The competition for water

By 2030, the global demand for water will exceed supply by 40 percent. What does this mean for the future of cities and their residents? With ever-increasing competition for clean water among industries, agriculture, and urban populations, cities like Bogotá, Dhaka, Delhi, and Rio de Janeiro are implementing much-needed initiatives to improve universal access to water and to protect vital waterways. From a 10,000-person march for river restoration to government subsidies for low-income residents, citizens, NGOs, and government authorities are waking up to the water crisis and taking action. Read on to find out more, then share your thoughts in the comments.

Click on the city names to see a perspective from each city below.

Rio de Janeiro


Jorge Bela

Minimo vital de agua en Bogotá

Jorge Bela, Gestor Comunitario de Bogotá


El agua de Bogotá es potable y deliciosa, algo excepcional en las grandes ciudades de América latina. Esto se debe a su proximidad a abundantes fuentes de agua, especialmente los páramos de Chingaza y Sumapaz, y a una buena gestión del recurso. La mayor parte del agua consumida actualmente proviene de la represa de Chingaza, ubicada a unos 50 kilómetros de Bogotá. Sin embargo, la misma proximidad de la mega urbe supone un riesgo para los frágiles ecosistemas de los páramos: Sumapaz comienza en el mismo término municipal de la capital. Aunque la capacidad de suministro actual se estima suficiente a medio plazo, a largo plazo será necesario construir nuevas represas y canalizaciones, proyectos técnicamente complejos y que probablemente generarán fuertes controversias por su impacto ambiental.

La gestión del suministro del agua corresponde a la Empresa del Acueducto de Bogotá, una entidad pública. Siguiendo es esquema de subsidios basados en los estratos, los habitantes de los barrios con mayores recursos económicos (5 y 6) pagan un sobreprecio que es utilizado para subvencionar a los estratos con menores recursos: el estrato 1 paga el 30 por ciento del costo del agua, el 2 un 40 por ciento y el 3 un 75 por ciento, en todos los casos con un límite de 20m3 por periodo de cobro (el estrato 4 paga el valor real del agua). Este sistema de subsidios es deficitario, y la propia Empresa del Acueducto, que no paga utilidad al municipio, asume el déficit con sus propios recursos.

A partir de febrero de 2012, Bogotá estableció mediante decreto el derecho a un mínimo vital de agua, un derecho reconocido por las Naciones Unidas mediante la Resolución 64/292 de 28 de julio de 2010. El decreto establece que para los estratos 1 y 2, los primeros 12m3 consumidos en cada periodo de facturación serán suministrados de forma gratuita. A partir de dicho consumo se aplicarán las tarifas habituales para dichos estratos. Esta cuota supone una asignación gratuita de unos 50 litros por persona y día, lo que está dentro de los criterios que se manejan habitualmente para estimar un consumo mínimo de agua en un entorno como Bogotá. El costo de la medida para el año 2012 fue de 71 000 millones de pesos (unos $35 millones de USD al cambio actual), según datos del Distrito. Esta cantidad fue íntegramente cubierta con fondos del propio Distrito.

Aunque la medida ha sido bien recibida entre la mayoría de los expertos como un avance en la implementación de la resolución de las Naciones Unidas, no ha estado libre de controversia. Un punto cuestionado es la limitación del mínimo vital a dos estratos: una asignación del mínimo vital debería incluir todos los ciudadanos, independientemente de sus circunstancias personales. Pero quizá la cuestión de mayor envergadura que se suscita sea la realidad de numerosos municipios colombianos que no disponen de la capacidad financiera para asignar este mínimo vital. Aunque escapa del ámbito de Bogotá, la solución a este problema sería el establecimiento de un fondo nacional destinado a este fin.



Jorge Bela's picture

The Rio and Dhaka articles this week underscore how inequality, a common denominator in all the cities covered by URB.IM also affects water supplies. The Dhaka situation is far worse than Rio's, as the quality of the water supplied also worsens in the poorest neighborhoods. In Rio the problems are related to insufficient infrastructure, unable to meet demand, but water queality us the same all over the system. Bogotá offers a big contrast with the other examples on this week's articles. Water is abundant, and the quality is very good. The free allowance is a very significant help for the poorest households. However, it shares with Delhi a very seious pollution problem. The Rio Bogotá is polluted just a few miles from its source. After it exits Bogotá is also a dead, stinky river. Although some cleaning efforts are under way, it is unlikely that they will be completed in a truly significant way in the next few years.

Priyanka Jain's picture

I agree with Jorge, inequality is indeed a common denominator. But often its the effect of poor water management than water scarcity. Delhi has abundant supply of water but most of it is lost because of corruption and infrastructural problems, such as leakages. The Delhi Jal Board loses about half of its water supply before it reaches the end user.

Similar to Bogota, Delhi also started free allowance of 667 litres of water for each household having metered connection this year. This served two purposes: first, it incentivised the informal housing settlements to get metered connections, and second, it promoted conservation and efficient use of water. While people have started understanding the concept of preserving water, the understanding of river ecosystems is still weak.

I see two key challenges.
a) How to improve water supply management?
b) What type of awareness can help river ecosystems?

Regarding Jorge's article, it gives me a sense of hope to see the urban polices by "estratos" in Colombia, since I believe this is a way to address the urban poor's inability to afford public services. In Brazil it is common that the less wealthy families allocated into the social housing services find themselves unable to afford their water and electricity bills, a process that leads to eventually moving back to informal settlements. The system may need adjustment and cities might need financial aid from the national government to attend this resolution, but it is an interesting initiative to address the issue of public service offer to those who cannot afford it.

As in Dhaka, unauthorized water systems are a huge challenge in Brazilian cities. Yet, for those who live in informal settlements, what are the options? Again, whenever the governments fail to meet the demands of the urban poor, creating "self-constructed" infrastructure becomes a matter of survival, which was the case in several slum areas brazilian major cities.
Adding to Priyanka's challenges, I would raise:
In a context of rapid-urbanization, how can one address the provision of infrastructure in informal settlements?

I completely agree with the fact that in most cases government is only acting as a silent observer. Similar to Delhi, there are a lot of NGOs working for the sanitation and improvement of water quality. However, the difficulty comes into play when government shows a deaf ear to the problem. In other studies, it has shown that people living in the informal settlements need to buy water from vendors with greater cost, which would be a possible reluctant step to do. Besides, the problem of unauthorized water system has cause chaos in the water system management. Some are enjoying the benefits, while some strive for small hope.

The article by Priyanka Jain corresponds to one of our main rivers in North India. The same pathetic situation also prevails in other parts of the country as well. There are indeed once river(s) and its tributary(s) flowing as a secluded contaminated water course along the heart or periphery of the city / town. However, the question in all cases that remains unanswered and needs attention is the fact that how much of river water do we treat and discharge it back into the water course downstream ? This vicious circle these days seems to be further affected by the changing climate both regionally and globally......

Priyanka Jain's picture

Dear K.R.T Achar,

Indeed you raise a very good point. The rivers across India, and not just Yamuna, are running dry from overuse and becoming nothing less than a sewer. The core issue seems to be water resource management and the need to look at it from a regional standpoint. Each state need to start looking at the complete ecosystem of the river and not as a resource to exploited for their states' water needs.

Given your experience in the field, I would like to ask you this question:

If we do figure out how much water needs to be treated and discharged back, who will make the ultimate decision to implement it?

Would different government departments and institutions talk to each other effectively to implement what seems to be an engineering and management issue?


Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.