Chennai’s water crisis: Man-made problem

Chennai’s water crisis: Man-made problem

It not uncommon to come across newspaper headlines which highlight a water crisis in Chennai. This year however the intensity of the crisis appears worse than anything experienced in recent memory.

The scale of the water crisis has now begun to undermine everyday economic activity in the city as some restaurants have informed patrons that they will not serve meals on account of water scarcity.

Monkeys drink water from a bucket on a hot summer day at Guindy Children’s Park in Chennai on June 10, 2019. (Photo by ARUN SANKAR / AFP)

For sure, last year’s northeast monsoon, Chennai’s most important source of annual rainfall, failed. But the scale of this year’s crisis and the perennial water shortage a substantial number of residents experience, is mainly on account of poor work of successive governments.

To put this issue in perspective, it’s important to consider the annual rainfall Chennai receives. Chennai receives an annual rainfall of 132.4 cm, which is more than the all-India average. The northeast monsoon (October-December) brings, on average, 60% of the annual rainfall.

The city has three main rivers flowing through it, Adyar River, Cooum and Kosasthalaiyar. The three main tanks of Chennai Metropolitan Area are Chembarambakkam, Redhills and Cholavaram.

Taken together the annual rainfall and water bodies in the metropolitan area are not insignificant, even after accounting for the population.

Last year, the northeast monsoon failed Chennai. The city received only 35.2 cm of rainfall, a deficit of 55%.

A water crisis however is not unusual. It is a frequent occurrence. Therefore, the source of the problem is not one year’s deficient rainfall.

The problem here is that successive governments have performed poorly when it comes to enhancing storage of water. Encroachments are a man-made problem. Delayed project implementation and inadequate desilting works are the outcome of low accountability of governments.

An Indian man carries a plastic pot filled with drinking water into an auto rickshaw at a distribution point in Chennai on June 19, 2019. – Water levels in the four main reservoirs in Chennai have fallen to one of its lowest levels in 70 years, according to Indian media reports. (Photo by ARUN SANKAR / AFP)

About a year ago, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) submitted a performance audit report of flood management efforts in Chennai. The audit also covered water storage efforts.

The section of the CAG report which examined governments’ attempts to enhance the city’s water storage reached the following dismal conclusion:

“Projects to restore and increase the storage capacities of the tanks and reservoirs suffered setbacks due to faulty planning and lack of coordination between various Government agencies.”

Residents of Chennai deserve better.

By: Sanjiv Shankaran 

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of The Leaders Online.