Telepolis (Heise Online): "India: continue rowing in the sewer"

January 28, 2020

In Chennai in southern India, an efficient solution is already being used to end India's water crisis. However, it is better to invest in questionable large-scale projects while the wastewater rivers and sewage lakes are spreading

Dense green grass in front of me as far as the eye wants to see. A sign from the Tamil Nadu nature conservation authority advises that no plastic should be thrown into the Pallikanarai wetlands here. But the nose already says that something stinks here.

A look to the left shows a sewer that leads a black broth into the wetlands. The white dots in the distance are not spot bill ducks , which according to the nature conservation authority's sign are supposed to be hidden in the grass, but high-rise buildings and factory buildings. Immediately behind me a metal avalanche races on the four-lane Tambaram Main Road in the next traffic jam in the metropolis of 10 million people.

Velachery Lake is four kilometers further towards the city center . A ring of houses around the lake indicates why its area has shrunk from 107 hectares to 20. With millions of liters of fresh

water, it could still be a source of drinking water, but a sewer leads its stinking broth into the lake.

Empty water storage

Chennai's wetlands used to cover 200 square kilometers. Until 1980 they shrank moderately and still had an area of ​​186.3 (km2) the CareEarth Trust [1] shows. The main reasons are the boom in IT companies in the south of Chennai and the growth of the real estate market in general.

"For more than two decades, scientists and environmentalists have been pointing out that Chennai is headed for a water disaster," says Dr. Avilash Roul from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chennai. "But it only took the heavy flooding in 2015 for those responsible to wake up." In the past, the wetlands with their lakes and inlets would have absorbed a large part of the water and thus alleviated the flood damage. They also served as water reservoirs, explains Avilash.

But this summer, almost all of Chennai's natural and man-made water reservoirs were empty. Veeranam Lake , 235 kilometers away , from which Chennai otherwise covers 35 percent of its water requirements. The metropolis had to be supplied with trains full of drinking water from the neighboring state of Kerala.

Monsoon and fountain

"It is true that the summer monsoon came very late last year. Also that the north-east monsoon, which is more important for Chennai, was weak. But if for years the whole city is concreted without thought and the rainwater can no longer seep into the groundwater through the ground "The water crisis is a logical consequence," Avilash concludes calmly.

There is a reason why his young colleague Akshaya Ayyangar is more optimistic: "I have only been working in Chennai in the field of water management for five years and see that there has been progress since 2015." There are now also competent experts on the government side with whom they can work well. The main reason is that things are going slowly. "It's a coordination and communication problem," says the technologist.

At least 13 government agencies need to work together on water. Only rarely does one authority know what the other is doing.

Akshaya Ayyangar

Then Ayyangar names one of the many small problems: "Only about 10 percent of households in Chennai have a water meter." Water waste is the result [2] .

But the young woman is immediately optimistic again and says with a wink: "By the way, we haven't had a water problem here in the neighborhood for years." Then she sends me two streets down to a gentleman who is responsible for it.

"But they are late," says Sekhar Raghavan of the Rain Center organization in greeting. "The BBC was already here in June." "Maybe I'm the first to come before the next crisis," I reply. The answer is the laugh of a person who has been used to fighting windmills for 25 years without giving up. "Oh, there will definitely be, even if it doesn't become a world news again," says Raghavan.

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Quoted: Avilash Roul @Telepolis (Heise Online), January 19, 2020