Water Shortage in ChennaiWater has become a scarce commodity for residents in Chennai, India. Reservoirs once teeming with water are now dry lake beds. Water levels in the area are the fifth-lowest recorded in the last 74 years, sparking worry about future water shortages. Drought-like conditions paired with the limited access to water are driving city officials and residents to find alternative sources of water.

Why Access to Water Matters

Water is an integral part of everyday life in Chennai. At least 85 percent of the area is directly dependent on rain to recharge its groundwater. Agriculture is a big part of Chennai’s ecosystem and economy. Rain provides water for irrigation and livestock. Healthy living is another result of easy access to clean water. Rain provides water for drinking, cooking, cleaning and other household needs.

Rainfall is collected, stored and treated in four main reservoirs: Chembarambakkam Lake, Redhills Lake, Poondi Lake and Cholavaram Lake. These bodies of water depend on seasonal rainfall to replenish water levels year after year. At capacity, Chembarmbakkam holds 3,645 million cubic feet (MCFT) of water, Redhills holds 3,330 MCFT, Poondi holds 3,231 MCFT and Cholavarm holds 1,081 MCFT.

Recent records show that combined, all four reservoirs are at 1.3 percent of total capacity. In May 2019, Chembarambakkam only held one MCFT of water, Redhills held 28 MCFT, Poondi held 118 MCFT and Cholavarm held four MCFT. The water shortage is impeding the city’s ability to produce food, creating severe food insecurity and exposing its residents to unsanitary living conditions.

Factors Driving Chennai’s Water Shortage

Various factors are contributing to the water shortage in Chennai. The most observable factor is the lack of rain. Typically, India’s monsoon rain season occurs between June and September. Similar to a hurricane or typhoon, monsoons bring torrential rains across India which replenish the region’s water supply. For the past couple of years, Chennai has experienced lower than normal rainfall. Even monsoon rain levels were recorded to be 44 percent lower than the average in June 2019.

Lower rainfall, combined with scorching temperatures, has created drought-like conditions in the area. To make matters worse, Chennai continues to grow water-guzzling crops like sugarcane, rice and wheat. With no improvements in sight, some Chennai residents have chosen to migrate out of the area to avoid the consequences of the impending water shortage.

Response to the Water Shortage in Chennai

City officials and residents are responding to Chennai’s water shortage and drought. Here are three ways Chennai is increasing and conserving its water levels:

  1. Water Delivery – Affluent Chennai residents and businesses are relying on the water supply of neighboring cities. They pay trucks to deliver clean water to their homes and places of business. City officials are also following suit. They arranged for 10 million liters of water to be transported by train from Jolarpet, a city 200 kilometers away. The water will be pumped upstream in area lakes. Through the natural gradient, the water will flow downstream and help increase water levels. This practice recharges depleting groundwater in the region. As a result, Chennai will offset the crippling effects caused by the lack of rain as its green cover increases and agriculture receives a boost.
  2. Rain Harvesting – Non-affluent Chennai residents are digging trenches and embankments in an effort to increase their own access to water. Rain harvesting is a common practice in India, but the high cost of water delivery and below-average rainfall has made the practice more important than ever. While individual trenches and embankments cannot hold large amounts of water, they do give residents a chance to increase water levels in the area. The cost of upkeeping the rain harvesting structures is equivalent to $1.40. As a result, Chennai residents are able to increase their field productivity and maintain healthy livestock at a low cost.
  3. Micro-Irrigation – Agriculture methods are also changing as part of Chennai’s water shortage. Farmers are finding new methods of irrigation in efforts to conserve water. Recently, 1,000 solar pumps were added to cultivated areas. The solar pumps will help farmers distribute water more efficiently. The solar pumps also offset the cost associated with growing water-guzzling crops like sugarcane.

The Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board continues to monitor India’s water situation.

– Paola Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

Cape Town water
Cape Town, South Africa has experienced a drought for the last three years, leading up to what officials are calling ‘Day Zero,’ or the day the city will turn off a large portion of its tap water and turn to rationing the remaining water among citizens. However, water shortage issues began as early as 1995 with little action from the city to remedy the situation.

