatively so small in Asia that technical cooperation is flourishing – markets are distributed and small, technologies must be simple and low-cost to be attractive, and business margins are small, all of which encourage cooperation rather than competition.

What could be immediately done to help alleviate energy shortage in South Asia for the masses, at a low cost? Do you have a case study of this?

Let’s look at Husk Power Systems which uses biomass gasification technology to convert rice husk into gas. Burning this gas runs generators which produce relatively clean electricity at affordable rates. Rice husk is found throughout northern, central and southern India and is a plentiful fuel. While Husk Power says that the rice husk would otherwise be “left to rot in fields” that isn’t quite true, as crop biomass is used in many ways in rural South Asia, but the point here is that this entrepreneurial small company has successfully converted this into energy for use locally.

Household income and access to modern fuels in developing countries, IEA, World Energy Outlook 2010

Household income and access to modern fuels in developing countries, IEA, World Energy Outlook 2010

I think it’s important that access to energy be seen for its importance in achieving human development goals. Individuals in governments do see this as clearly as you and I, but disagreements over responsibility and zones of influence get in the way. Responsible private enterprise is one answer. If you look at micro-enterprise funders, like Acumen, they recognise that access to electricity is also about healthcare, water and housing, refrigerated vaccines, irrigation pumps and also lighting in homes so that children can study.

What issues (externalities etc) do Asian governments do not factor in when they go for new sources of energy?

The poverty factor has for years obscured many other considerations. Providing energy, infrastructure and jobs has been the focus of central and provincial governments, and in the process issues such as environmental degradation and social justice have often been overlooked. That has been the pattern behind investment in large, national centrally-funded and directed power generation plans and in many ways it continues to shape centralised approaches to renewable energy policy.

Developing Asia is still mired in the legacy bureaucracies that have dominated (and continue to) social sector programmes, which for decades have been the cornerstone of national ‘development’. Energy is still seen as a good to be allocated by the government, even if the government does not produce it. And it still takes precedence over other considerations – ecosystem health, sustainable natural resource management – because of this approach. If India has a huge programme to generate hydroelectricity from the rivers in the Himalaya, there is now ample evidence to show both the alterations to river ecosystems downstream and the drastic impacts of submergence of river valleys, let alone the enormous carbon footprint of constructing a dam and the associated hydropower systems. Yet this is seen as using a ‘renewable’ source of energy.

The race to own India’s water

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Image courtesy 'UN-Water Global Annual Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS) 2010', World Health Organization (WHO) and UN-WaterWater privatisation in India today comes in a wide range of what are called “solutions” by the votaries of public-private partnerships. There is water-related engineering and construction (such as earth-moving activities, alteration of river courses, artificial linking of rivers, building of dams and pipelines, etc), water and wastewater services, and water treatment, which affect both nature and communities. What remains outside the ambit of “solutions” – only until the victims can be persuaded to pay – are the impacts of the micro-scale geoengineering. Every impact damages people and the environment. Impacts can be categorised as: ecological (effects on natural ecosystems), social (related to rights of human beings and communities, health, cultural norms, attitudes, belief systems), economic (affecting livelihoods, well-being, and access to basic services) and even legal and institutional.

We are now seeing increasing pressure for private sector development in India – and the rest of Asia-Pacific. Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, an independent research unit concerned with water in India (they are based in Madhya Pradesh) says that this pressure is being mounted mainly by two influential international financial institutions: the World Bank and its regional partner, the Asian Development Bank. The World Bank gives funds, advice, training and technical assistance to governments and the private sector to implement privatisation.

Courtesy, The Economist, special report on water, 22 May 2010Four entities allow the World Bank to undertake various functions. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) lends directly to the private sector and can even purchase equity in private companies. The Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF) seeks to improve the quality of infrastructure through private participation. The Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) insures the private sector against commercial and political risk. The International Court for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) takes charge of disputes between investors and states. The Bank also has some other mechanisms that promote its activities in India including Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), Water and Sanitation for Urban Poor (WSUP), Water for Asian Cities (WAC) and others. The World Bank’s funding partners include the JBIC, AusAid, GTZ, USAID, DFID, UN-Habitat and the ADB.

More growth in large cities and towns, and urbanisation becoming a dominant land use pattern in more districts of India mean that the industrial, residential and municipal demands for water are rising quickly. India’s Central Pollution Control Board (an agency of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India) has released its ‘Observation on trend of Water Supply, Wastewater Generation in Cities and Towns’. Here are its main comments and highlights. I’ve left the language as it is – the import is what counts.

Courtesy, The Economist, special report on water, 22 May 2010

From The Economist's special report on water, 22 May 2010: Global water sources

“In decade of 90’s the growth of cities is observed is 33% while the growth of the decade in beginning of millennium is slowed down. Metropolitan cities is increased from 3 to 6 Nos. from 80’s to 2008. Class-I cities increase from 37 to 53 Nos. Class-II towns increase from 22 to 35. This trend indicates that all type of cities has grown in the decade of 90’s.”

Findings and Recommendations

  • Since the cities are growing, the population is enhanced from 30 million to 48 million.
  • Consequently water supply has been increased approximately twice in magnitude from 4,970 MLD (million litres per day) to 8,782 MLD.
  • Sewage generation has risen 38%.
  • Comparing the data of decades of 90’s to 2008, it is indicated that coastal cities and towns are not growing significantly.
  • Treatment capacity of sewage in comparison to decade of 80’s to until now has increased almost double (93%).
  • There are 498 Class-I Cities having population of 257 million and 410 Class-II Towns having population in India.
  • Total water supply including all class-I cities and class-II town in India is 48,093.88 MLD.

