Rural India runs dry as thirsty megacity Mumbai sucks water

Friday, Jun 14, 2024

NAVINWADI, India: Far from the gleaming high-rises of India´s financial capital Mumbai, impoverished villages in areas supplying the megacity´s water are running dry -- a crisis repeated across the country that experts say foreshadows terrifying problems.

“The people in Mumbai drink our water but no one there, including the government, pays attention to us or our demands,” said Sunita Pandurang Satgir, carrying a heavy metal pot on her head filled with foul-smelling water.

Demand is increasing in the world´s most populous nation of 1.4 billion people, but supplies are shrinking -- with climate change driving erratic rainfall and extreme heat.Large-scale infrastructure for Mumbai includes reservoirs connected by canals and pipelines channelling water from 100-kms away.

But experts say a failure of basic planning means that the network is often not connected to hundreds of rural villages in the region and several nearby districts.Instead, they rely on traditional wells. But demand far outstrips meagre resources, and critical groundwater levels are falling.

“Our days and our lives just revolve around thinking about collecting water, collecting it once, and collecting it again, and again,” Satgir said.“We make four to six rounds for water every day... leaving us time for nothing else”.Climate change is shifting weather patterns, bringing longer-lasting and more intense droughts.Wells rapidly run dry early in the extreme heat.

In the peak of summer, 35-year-old Satgir said she can spend up to six hours a day fetching water. Temperatures this year surged above a brutal 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).When the well dries, the village then relies on a government tanker with irregular supplies, two or three times a week.

It brings untreated water from a river where people wash and animals graze.Satgir´s home in the dusty village of Navinwadi, near the farming town of Shahapur, lies some 100-kms from the busy streets of Mumbai.The area is also the source of major reservoirs supplying some 60 percent of water to Mumbai, local government authorities say.Mumbai is India´s second-biggest and rapidly expanding city, with an estimated population of 22 million.“All that water from around us goes to the people in the big city and nothing has changed for us,” Satgir said.