Innovative solutions to combat water insecurity

Ashali Bhandari, Bangalore Community Manager
Bangalore, 11 December 2015

Over the last four decades, Bangalore’s economic boom has been accompanied by a loss of over half its water bodies. No stranger to environmental perils, the city has witnessed growing air pollution, unpredictable rainfall, and rising temperatures. Yet while issues of poor air quality impact citizens uniformly, issues of water insecurity disproportionately affect poorer residents of the city.

Bangalore’s freshwater sources are declining: The Arkavathy River has been a source of freshwater for the city since the early 20th century, but today fills only 25% of its reservoir; forcing the city to look to other rivers and ground water for its water supply. Inflows from the river have reduced from 385 million litres per day to 65 million litres per day over twenty years. The Water Resource Development Organization blames climate change, specifically the decline in rainfall and rising temperatures, for the desiccation of the river. Consequently, the city has increasingly turned to ground water for its supply, but leakages from water and sewage pipes contaminate ground water, resulting in 8.4% of well water being contaminated with E. Coli bacteria. The city still fails to meet the demand for 1125 million liters per day, resulting in unreliable water supply for many of the city’s residents.

Residents of informal settlements are often excluded from access to clean drinking water. Bangalore’s infamous ‘water mafia’ deliver supplies to marginalized communities charging by the tanker at rates over five times higher than the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board. However, the pricey suppliers don’t guarantee quality and many residents complain of contamination by sewage, which falls on deaf ears. With no other alternatives, residents of informal communities have had to pay higher rates for black water and subsequently pay for the medicine to treat their water borne illnesses.

Water Health India, USAID, and the Greater Bangalore Municipal Corporation are working to combat the inequity of access to safe water supplies by setting up community water systems known as Water Health Centers. As the Municipal Corporation allocates land, Water Health India, with the support of USAID, sets up centers that provide 20 litres of affordable and clean drinking water to a minimum of 350 households a day. These centers use UV technology and a six-step process to decontaminate the water without the carbon footprint generated by boiling water. The centers also generate local employment as Water Health India trains and hires residents as the maintenance and operations team for the centers.

Earlier this year, the first center was inaugurated in Lingarajpuram with great success. Residents now pay one sixth of the artificially high prices and get cleaner water in the process. By early November, nine centers had been set up within the city and by May 2016, twenty-five centers are expected be operational. This collaborative model will be replicated to build centers in each ward of the city, providing all households with access to potable water.

Collaborative efforts such as the public-private partnership between Water Health India, USAID, and the Greater Bangalore Municipal Corporation act as a pioneer effort for sustainable ways to mitigate the effects climate change will have on poor residents of the city.

Photo credit: Nicholas Mirguet

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