Water Crisis

What happened in 1995 that caused a crisis over two decades later? The population of Cape Town began increasing and has steadily increased by over three-quarters of its previous population. Fortunately, this multiplication alone was not the cause of the water crisis; rather, it was population growth paired with little increase in water storage.

The city failed to compensate a growing population to its water usage, and while this has made a significant impact on the amount of water in Cape Town, the city has still been able to maintain reasonable water levels despite a lack of added water storage facilities.

This success is primarily due to plentiful rainfall during the monsoon seasons, which may also be why Cape Town has previously failed to increase its water storage for so many years.

Restrictions and Rations

Unfortunately, a drought began in South Africa in 2015 that severely limited the amount of water available to citizens, especially those in Cape Town.

The drought brought to light the water storage issue for Cape Town officials who began urging citizens to conserve the remaining water. They initially asked that each citizen use approximately 87 liters of water before decreasing the amount to a mere 50 liters, or just over 13 gallons, daily.  

The South African government has created a rationing system to be implemented when the water levels decrease to a low enough level. The day this occurs is the day referred to as ‘Day Zero.’ However, in the meantime, the most energy is being placed into reminding citizens to continue to reduce their water usage.

Applications and Online Services

In light of the water crisis, the University of Cape Town has developed a series of cell phone applications that will aid in water conservation. The first is a free application called ‘DropDrop.’

DropDrop allows users to track water usage in real time, helping citizens ensure that they are staying within the city’s new water restrictions. The app is especially useful in areas where regular access to the internet does not exist due to the application’s offline nature after initial download.

Among the services created for Capetonians during the water crisis is an organization, Picup. The group started with the goal of quickly shipping water to Cape Town residents, and now allows Capetonians to order bottled water and receive it to one’s home within 24 hours.

The water can be purchased in two order sizes, with the smallest being 30 liters with an affordable price tag of around 176 Rands, or approximately $13.

City Initiatives

Among the initiatives implemented to conserve water in Cape Town is the initiative started by Cape Town officials that monitors household water usage. The initiative also awards certificates and name recognition on the city website for households showing a 10 percent or higher decrease in water usage.

The city also gives daily updates on water levels for surrounding dams in order to encourage Capetonians in their conservation efforts.

Moving Forwards

Despite the outstanding circumstances Cape Town has faced over the last few years, the future looks bright. With a strong community making huge lifestyle changes to conserve water, the city’s water basins are filling back up and allowing citizens to be a part of a community survival story.

The water crisis in Cape Town has proved the city’s growing wisdom and trendsetting environmental responsibility. This growth has not only set an example for the world to follow, but it has also been the first to prove that any inescapability, even one as drastic as ‘Day Zero,’ can be overcome.  

Alexandra Ferrigno
Photo: Flickr

The unpredictable weather conditions in central Kenya create challenges for many small farmers. The country is categorized as a water-scarce nation, as most of its landmass is considered arid or semi-arid. To compensate, growers traditionally water their crops with cans or buckets, creating inefficient and uneven irrigation. This system resulted in irregular and costly harvests — until scientists from Kenya’s Meru University of Science and Technology (MUST) stepped in to advance water conservation in Kenya.

Daniel Maitethia and a team of scientists from MUST discovered a solution: a “sensor-based automatic irrigation system” app. Launched last year at MUST’s own test farm, the system uses sensors strategically placed throughout fields. Drip lines are installed into subdivided portions and water is automatically channeled. When the soil is dry, the system then uses solar panels to open a water tank. The sensors then alert the system when enough water has been supplied, and then the irrigation shuts off — saving valuable water.

Water Conservation via an App

The secret to the system’s success lies in the user interface of the app. Farmers can operate the system remotely through text messages to the app. Some of the controls available at the push of a button consist of turning on water pumps, opening specified water valves, closing open valves and re-channeling irrigation.

There’s little doubt about the wide-reaching benefits of MUST’s system, especially regarding water conservation in Kenya. Additionally, labor costs can also be reduced. On-site farm attendants are no longer needed to oversee and implement irrigation daily. Any alerts in the system are sent to the farmer via text.