The CPCB says that wastewater generation from all class I cities and class II towns is 38,254 MLD whereas the installed treatment capacity is 11,787 MLD, which means that no more than a maximum of 31% of total sewage generated can be treated. (If the question is ‘where does the rest go?’, the CPCB answers that too in its report.) “This evidently indicates ominous position of sewage treatment, which is the main source of pollution of rivers and lakes,” warns the CPCB report. “To improve the water quality of rivers and lakes, there is an urgent need to increase sewage treatment capacity and its optimum utilisation.”

Image courtesy 'UN-Water Global Annual Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS) 2010', World Health Organization (WHO) and UN-WaterThe CPCB, which thankfully still has a reputation for straight talking, has advised India’s municipalities and town administrations to “set up a very thoughtful action plan to fill this gap in a minimum time frame”. The CPCB has suggested that large cities in which and from which the pollution problem is more severe, cities/towns whose effluents and sewage are polluting rivers and water bodies “will be required to be taken up on priority basis in first phase”. Why is the CPCB so insistent? Quite simply, it says there is an “urgency of preventing pollution of our water bodies and preserving our precious water resources”.

But even in the India of non-city and non-town landscapes, there are plans being hatched by the would-be water merchants. An indication of the mischief afoot comes from a report righteously entitled ‘Pro-Poor Financial Services for Rural Water: Linking the Water Sector to Rural Finance’. (If so many good deeds are ‘pro-poor’ nowadays how come the ranks of the do-gooders is only increasing?) Here is what it says: “Previous studies suggest that a considerable demand for pro-poor financial services for water in rural areas remains unmet. The number of potential microfinance clients in rural areas for investments in water supply is estimated to be 5.0 million in East/Southeast Asia, 10.3 million in South Asia, and 3.1 million in sub-Saharan Africa.” Those three numbers get to the heart of the matter.

The report continues: “Concerning microloans for rural sanitation, there are 17 million potential clients in East/ Southeast Asia, 30.8 million in South Asia, and 4.4 million in sub-Saharan Africa. In total, the potential demand for micro-loans in these three regions is estimated at US $ 1.5 billion in the case of rural water supply, and US $ 5 billion in the case of rural sanitation. The challenge is how to unlock this latent demand and turn it into an effective process.” The authors make no bones about it, the riches at the bottom of the water table is what they’re after. And who are the authors? The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (well-known as GTZ in Asia, and which I was surprised to learn is a GmbH), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and of course the World Bank.

Courtesy, The Economist, special report on water, 22 May 2010

Cover of The Economist's special report on water, 22 May 2010

The water merchants have their cheerleading squad in place in the form of a pliant media, and The Economist has obliged by bringing out one of its typically characterless ‘surveys’, as it likes to call them. It is a special report on water (the 22 May 2010 issue) and the subject is dealt with in the sycophantic manner that the weekly reserves for the captains of industry. “Yet even if it takes two litres of groundwater to produce a litre of bottled water, companies like CocaCola and PepsiCo are hardly significant users compared with farmers and even many industrial producers.” (Hear, hear, who needs those pesky farmers anyway?) “PepsiCo has nevertheless become the first big company to declare its support for the human right to water. For its part, CocaCola is one of a consortium of companies that in 2008 formed the 2030 Water Resources Group, which strives to deal with the issue of water scarcity. Last year it commissioned a consultancy, McKinsey, to produce a report on the economics of a range of solutions.” This transatlantic weekly, once upon a time British, puts in a word for big dams too: “Dams and reservoirs certainly need constant repairs and careful maintenance and do not always get them, usually because the necessary institutions are not in place.”

Who are operating as water merchants and what do they want? There are several North American / West European companies now in India: Ondeo-Degrement, Veolia Environnement, Saur of France, RWE/Thames Water of Germany and the UK Bechtel, Enron (US), Compagnie Generale des Eaux (CGE). Indian companies are going to either compete with them, or join them – Tata subsidiary Jamshedpur Utilities and Services Company (JUSCO), IVRCL Infrastructures and Projects, Mahindra Infrastructure Ltd., IL&FS.

Surat, Gujarat, near the mouth of the Tapi river

Surat, Gujarat: Fishing boats near the mouth of the Tapi river

The foreign multinationals are involved in several projects across the country. Compagnie Generale des Eaux (CGE) is operating urban water supply project in Hubli-Dharwad in Karnataka. Veolia is operating water and wastewater plant in Nagpur in Maharashtra and it has also formed a joint venture with JUSCO. Ondeo-Degremont has won contracts to construct water treatment plants in Mumbai and Chennai and it is also operating a wastewater treatment plant in Delhi. Thames Water was involved in a leak reduction project in Bangalore while United Utilities and Bechtel are partners in the Tiruppur project. JUSCO has projects in Jamshedpur, Bhopal, Kolkata and Adityapur. IVRCL is working on a wastewater treatment project in Alandur, desalination in Chennai and solid waste management in Tiruppur. IL&FS is involved in various projects in Haldia, Tiruppur, Vishakhapatnam and municipal waste processing facilities in Delhi and Ajmer, Rajasthan.

The CPCB has outlined the water, sewage and pollution tasks for cities, but its worries are going to be transformed into “a challenge to unlock latent demand” by the multilateral lending organisations on the one hand and the global water merchants (together with their Indian partners). Already deficit in terms of civic infrastructure and struggling with yawning gaps in the provision of healthcare and education, India’s towns and small cities will pass the burden of water profiteering on to those who can’t afford it. They leave the rural districts to earn a living in the cities, when their water rupee gets squeezed down to the last drop, where will they go then?