Chennai runs out of water

NATHAN G.

An Indian man walks across a partly dried lake in Chennai, India, 25 March 2010. South India is already experiencing summer heat waves, particularly in all parts of Tamilnadu and people will continue to be under sweltering heat for months to come.

Chennai runs out of water


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Water in the 9-million South Indian city of Chennai is running out, with large areas having sparse access to running water for more than a month.

The city’s reservoirs and lakes have run dry after two years of scanty rains, while authorities are resorting to trucking in water and desalinating seawater. The city plans to open two new desalination plants over the next five years, according to the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board.

The current supply is estimated at half the city’s essential requirement, while the law requires rainwater harvesting in all buildings.

That could be only the beginning, as India’s population grows, urbanisation intensifies, and global temperatures rise. According to UN estimates, India’s four biggest cities are now home to 60 million people and the country is the biggest use of underground water – which does not come from lakes and reservoirs – in the world.

Water levels in the four main reservoirs on which the city traditionally depends are at a 70-year low.

The whole country relies on yearly monsoon rains for its water needs, but the drought is a frequently recurring phenomenon since 2013.

Two consecutive years of drought have brought the city to the brink. Many businesses are leaving the city as water becomes scarce. That is not the case merely for hotels and restaurants, who now have to factor in the cost of water. High-tech firms that made Chennai a technology hub are also leaving. Public infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, are also suffering.

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