Cost Savings and Maintenance

Farmers like John Njeru are already realizing the benefits. He used to hire other farmers to help water his land, but with the system in place, he no longer needs the extra hands. He reports that his labor costs are reduced by 20,000 Kenyan shillings or $192 per month. Further, Njeru is seeing less food loss: “I used to lose up to 70% of my produce as a result of dry weather and inefficient irrigation, compared to only 10% now.”

Maitethia understands the need for potential troubleshooting and technical support. He advised that if there is a “glitch” in the system, the farmer will receive a text explaining the problem. He promised support, saying “a technician employed by the university will then help the farmer remotely with instructions, or physically come to the farm if needed.”

Maitethia remains hopeful for future expansion. He advised that the system received one million Kenyan shillings ($9,600) by the Water Services Trust Fund in November 2016 as the best innovation in the country in water resource management. He hopes that the award, coupled with other potential partnerships, will increase the availability of this system to benefit water conservation in Kenya.

Gisele Dunn

Photo: Flickr

Orlando Bloom

Orlando Bloom has traveled to Nepal twice to learn about how UNICEF aids impoverished communities. He has become informed about the impact UNICEF has, whether it be educating people about water sanitation, providing vaccinations or providing safe homes for young girls.

Bloom and UNICEF

During a trip to Nepal in 2007, Orlando Bloom was made aware of the power and importance of spreading information. He learned about the process, supported by UNICEF, that young kids often use to create clean and sanitary water using UV rays from the sun. By filling a clear plastic water bottle to the top (leaving no air inside) and placing it at a 30-degree angle on a rooftop, the sun’s rays are able to kill any unsafe bacteria and germs.

In an interview, Bloom explains, “When the message is made clear to people, they can start to advance forward.”

By educating and spreading valuable information to kids on creating safe water, they are able to bring multiple bottles of clean water home to their families. He encourages people to spread valuable information that can help communities, as he has first-hand seen the benefits of this through UNICEF’s water sanitation programs.

Rita’s Story

Bloom’s trip to Nepal opened his eyes to how precious a resource water is. He was able to spend time with a 6 year old girl named Rita, who occupies half of her day collecting water.

She uses a water tank in a basket, which connected to a strap that goes over her head. He explains her journey, “She walks a few miles up and down a mountain to get to a well and collects water to bring back to her house. And the water she’s collecting from the well is not clean, it can make her sick.”

Bringing it Home

Now at home in the United States, Bloom is speaking out about the importance of conserving water. Inspired by his trip to Nepal, he explains that we cannot take our daily access to water for granted. He has instilled this mindset into his son, for example, by teaching him to turn off water while brushing his teeth.

Orlando Bloom has also visited places including Liberia, Jordan and Moscow to learn about the struggles families go through, to further raise awareness for other issues besides water conservation and sanitation.

Casey Marx

Photo: Flickr

Pakistan’s Innovative Drinking Water ATMs
Drinking water ATMs? In recent years, severe water shortages have challenged an already energy-starved Pakistan. Now, Punjab province is installing solar-powered ATMs that can distribute clean water to residents.

The small, two-foot boxes function just like normal ATMs, with one notable difference. Instead of cash, the machines dispense clean drinking water, which in times of extreme water scarcity can be more valuable than money.

Punjab Saaf Pani (Clean Water) Company and the research center Innovations for Poverty Alleviation Lab (IPAL) created the drinking water ATMs to give residents in “rural and urban fringe areas” access to clean water. The ATMs provide water free of charge to beneficiary families, and communities will be responsible for pooling funds for the machinery’s maintenance charges.

To operate the machines, users scan a smart card to verify their identities, then push the machine’s red and green buttons to collect their daily share of water. The system will allow each family to collect up to 30 liters of water a day.

The project also aims to help the Pakistani government reduce water waste. To help the government track the exact amount of water dispensed in each location, a central server for the machines will virtually record water use in real-time.

Currently, Pakistan has few water conservation programs in place. One official noted, “There is a national habit of extravagance,” regarding resources like water, electricity and gas. The drinking water ATM system will help the government regulate the population’s consumption of water for home and agricultural use.

