Slums account for a quarter of the urban population, but get only one twentieth of the total water supply, said Vice-President Hamid Ansari on Monday, referring to the sharp inequity in water supply in the country.

Expressing concern over the quality of water and the declining water table, he said: “Even the lucky one’s who are connected to the regular water supply system, get water of dubious quality, in an erratic manner. The solution being pursued is to bore wells, which is in turn is leading to an alarming decline in the water table, engendering a possible national groundwater crisis.”

Speaking at the second Anil Agrawal Dialogue on ‘Excreta does Matter’ organised by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) here, Mr. Ansari said the country needs to work on the twin challenges of water conservation and waste water minimisation.

“Cities have used up or have polluted their water resources. India’s burgeoning cities have started sourcing water from far, outlying areas, to quench their thirst for water. Consequently, the cost of water has gone up due to the need for building expensive water supply infrastructure; leakages have increased to around 40%; and water-related conflicts between competing consumers are a distinct possibility. Besides the shortfall of water supply, stark inequity in access to water in our cities is also a reality,” he said.

Referring to the report ‘Excreta Matters’, a two-volume report provides details about the water and sewage situation in 71 cities across the country, Mr. Ansari said: “…waste and water are two sides of a coin. Indian cities produce nearly 40,000 million litres of sewage per day, enough to irrigate 9 million hectares. However, barely 20 per cent of this is treated, which is an enormous waste of a critical resource. Our cities have still not understood that wherever there is water, there will be waste. This waste needs to be collected, treated and then disposed. However, sewage and sewerage still remain one of the most neglected and flawed part of urban planning in India.”

The Vice-President said pollution load coupled with overexploitation has killed many rivers. Simultaneously, urban lakes and wetlands have steadily disappeared under ‘development’ or have become cesspools. These water bodies are crucial to the survival of our cities, as they maintain the groundwater balance, absorb and store water from rainfall and moderate the climate.

Urging people to conserve water, Mr. Ansari said minimising water usage also helps in cutting down generation of waste water. He said only with a judicious combination of water supply and waste water management can water crisis be addressed.