Receiving water in taps is basic to one's living. But given our poor distribution system, supplying water for cities poses a big challenge. A look by our water expert S. Vishwanath

The U.N. has declared March 22 as World Water Day to bring focus and attention to this most precious of natural resource and to urge all — policymakers, governments, NGOs and citizens — to think about and take action on water. The theme for this year is “Water for Cities- Responding to the Urban Challenge.”

As the U.N. website points out, it is the first time in human history that more of the world's population are in cities than otherwise and that the urban population continues to grow. Many of the population also occupy spaces of deprivation and live in slums. Access to clean water and sanitation is an impossibility for these people and has therefore a tremendous consequence on morbidity and mortality.

How cities will choose to respond to this need will determine the very life and death for many of its citizens. Cities will have to respond with the principle that water is first and foremost a human right. Some water for all rather than all water for some would need to be a goal. The regular, timely, sufficient water of good quality will not only ensure good health of citizens but also help make them economically productive and have an enhanced quality of life with an ability to pursue better quality in their living standards. Standing and waiting for a limited supply of sometimes bad quality of water and fighting for this access tells on all aspects of civilised living.

In cities too is the challenge of providing water for the economic engines which drive them. Industrial demand for water is a sine qua non for growth and is one of the fastest growing sectoral demand. How will this demand be met while not taking away from social and ecological needs will represent another challenge. The clear management of possible pollution impacts of industrial use of water and ensuring that it does not end up damaging the environment and the quality of surface and groundwater is another major challenge as evinced by recent incidents of illegal dumping of toxic industrial effluents .

Our institutions will need to transform themselves to be more democratic, accountable and participatory. Transparency in projects and deals will have to be achieved as also the more integrated management of groundwater, storm water, rainwater and treated waste water in addition to conventional surface water sources from rivers and lakes.

A Groundwater Regulation Bill is on the anvil in Karnataka and hopefully this will provide the right impetus to ensure equal access to all in the community to this rather unseen resource. Especially in urban areas, managing groundwater will be a big challenge considering the high density of its abstraction structures such as borewells. Managing our rivers and lakes, the source of water for many of our cities, through river basin organisations has not even begun to be attempted but will need to happen very fast as the quality of rivers degenerate.

At the national level, the water policy is being redone and hopefully it will be reworked at the State level too. Specific policies as a guiding framework for the better management of water resources is the need of the hour and these too should be on the agenda of our policymakers.

Keywords: World Water Day