Because agriculture alone makes up 21 percent of Pakistan’s GDP, proper water management is key to the growth of the country’s economy. The Indus River stretches the length of Pakistan and feeds irrigation canals nationwide. Water shortages due to drought and mismanagement can affect major exports such as vegetables, wheat and cotton.

The Indus Basin aquifer, which provides fresh water to Pakistan and India, also faces a shortage crisis. There are few alternatives to excessive aquifer use in the densely populated region, and the underground water table is being depleted faster than it can recharge. As a result, the Indus Basin is now the second most stressed aquifer in the world.

To address this worsening water crisis, Punjab Saaf Pani Company and IPAL plan to install 20 initial ATMs at water filtration centers in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province. The project will start in three Punjabi districts with serious water contamination issues. According to the program manager at IPAL, this first round of installations will benefit over 17,500 families.

The Punjabi government has pledged the equivalent of almost $200 million to clean water efforts through 2017. It plans to expand its current programs to provide 35 million people with access to safe drinking water.

In February, Pakistan’s minister for water and energy warned that both climate change and government waste have taken a toll on the country’s water supply. “Under the present situation, in the next six to seven years, Pakistan can be a water-starved country,” he stated.

Nationwide, 35 percent of Pakistan’s population lacks access to clean drinking water. In rural areas of Punjab province, that number is as low as 13 percent.

The recent heatwave in Pakistan brought international attention to the government’s mismanagement of the water crisis. Over 1,200 people have died as a result of dehydration, heat stroke and other heat-related causes, though the government has denied accountability for the deaths.

Many experts consider ineffective governance at the national level the biggest obstacle to water security in Pakistan. Muhammad Farasat Iqbal, chief executive officer of Punjab Saaf Pani Company, says that while access to clean water has become a top priority of the provincial government, it will take the concerted effort of the national government to effect real change across Pakistan.

Caitlin Harrison

Sources: Washington Post, Reuters, New York Times, Government of Pakistan Ministry of Finance, Time
Photo: Tribune

agriculture basics
Most organizations who train farmers in impoverished countries champion ‘sustainable agriculture,’ and who wouldn’t? Self-explanatory though it may sound, ‘sustainable agriculture’ encompasses a variety of techniques that benefit people economically and physically while still protecting the environment. Here are some sustainable agriculture basics:

1. Crop Rotation

Crop rotation is one of the earliest methods of sustainable farming, and has been employed since the mid-19th century. A farmer who plants fields of corn year after year eventually depletes his soil of essential nutrients. Because these are required for healthy corn to grow, the farmer must replenish his fields with fertilizers that contain elements like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.

This is a problem for farmers in countries without developed infrastructures. Because transporting the fertilizer becomes so labor intensive, the price skyrockets.

Crop rotation is the natural solution to this particular conundrum. Studies have shown that corn grown biennially, with soybeans grown in the same fields on the off years, yields 5 to 20 percent more harvest.

But it’s not just soil health that crop rotation affects. It is an essential part of another technique called ‘Integrated pest management.’

2. Integrated Pest Management

The same crop planted year after year provides a reliable food source for insects that prey upon it. Replacing that food source with another breaks down the reproductive cycle of the insect population, ultimately controlling the insects’ numbers.

Integrated Pest Management also advocates the reintroduction of insects’ natural predators. Bats, birds and spiders all play a role in managing pests, though they are often killed off by insecticides.

3. Water Conservation

One of the most important aspects of sustainable farming is water conservation. Nearly 70 percent of the world’s water consumption goes to the agriculture sector. This amount can be minimized by ensuring that irrigation systems are in order and effective and by preventing water evaporation using cover crops and mulch.

The greatest way to conserve water is to plant crops in regions similar to that of their native climates. Transporting large amounts of water to sustain non-native plants is, at least, uneconomical. It is commonly practiced in the industry, nonetheless. In Spain, ‘summer crops’ like tomatoes and melons are grown during the winter at the cost of terribly water-intensive irrigation systems.

On the other hand, many varieties of amaranth and barley are drought-resistant; they thrive in areas with very little rain.

