Efficiency is a buzzword and it has been much used for enhancing the urban water supply system from intermittent to 24×7 in developing countries like India.
Since 2007, governments, funding agencies and consultants have been making efforts to develop and implement 24×7 water supply projects in many Indian cities. This is despite the limited resources available with the governments such as quantity of water and cost to fetch it, finance required for infrastructure, human resource and technology, user willingness and ability to pay for better services and knowledge to implement the projects successfully in a time-bound manner.
But this ultimately has resulted in a failure in implementation of the projects and achieving the United Nations’ sustainable development goals besides not meeting the political and social expectations.
Step by Step
The objective of the 24×7 water supply system is to optimise water usage, including reduced contamination and assured quality water delivery at a reasonable price. There is not a single city in India that can be presented as an example before the world in terms of quality services.
24×7 water supply is a destination and will happen at the end of successful implementation of a system upgradation project, step by step making it fit for continuous supply by transforming hardware infrastructure, instrumentation, sensors and software and water management practice in a cost-effective manner.
To begin with, we can diagnose the existing infrastructure and develop system improvement plan, covering reducing water and energy losses first, in the pilot areas to achieve control over the system.
In the second stage, pilot project expansion and repetition can be done till the system completely transforms satisfactorily at the city level. It is about transformation of the system and obviously, it takes time to take shape and deliver the desired results.
Water utility systems are facing high amount of water losses. Non-revenue water (water that is pumped and then lost or unaccounted for) is in the range of 40% to 60%! This is a serious issue that should be tackled on a war-footing.
Therefore to reduce it, the first step is to have command over the quantification (volume of water handled in the system). It can be developed by using proper water flow measuring instruments selected to meet the desired accuracy considering the budget available.
The measured water flow readings must be recorded in a scientific manner and analysed properly. The quantification can be done by two methods — tabulation and accounting.
The tabulation method is good at an initial stage to have a water balancing idea but at a later stage, water accounting is the accurate method to have holistic water auditing and for its sustainable and judicious use as a natural resource. It facilitates analytical reports necessary for policymakers to take right decisions and also offers simple indicators to understand consumers.
Smart ICT applications and advanced technology can address these issues in a cost-effective manner. Many cities have now mapped infrastructure and household service connections using GIS and remote sensing technology. Metering and consumer awareness need to be addressed properly.
Cities are on the threshold of upgradation of the service and need the attention of Centre and State governments. The provision and declaration under AMRUT and SMART city schemes are not sufficient going by the magnitude of the complexity and scale of the problems.
An integrated approach is necessary to have water leak detection and prevention, quantification and auditing on a single platform called the Integrated Water Accounting Platform (IWAP). IWAP will give a uniform system at the national level and will be useful in meeting the challenges as well implementation of the projects.
This integrated approach is proven in improving water supply services not only in advanced countries such as the US, Singapore, Australia and Europe but also in developing nations such as Vietnam, Philippines and South Africa. Developing IWAP requires a dedicated multi-disciplinary team of researchers, industry and government officials. Of course, funding is vital. Unfortunately, availability of funds to carry out research is nil.
India is a water-stressed nation. Water is a State subject and is important to meet States’ ambitions to improve the quality of life and to drive industrial and economic growth. Therefore, States must form innovative partnerships to meet their needs within the context of growing scarcity, increased pollution and inter-State conflict to meet the development needs.
This is more so for large cities such as New Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad.
These cities should be covered on a priority basis because of increasing dependency on a limited water resource available and its adverse impact on meeting the demand for agriculture and industrial water requirements.
There is an urgent need to review and work out an action plan at the national level and devise an implementation programme in a time-bound manner keeping accountability to the fore. In the second stage, all the smart cities and water-stressed cities may be covered.
Water hubs, which work on multi-disciplinary aspects, may be created in each State. Potential for job creation in lakhs, skill development and public awareness programmes may be implemented through these hubs.
Who will address this need? Government/s, United Nations, World Bank, corporate houses, NGOs? It is a question before academicians, domain experts and professionals, including officials working on improving the urban water supply system and associated with the subject.
(The author is Associate Professor – Urban Governance, Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad)