For all intents and purposes, the city of Chennai, India has run out of water. As scarcity hits India’s sixth largest city with its population of about 4.5 million, residents no longer have access to piped municipal water and now queue up to receive drinking water from tankers on which they rely. Sanitation, let alone water for laundry and bathing are hard to come by. Protests and affrays have broken out among the thirsty people.
Drought has plagued Chennai, with the Indian state of Tamil Nadu where the city is located experiencing a rainfall deficit of 41 percent according to the Central Water Commission. Climate change has had implications by exacerbating the naturally occurring drought and deluge cycle. The oppressive heat wave blanketing India has killed at least 36 people thus far.
But the loss of the water supply has been caused by poor land and water management decisions, too. For instance, a study found that Chennai lost 33 percent of its wetlands and 24 percent of its agricultural land over the last 10 years, both of which are critical for healthy water resources. (Agricultural land helped maintain aquifer levels.)
Rapid infrastructure development was culpable in depleting Chennai’s water resources by paving over farms field and draining wetlands to make way for highways, airports and high-rises. Today the three rivers and many wetlands run dry as urban sprawl slurps up the water.
Chennai’s near-term outlook looks bleak considering storage for the four primary reservoirs stand at less than one percent, and a weak monsoon season is forecasts.