A searing heatwave has hit large parts of India with parts of Telangana and Uttar Pradesh seeing temperatures as high as 48°C. More than 600 people have been killed by the heat this summer, as per news reports.
The Indian Meteorological Department, on Monday, reported severe heat wave conditions in parts of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. Parts of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, West Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Chhattisgarh were classified as suffering from a heat wave.
At temperatures above 40°C, a “heat wave” refers to a departure of between 4°C-5°C from the normal temperature while a “severe heat wave” refers to a departure of more than 6°C.
At these temperatures, chances of a heatstroke, a possibly fatal illness which results from the overheating of the body, are high for people outdoors.
Andhra Pradesh, the state most affected by this heatwave, has seen 42 deaths from heatstroke alone. Following the death of two taxi drivers in Kolkata, also from heatstroke, taxi unions have decided to shut down cab serviced between 11 am to 4 pm.
This the most severe heat wave in India since 2010, when an estimated 250 people died from heat related causes. The 2010 heat wave was part of a global summer heat wave which was one of the most severe heat waves since temperatures started being recorded.
Governments in India, though, seem to have learnt little from past heat-based natural disasters. The Central government and the National Disaster Management Authority have not put in place preventive measures for the summer nor do they have any curative plans lined up after the large number of casualties. The union home ministry has not even declared a heat wave as a “national disaster”.
This inaction is matched by state and local governments. Chandrababu Naidu, chief minister of the worst affected state, Andhra Pradesh has not gone beyond offering his personal advice to for people going out into the sun to take preventive steps in order to prevent heat damage.
The lone exception
The one exception to this general trend of government inaction, though, is Ahmedabad, where the city’s municipal corporation has taken concrete steps to prevent deaths and injury due to heat exposure. Starting from assigning different alerts for different levels of heat to a mapped out action plan to save lives on the ground, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has had a comprehensive Heat Action Plan in place since 2013.
Currently, Ahmedabad is the only city in India to have a operational heat alert system. The plan was developed by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, the Indian Institute of Public Health, the Natural Resources Defense Council (a non-governmental organisation based in New York) and the Georgia Institute of Technology (an American university).
The Heat Action Plan is a four-pronged strategy. The first involves a communications outreach which informs people about the risk of heat illness and preventive measures to take. This year, new media such as mobile messaging service, WhatsApp, will also be used to as a dissemination channel along with more traditional means such as posters and inter-personal communication.
Information posters to prevent against heat illness. Source: Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan 2015
The second involves a warning system in the case of a heatwave with actionables mapped out for various governmental agencies.
Communication plan when a heat alert is activated. Source: Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan 2015.
The third step involves training health care professionals to better respond to heat illness while the fourth involves adapting the physical plan of the city to better cope with heat: mapping high-risk areas, making potable water easily accessible and building temporary cooling spaces during periods of extreme heat.
Governmental strategies to combat excessive heat are the global norm. After the 2003 heat wave in France, which killed almost 15,000 people, the French government formulated a heat health watch warning system, a nationwide system of combating heat illness in case of abnormally hot weather. One study estimates that during the 2006 heat wave, 4,400 deaths were avoided as a result of this system being in place.
The UK and Australia also have heat warning systems in place.
India’s current heatwave is predicted by the Meteorological Department to go on for a few days more, which would lead to hundreds of completely avoidable deaths simply because India’s governments do not have any systems in place to warn of heat waves or fight heat illness.
India’s urban water crisis calls for an integrated approach
We need solutions that address different aspects of the water eco-system and
involve the collective participation of citizens and other stake-holders.
According to a UN report, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one fifth of the world’s population, live in areas where water is physically scarce and another 1.6 billion people, or nearly one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage. They lack basic access to water. The criticality of the water situation across the world has in fact given rise to speculations over water wars becoming a distinct possibility in the future. In India the problem is compounded, given the rising population and urbanization. The Asian Development Bank has forecast that by 2030, India will have a water deficit of 50%.
Water challenges in urban India
For urban India, the situation is critical. In 2015, about 377 million Indians lived in urban areas and by 2030, the urban population is expected to rise to 590 million. Already, according to the National Sample Survey, only 47% of urban households have individual water connections and about 40% to 50% of water is reportedly lost in distribution systems due to various reasons. Further, as per the 2011 census, only 32.7% of urban Indian households are connected to a piped sewerage system.
Any comprehensive solution to address the water problem in urban India needs to take into account the specific challenges around water management and distribution:
Pressure on water sources: Rising demand on water means rising pressure on water sources, especially in cities. In a city like Mumbai for example, 3,750 Million Litres per Day (MLD) of water, including water for commercial and industrial use, is available, whereas 4,500 MLD is needed. The primary sources of water for cities like Mumbai are lakes created by dams across rivers near the city. Distributing the available water means providing 386,971 connections to the city’s roughly 13 million residents. When distribution becomes challenging, the workaround is to tap ground water. According to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment, 48% of urban water supply in India comes from ground water. Ground water exploitation for commercial and domestic use in most cities is leading to reduction in ground water level.
