PODCAST: How Chennai’s Water Got to Day Zero

Chennai, India, is running out of water. Photo by Tom Bradnock/Flickr

One of South India’s biggest cities is almost out of water.

A year after Cape Town, South Africa, had its own “Day Zero” crisis, the reservoirs in Chennai are nearly dry, leaving millions in this usually-wet coastal city wondering if they will have water to drink this summer.

Raj Bhagat Palanichamy, a senior project associate at WRI India Ross Center, wanted to figure out why. In his blog, “How Does a Flood-Prone City Run Out of Water? Inside Chennai’s Day Zero Crisis,” Bhagat not only identifies some of the causes of the crisis but also solutions like increased efficiency, better rainwater capture and reuse of wastewater. Now, in conversation with Nicholas Walton, WRI Europe’s communications lead, he further unpacks how Chennai’s water provisions became so stressed – and why these troubles should concern all of India.

While the northeast monsoons are not likely to turn up for a couple months, “Chennai is extremely dependent on the northeast monsoon,” Bhagat said. But, despite the lack of rainfall, this is specifically a management problem. “We know that the monsoons have been erratic in the past,” Bhagat went on. “We know these supply constraints. But in the development process, we did not address the problems that might arise with respect to the water supply.”

“Chennai is a good representation of what’s happening in India, including the stress that is happening in rural areas or is less reported. Each year it will be a different region that faces extreme stress,” Bhagat continued. “The problems are similar: Excessive demand, erratic supply and the lack of a plan.”

“One of the biggest problems is we don’t have much data,” Bhagat explained. “We don’t know where the water is flowing, who is getting it today, tomorrow. Because of that there is a huge limitation in the number of solutions that come to the problem.”

In the latter portion of the podcast, Walton chats with Rutger Hofste, an associate with WRI Water, about the ways that WRI’s Aqueduct data platform is attempting to meet at least some of these needs. Aqueduct can provide colorful maps that identify water stress, what water is being used for, and other important information around the world. “You can zoom in on your location and get all the water information in a very understandable format,” Hofste said.

This blog was originally published on WRI’s Insights.

Hayden Higgins is a Writer and Media Specialist at World Resources Institute.

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