For the residents of some of the poorest slums in Gulbarga, Hubli-Dharwad and Belgaum — three of Karnataka's most drought-prone cities — street-side quarrels, long water-queues, the spread of water-borne diseases and even absenteeism among schoolchildren were common enough occurrences, the social outcome of an abysmal shortage of drinking water.

Water was made available once in three to five days. And, only affluent localities benefited. Till last year, when a World Bank-aided pilot project actually made drinking water shortages a thing of the past in a few select wards of each city. Today, in summer, drinking water is available round the clock there.

The Rs. 237-crore project has provided water to at least 25,000 households in these cities through an efficient distribution system.

Water supply in Belgaum, Gulbarga and Hubli-Dharwad has gone up by 27 MLD (million litres a day), 30 MLD and two MLD respectively, from 2008. Leakage is down from 40 per cent in 2008 to seven per cent now.

The pilot project, taken up in 29 wards of the three cities by the Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Development and Finance Corporation (KUIDFC), has disproved many misperceptions. One among them is that a 24 x 7 supply requires large quantities of water.

As against the expected 153 litres per capita consumption daily (lpcd) for the project, average consumption actually dropped to 100 lpcd, say bank officials, as now households no longer feel the need to store water in containers.

Arvind Shrivastava, managing director of KUIDFC, told The Hindu that the pilot project covers 10 per cent of the population. Water is now cheaper as households no longer need to pay private suppliers and incur loss of wages while waiting in queues. All connections are metered. The project safeguards the poor through cross-subsidies.

A minimum of 8,000 litres per household per month is provided at a subsidised rate of Rs. 6 per 1,000 litres for poor households (those residing in homes less than 600 sq. ft) that constitute 31 per cent of the total households, Mr. Shrivastava said.

Sumitra Subash, a resident of Gulbarga's Mehatargalli slum, said she was thankful for the 24-hour supply.

The private operator, a French water company, Veolia Water, has been entrusted with maintenance and operation of the system.

It is responsible for providing connections and billing. The actual collections remain with the civic authorities.

The private operator is linked to a performance-based contract.

The number of amoebic dysentery patients visiting two government and private hospitals in Gulbarga city declined from 720 in 2006-07 to 100 in 2009-10 (till January-end) and bacillary dysentery cases came down from 410 to 50 and jaundice from 200 to 20 during the same period.

In Gulbarga city, schools reported increased students' attendance.

While some reported an increase from 80 per cent in 2005-06 to 93 per cent in 2008-09, others reported an increase from 70 to 93 per cent during the same period.

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