Making Cities Water Secure
Director, Mahila Housing SEWA Trust
Executive Director, International Water Association
Water is the most important resource for human settlements, cross-cutting all social, economic and environmental activities. History teaches us that many civilizations were wiped out due to water scarcity. With climate change and resultant uncertain weather patterns, cities have become even more susceptible to water scarcity than ever before.
The global community has also recognized importance of this issue in the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, specifically, in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 on water to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” and the Target 6.4, which states that “By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity”. Water security is understood as, “Reliable and affordable access of adequate quantity and quality of water for basic human needs, livelihoods and local ecosystem services, coupled with well managed risk of water-related disasters”.
Government of India launched Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) to provide Functional Household Tap Connection (FHTC) to every household i.e., “Har Ghar Nal Se Jal” (HGNSJ) by 2024. While this is a very ambitious target, the past experience with the Swachh Bharat Mission on sanitation suggests that it is possible to meet this target for water. However, beyond meeting the target, sustainability will be concern – to ensure that all taps receive adequate water daily and of good quality, and ideally it needs to be available 24*7.
The challenge for meeting the goal of functional household tap to every household in urban areas and sustaining this water supply service is a daunting task. Rapid growth of urban population has severe repercussion on drinking water provision in cities. In a large number of cities in India, water is supplied to residents on alternate days for a limited time. While the non-poor households manage to store and filter water, the urban poor suffer the most. They have to rely on water stored in unprotected and unsafe ways. In many cities, the dependence on water being brought from far-off regions has increased. Groundwater levels are depleting rapidly and many surface water sources are becoming polluted. Thus, water security for urban areas seems a distant dream.
However, there are glimmers of hope. Better urban water management requires that we treat Urban Water Cycle as one system and understand the relationship between various components. A paradigm shift in urban water management and planning is needed for cities to become water secure. Many cities have explored new and more local sources of water. Investments are being made in technology to help improve efficiency. Water supply services are being provided in low income and slum settlements. Urban planning is gradually recognizing the importance of water and placing emphasis on water security.
The webinar aims to discuss the following
1. What are the challenges in meeting the goal of making cities water secure? What paradigm shifts in urban planning are needed? How will climate change impact water security in our cities?
2. Is the goal of a functional water tap in every household too ambitious? Do we have sufficient water resources to meet the urban water demand? What changes in outlook are needed to meet this ambitious target?
3. It is often argued that the key problem is not that of ‘scarcity’ of water in cities but that of inefficient management of water. Nearly half of the water supplied in many cities is “unaccounted for or non-revenue” water. Water is not metered in most cities in India. What can cities do to improve efficiency?
4. To ensure services for all focus is needed on reaching everyone. The urban poor communities receive only one-fourth of the water that non-poor residents receive. How can the services for the urban poor be improved?