The World Resources Institute (WRI) has found that 17 countries that contain a quarter of the world’s population face “extremely high” levels of water stress. 650 million people do not have access to clean drinking water. India, Eritrea, Botswana, and many Middle Eastern nations are extremely vulnerable to drought, drawing more than 80 percent of their water supply annually. Even countries with low water stress, such as South Africa, Brazil and the United States, are running out of water. In some parts of California, the land sunk two feet after several years of drought drained groundwater.
Many cities face their own unique difficulties during this global water crisis and one of the prime examples of inequality within this crisis is Chennai. The situation is nothing to scoff at: Chennai is India’s sixth largest city and India is the second most populated country in the world besides China. India itself is struggling immensely.
According to The Guardian, a report released on June 14, 2018 reveals that “the top government thinktank for the economy, NITI Aayog, said India was facing the worst water crisis in its history. It predicted that 21 cities would run out of groundwater by 2020 and recommended ‘urgent and improved’ management of water resources.”
Chennai reached “Day Zero” in June, although the news had not been broadcasted internationally until recently. According to Gina Ziervogel, an environmental scientist studying the water crisis at the University of Cape Town, “Day Zero” is a term used that means dams would reach 13.5% capacity, which is “just barely enough water to keep critical services running.” The taps in homes and businesses would be turned off and residents would have to line up at “collection sites” to obtain rations to drink and bathe.
Deepan, who only goes by one name, spoke to Huffington Post about how his neighborhood in Chennai has dealt with the crisis. The tanker trunks that usually made daily runs to deliver water began to come once or twice a week. Attempting to dig up a well a few years back, Deepan’s community soon found they were not able to extract any clean water because their neighborhood is on top of a landfill. Deepan told the Huffington Post, “This was ― and is ― a garbage area so the groundwater has this brownish tinge.”
Chennai’s officials feared chaos. Ziervogel said that “[‘Day Zero’] put that fear into people.” Chennai spoke out about water-saving techniques and the mayor made house calls to urge people to cut back on water usage. The Huffington Post reported, “Some regions are coping with both extreme droughts and extreme floods. In 2015, [one] family home in Chennai was submerged and destroyed by flooding that killed hundreds. ‘There was no electricity supply in our area for about 10 days,’ Deepan said. ‘The water rose up to my neck level — I am six feet tall.’”
While the government never had to shut off the taps, the situation made the benefits of being privileged abundantly clear. While the wealthier can buy private supplies and continue filling their swimming pools and fountains, those who already use less water and pay more for it are left with almost no options. Chennai residents living in “informal settlements” have always collected their daily water from communal taps, but now are forced to manage with even less. Although those who live in the informal settlements make up a quarter of the Chennai’s population, they use less than 5 percent of the city’s water supply.
The water crisis has struck fear into the hearts of the people of Chennai. Their story should touch the hearts of everyone. Immediately taking action to deal with the crisis is imperative to preserve our water supply and our world.