Page last updated at 16:22 GMT, Sunday, 2 August 2009 17:22 UK

Mumbai disrupted by water shortages

By Delnaaz Irani
Presenter, India Business Report, Mumbai

 Neeta Mehta
Mumbai residents find it hard to cope with water shortages

In a suburban Mumbai home, simple tasks like doing the dishes are made difficult for busy mother-of-two Neeta Mehta.

Water is supplied to Ms Mehta's home only once a day for a few hours in the morning, which means she has to try and store water while the taps are running.

"I have a husband and two kids," says Ms Mehta.

"We regularly need water for the whole day and when it only runs for a few hours, it is very difficult to keep the whole house clean.

"Sometimes the house is dirty because there is no water. Sometimes there is a guest coming and it's very difficult to manage with little water."

Water shortfall

Millions of Mumbai residents are in the same boat.

The city needs four billion litres of drinking water every day to service the needs of all its residents.

 Girish Patwardhan
The population is so huge that it is not at all possible to bring water from some other place
Girish Patwardhan, Bhandup treatment plant

However, the main civic body responsible for the city's water supply, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), reports that it can only supply 3.3 billion litres a day.

Anil Diggiker, the BMC's additional commissioner, says they are trying to address the shortage.

"We will have to augment alternate water sources like rain water harvesting, dug wells and bore wells," he explains. "People should not waste the water."

This year's less-than-average monsoon rains that have amplified the water shortages and highlighted the city's ageing infrastructure system that is in need of heavy investment.

Faced with diminishing resources, the city had to cut its water supplies by 30%.

'Huge population'

Mumbai's water supply is dependent on six lakes - Modak Sagar, Tansa, Tulsi, Bhatsa, Upper Vaitarna and Vihar.

Naveen Chandra
The only answer for Mumbai is to do rain-water harvesting
Naveen Chandra

The water is collected from these lakes, chemically processed and distributed to the city from Bhandup Water Treatment Facility, which is Asia's largest and oldest water treatment plant.

The man in charge of supervising Mumbai's water inflows and outflows, is Girish Patwardhan.

An assistant engineer at the Bhandup treatment plant, Mr Patwardhan says that while a recent few days of heavy rain may have averted an even larger crisis, serious problems still exist.

He explains that cuts in water supply would have to be increased because supplying Mumbai from somewhere other than the lakes is out of the question.

"The population is so huge that it is not at all possible to bring water from some other place," he says.

Conservation movement

For many Mumbaikers, waiting and praying for the rains and the government is not an option.

Umbrellas in the rain
Recent heavy rain may have averted a crisis but problems remain

Deep in the suburbs of the city, a water conservation movement is quietly emerging.

Frustrated with years of insufficient water, 70-year-old retired engineer Naveen Chandra set up his own water harvesting plant at the block of flats he lives in.

The unique water management system helps conserve water and ensures a sufficient flow even during a crisis.

Mr Chandra's building in the northern suburb of Khar saves between 30% and 40% of the water that is used every day.

The conserved water is then used in the flats' bathrooms, and is used for non-drinking purposes like gardening, flushing toilets and washing cars.

Mr Chandra has also installed a water purification system, so that some of the conserved water can be used for drinking purposes as well.

He says his solution is practical, economical and could be the solution to the city's water problems.

"The only answer for Mumbai is to do rain-water harvesting," he says, proudly showing off the pipes and filtering system that runs around the outside of the building.

"You don't let rainwater go into the sea," he explains.

High and dry?

Even though some Mumbai residents are doing their best to conserve water, many observers believe the water shortage will continue if serious steps are not taken to address the crisis.

There are fears that if the population continues to grow and demand for water hits new highs, then the crisis could escalate and the city may run out of water within fifteen years.

Unless a longer-term solution and a collective effort to conserve water is put in place, then many analysts worry that Mumbai's 20 million or so residents could be left high and dry.

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