Distribution and water loss issues: Distribution challenges, such as water loss due to theft, pilferage, leaky pipes and faulty meter readings, result in unequal and unregulated distribution of water. In New Delhi, for example, water distribution loss was reported to be about 40% as per a study. In Mumbai, where most residents get only 2-5 hours of water supply per day, the non-revenue water loss is about 27% of the overall water supply. This strains the municipal body’s budget and impacts the improvement of distribution infrastructure. Factors such as difficult terrain and legal issues over buildings also affect water supply to many parts. According to a study, only 5% of piped water reaches slum areas in 42 Indian cities, including New Delhi. A 2011 study also found that 95% of households in slum areas in Mumbai’s Kaula Bunder district, in some seasons, use less than the WHO-recommended minimum of 50 litres per capita per day.
Water pollution and contamination: In India,almost400,000childrendie every year of diarrhea, primarily due to contaminated water. According to a 2017 report, 630 million people in the South East Asian countries, including India, use faeces-contaminated drinking water source, becoming susceptible to a range of diseases. Industrial waste is also a major cause for water contamination, particularly antibiotic ingredients released into rivers and soils by pharma companies. A Guardian report talks about pollution from drug companies, particularly those in India and China, resulting in the creation of drug-resistant superbugs. The report cites a study which indicates that by 2050, the total death toll worldwide due to infection by drug resistant bacteria could reach 10 million people.
A holistic approach to tackling water challenges
Addressing these challenges and improving access to clean water for all needs a combination of short-term and medium-term solutions. It also means involving the community and various stakeholders in implementing the solutions. This is the crux of the recommendations put forth by BASF.
The proposed solutions, based on a study of water issues in cities such as Mumbai, take into account different aspects of water management and distribution. Backed by a close understanding of the cost implications, they can make a difference in tackling urban water challenges. These solutions include:
Recycling and harvesting: Raw sewage water which is dumped into oceans damages the coastal eco-system. Instead, this could be used as a cheaper alternative to fresh water for industrial purposes. According to a 2011 World Bank report, 13% of total freshwater withdrawal in India is for industrial use. What’s more, the industrial demand for water is expected to grow at a rate of 4.2% per year till 2025. Much of this demand can be met by recycling and treating sewage water. In Mumbai for example, 3000 MLD of sewage water is released, almost 80% of fresh water availability. This can be purified and utilised for industrial needs. An example of recycled sewage water being used for industrial purpose is the 30 MLD waste water treatment facility at Gandhinagar and Anjar in Gujarat set up by Welspun India Ltd.
Another example is the proposal by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) to recycle and reclaim sewage water treated at its existing facilities to meet the secondary purposes of both industries and residential complexes. In fact, residential complexes can similarly recycle and re-use their waste water for secondary purposes such as gardening.
Also, alternative rain water harvesting methods such as harvesting rain water from concrete surfaces using porous concrete can be used to supplement roof-top rain water harvesting, to help replenish ground water.
Community initiatives to supplement regular water supply: Initiatives such as community water storage and decentralised treatment facilities, including elevated water towers or reservoirs and water ATMs, based on a realistic understanding of the costs involved, can help support the city’s water distribution. Water towers or elevated reservoirs with onsite filters can also help optimise the space available for water distribution in congested cities. Water ATMs, which are automated water dispensing units that can be accessed with a smart card or an app, can ensure metered supply of safe water.
Testing and purification: With water contamination being a big challenge, the adoption of affordable and reliable multi-household water filter systems which are electricity free and easy to use can help, to some extent, access to safe drinking water at a domestic level. Also, the use of household water testing kits and the installation of water quality sensors on pipes, that send out alerts on water contamination, can create awareness of water contamination and drive suitable preventive steps.
Public awareness and use of technology: Public awareness campaigns, tax incentives for water conservation and the use of technology interfaces can also go a long way in addressing the water problem. For example, measures such as water credits can be introduced with tax benefits as incentives for efficient use and recycling of water. Similarly, government water apps, like that of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, can be used to spread tips on water saving, report leakage or send updates on water quality.
Collaborative approach: Finally, a collaborative approach like the adoption of a public-private partnership model for water projects can help. There are already examples of best practices here. For example, in Netherlands, water companies are incorporated as private companies, with the local and national governments being majority shareholders. Involving citizens through social business models for decentralised water supply, treatment or storage installations like water ATMs, as also the appointment of water guardians who can report on various aspects of water supply and usage can help in efficient water management. Grass-root level organizations could be partnered with for programmes to spread awareness on water safety and conservation.
For BASF, the proposed solutions are an extension of their close engagement with developing water management and water treatment solutions. The products developed specially for waste and drinking water treatment, such as Zetag® ULTRA and Magnafloc® LT, focus on ensuring sustainability, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the water and sludge treatment process.
BASF is also associated with operations of Reliance Industries’ desalination plant at Jamnagar in Gujarat.The thermal plant is designed to deliver up to 170,000 cubic meters of processed water per day. The use of inge® ultrafiltration technologies allows a continuous delivery of pre-filtered water at a consistent high-quality level, while the dosage of the Sokalan® PM 15 I protects the desalination plant from scaling. This combination of BASF’s expertise minimises the energy footprint of the plant and secures water supply independent of the seasonal fluctuations. To know more about BASF’s range of sustainable solutions and innovative chemical products for the water industry, see here.
This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.