United by water in Bangalore

Published: Wednesday 15 January 2003

-- 15-year-old Raja lives in a slum in Koramangala locality of Bangalore city. He cycles 2 km every night to get two pots of water for his family from a public handpump. Today the city he lives in along with 6 million fellow citizens gets its supply of water from 100 kms away. An ever increasing thirst.

Raja and a group of friends were participants in a unique and unprecedented nine -day water festival. It was as if the famous Stockholm water festival was on, but this time in India. 'Water in the City -- Water of the People' ran from November 30 to December 7, 2002. It was organised by Max Mueller Bhawan in collaboration with civic Bangalore, Public Affairs Centre and Swabhimana (all of them non-governmental organisations). The response from people was overwhelming.

The programme comprised photo exhibitions, video film screenings, public lectures, a children's survey and painting competition, culminating in a two day seminar. Not just water experts, government officials, ecologists and water engineers but also educators, students, artists, photographers and even a sculptor were roped in to bring home the point that solving an issue such as water required keen multi-sectoral involment.

the event forced participants and observers to look at an issue that usually everyone took for granted. Clare Arni, an Irish photographer who lives and works in Bangalore, was specially commissioned to shoot pictures for an exhibition on different aspects of water in the city. Children were at the forefront of events. A survey by members of the Childrens Movement for Civic Awareness threw up some eye-openers. A thousand students from 36 schools in the city fanned across the city to record how much residents in both middle class localities and poor slums knew about their water resources. A measly 10 per cent knew the cost of water they used. Only 18 per cent could confirm their water source was the Cauvery river. Some even thought water came from the Brahmaputra and Ganga!

A N Yellappa Reddy, former environment secretary of Karnataka, was the first to support the festival idea, "In 1960 there were 262 lakes. Today we only have 81 left, of which 61 are in a state of decay or dying. Again in 1960, there were 3000 percolation tanks, all extinct now. We suffer from ecological illiteracy. This needs to be corrected."

Bangalore: Facts

population: 1.6 million in 1971 to 6 million in 2001;

water demand: 840 million litres per day -- 140 litres per capita. (source: BWSSB)

groundwater: growing use; estimated 40 per cent dependent.

Bangalore used to get its water supply from local sources like tanks, supplemented by local wells. Today water is drawn from the city hinterland -- from increasing distances -- to meet needs:

1892 Hassaraghatta tank (20 km)

1925-26 Dam, Arkavathi river (40 km)

1974 Cauvery (i)

1982 Cauvery (ii)

1995 Cauvery (iii)

2002 Cauvery (iv) (100 km)

"Storage in the city is not adequate enough to handle supply for a few days. Old pipes need to be replaced. Depending on a single source is not desirable. We need alternatives."

-- D K Subramanian
Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore

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