4. Weeds

Weeds are perhaps the obstacle sustainable farmers can say the least about. On small farms, some advocate removing them by hand. On larger farms that is implausible. Other people propose burning fields after harvest to prevent weeds from spreading seeds. This, though effective, is a source of pollution and a potential health hazard to farmhands.

5. Sustainable is not Organic

A sustainable farm is not always an organic farm. Often, the only way to deal with pests, weeds and the like is to use commercial products. In practice, sustainable farming seeks to make farms healthier for people and their environment. They are not meant to bankrupt the farmer in the pursuit of a totally ‘green’ enterprise, nor are they meant to be advertised by those who make minimal effort to be sustainable.

Sustainable farming is an endeavor requiring moderation, effort and strategy, but the benefits are worth it.

Olivia Kostreva

Sources: Discovery, National Geographic, Agriculture Sustainability Institute
Photo: The Atlantic

Life as we know it owes a great debt to water. We ourselves are comprised of nearly 70 percent water and can’t live without a regular dose. However millions around the world still live without a reliable, clean water source.

As it turns out, our most precious resource is not nearly as abundant in potable form as human demand requires.

In fact, water is so scarce that 780 million people have no access to clean drinking water. In some cases, as with China’s Yangtze River, the poor quality of the water is in part caused by human activity and waste.

Fortunately China is investing in its water security by bringing school children out of the classroom and to the Yangtze in order to promote conservation and sustainable practices.

Since 2008 this experimental school program has focused on education for sustainable development (ESD). The so-called “Water School” is designed to get China’s children active in the protection and safe treatment of their water resources.

UNESCO and other international organizations are praising the program as a revolutionary and fundamental step for the protection of our vital resources. These organizations hope to sponsor similar programs across the globe by spreading awareness of the positive effects China’s water school has produced.

The program has already involved approximately 130,000 students and 200,000 community members, creating a new intellectual base that is deeply in touch with issues of conservation and water treatment.

Part of the program is to build children’s sense of responsibility to the Yangtze’s natural resources, and also to provide them with experiential learning. Tasks like monitoring PH levels and the health and biodiversity of local ecosystems aim to create a more secure future not just for the water, but also for the wildlife and vegetation that also rely on the river.

According to the project website, “The Water School for a Living Yangtze provides opportunities for young people living in different parts of the Yangtze River Basin to link their learning with the indigenous knowledge, traditional practice, and belief systems of local and more distant communities.”

The other major development for the water school is the way it uses the Yangtze, which cuts through the interior of the continent, as a unifying structure between the variety of cultures that live beside its waters. In that sense, the river acts as a vehicle for social development and promulgates shared responsibility for such a critical natural resource.

– Chase Colton

Sources: UNESCO, Water School, UN Water

For many North African and Middle Eastern (MENA) countries, the goal of greater water acquisition had been the standard policy for developers and government officials aiming to combat the low annual rainfall and dry climate of the region. Huge projects involving the construction of desalinization plants, dams, and canals resulted in only marked successes in solving the region’s water scarcity problems. Enter the Canadian-led International Development Regional Centre (IRDC) in 2004 that – with a fresh set of eyes and a renewed focus on efficiency – set out to implement a new policy of development that focuses on water reduction as opposed to acquisition.

The water conservation project, known as WaDlmena and co-sponsored by the IRDC, introduced a “demand management” program that focused on decreasing the amount of water used through innovative water conservation methods and development that focuses on water reduction. Techniques such as greywater – which utilizes non-sewage wastewater for crops – along with drip irrigation and nightly crop watering were researched, implemented, and tested by local farmers, policymakers, and community members. Various concerns such as issues involving poor farmers and tariffs on water usage were also addressed, leading to creative new ideas such as allowing small amounts of free well water to local growers.

Since the WaDlmena program has been enacted, nations such as Jordan and Morocco have adopted water conservation techniques ranging from mandatory wastewater systems in new buildings and drip irrigation for the agricultural industry. Thanks to the IRDC’s efforts in funding development that focuses on water reduction instead of water acquisition, a realistic solution to the water scarcity problem in the Middle East may soon be reached.

Brian Turner

Source: Science Daily
Photo: National Geographic