Coronavirus chaos to worsen water crisis in Delhi

Delhi’s all 11 districts comprising as many as 78 containment areas have been put in ‘Red Zone’ to combat the deadly Covid-19 pandemic. Thousands of people, suspected to have contracted coronavirus, are in quarantine.

While these are ‘all hands on deck’ times for the AAP government, it suddenly finds itself scrambling to address a parallel challenge: spiralling drinking water shortages.

Lakhs of residents in the city, under a lockdown since March 25, have been left high and dry this summer. Many areas, especially in South Delhi, are reeling under an acute water crisis as the demand-supply gap has already spiralled to more than 200 MGD (million gallons a day).

According to officials, many projects including those planned to connect areas with piped networks have been stalled as the focus has shifted to saving lives in the pandemic.

During the lockdown, the frequency of water supply by tankers has drastically gone down, many residents said and added that they stand in queues for two to three hours due to barricading in different locations.

NO SOCIAL DISTANCING?

The scramble for water that means poor social distancing has raised coronavirus alarm in Delhi.

To get two buckets of water, Naresh Kumar, a resident of North-East Delhi’s Shiv Vihar, has to stand in a long queue for twothree hours. “Difficult to follow social distancing when 250 people have to take water from one tanker,” said the factory worker, who has a family of six.

In South Delhi’s Deoli as well, residents claim that they have to wait for three-four days for a water tanker to arrive. The situation is particularly grave where piped water supplies are not available. Residents in many neighbourhoods in South, North-West, East and Outer Delhi are entirely dependent on tanker water supplied by the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) or private operators.

Worst-hit areas are Deoli, Sangam Vihar, Jyoti Enclave, Ram Vihar Karala, Baldev Vihar, Vastav Vihar, Jain Nagar, Shiv Vihar, New Ashok Nagar.

Delhi’s current demand is around 1,100 MGD that soars to 1,200 MGD during peak summer. But DJB is able to supply 925 MGD and is dependent on tankers to meet the shortfall of about 200 MGD. It supplies water through tankers to around 550 colonies.

The demand-supply gap is scary.Everyone is talking about washing hands for 20 seconds, but it’s a luxury for a vast chunk of the population that doesn’t not have access to drinking water.

– HIMANSHU THAKKAR, Water expert

WATER IS PRIORITY

For people living in these areas, Covid-19 is a second concern as arranging drinking water remains their priority. “We know about the threat of coronavirus. But what can we do about it? My prime objective is to arrange drinking water for my family. We can live with the virus but we cannot survive without drinking water,” said Sumitra Yadav of Deoli.

Her neighbour Komal Chaudhary said, “We cannot afford to buy 20-litre water canes every day. One costs Rs 80. We have no choice. We are forced to risk our lives by standing in a long queue for tankers every day.”

Vijay Kumar, a resident of Shiv Vihar, said, “Pressure on water tankers is too high as the area is densely populated. Skirmishes are common. We are forced to be part of this mess.”

Ravi Sharma of New Ashok Nagar said, “Due to the lockdown, the wait for a tanker can last three days in such a hot summer.”

WHAT EXPERTS SAY

“The demand-supply gap is scary. Everyone is talking about washing hands for 20 seconds, but it’s a luxury for a vast chunk of the population that doesn’t not have access to drinking water,” said water expert Himanshu Thakkar.

He added the AAP government has fixed many gaps but the problem still remains acute. Even the central government has failed as its focus is to push big projects, he said. “Now is the time to act as the situation will get worse during peak summer,” he warned.

Virus can explode anytime in areas where there is a scramble for water, and the entire containment effort will go in vain.

– SANJAY DABAS, RTI activist

THE CHARGE

Abhishek Dutt, a municipal councillor in South Delhi, said, “Installation of water pipelines in uncovered areas remains a longstanding demand of residents. DJB’s inability is worrying and painful at the time of such an emergency. Who will be responsible if the virus spreads in these areas? A fully piped network was AAP’s election promise.”

RTI activist Sanjay Dabas said, “The virus can explode anytime in areas where there is a scramble for water, and the entire containment effort will go in vain.”

DJB PULLS OUT ALL THE STOPS

ON Friday, DJB issued its summer action plan to ensure a Delhi free from any water crisis in times of Covid-19. DJB Vice-Chairman Raghav Chadha said, “With the entire world under a lockdown, the coronavirus pandemic has underlined the importance of water in public health and further strengthened our commitment to ensure access to clean drinking water and sanitation for all, both as a human right and as a critical element to protect human health during the health crisis. This summer the action plan is an endeavour in that direction.”

He highlighted that DJB will work towards maintaining water treatment plants, increasing supplies in water-deficient areas and improving efficiency and faster disposal of complaints.

To meet the rising demand, DJB will also deploy 1,077 tankers in water-deficient areas. It has identified 8,738 supply points for delivery of water on a daily basis through tankers. To monitor the movement of tankers, DJB is using GPS. “A total of 254 additional tubewells are being installed, taking the total count to 4,910. 155 water bodies will be rejuvenated. New lakes are being created. 117 water ATMs and e-Piaos have been installed at strategic locations. 17 water testing laboratories have been upgraded,” said an official.

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About the author: Sohom Das
Founder of Tuccho.

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