Cape Town is on the verge of becoming the first major city to run out of water. The South African city has only 90 days worth of water left in the reservoirs after three years of persistent drought. The residents have been warned that the city will soon approach ‘day zero’, when capacity of dams will fall to a mere 13.5%, and the city will have to turn off all the municipal water supplies except the supplies to important services. ‘Day zero’ was initially set for April 22, then bumped forward to April 12 when reservoir levels dropped worryingly low. But the code-red messages from the city were heard, people saved water, and the city pushed Day Zero to July 15. It’s now postponed until next year (2019), thanks in large part to individuals conserving water.

Effects of climate change are becoming more evident every year. The situation in Cape Town should be an eye opener for everyone, especially for a country like India which is at risk of becoming ‘water scarce’ in few years. India, in the past, has witnessed some of the worst droughts which have led to famine, cases of farmers suicides, and mass cattle deaths among others. Our water resources are shrinking. Fresh water sources are drying up, and we are over-utilising groundwater. About 63 million people in India do not have access to clean water supply, the lack of which is a major source of diseases and illnesses in rural areas. National Sample Survey (NSS) has shown that even major cities in India do not have more than 47% households with individual water connections. Community taps are shared by 10-20 households and generally run dry. Severe water shortage in parts of India has become an annual feature, occurring every summer.

About 22 major cities in India deal with water shortage daily. Delhi, one of the most highly water-stressed cities in the country, has a population of 18.9 million, approximately four times that of Cape Town. Because of population, urbanization and changing lifestyles, the water demand is rising. The city has a water supply of 900 MGD and per capita water consumption of 135-150 litres per day, as per norms. But not everyone in the city gets the adequate amount of supply for the day. There are areas in Delhi which do not receive water for days. In future, the demand is projected to rise to 1,174 MGD by 2021, with per capita consumption to 225 litres, as per NCRPB (National Capital Region Planning Board). Both population and demand are expected to grow in the coming years. By 2021, Delhi’s population is expected to reach 22 million. India’s population is expected to be approximately 1.4 billion by 2021.

Maintaining a balance between water demand and water supply is a challenge that can only be tackled by adopting a sustainable water management approach. Increasing demand and unsustainable use of water is an issue of concern, especially for developing nations. Approximately 40% of water that is supplied gets wasted because of mismanagement, thefts, or leakages. Water is life. Issues pertaining to water shortages should to be acknowledged before another city faces a similar plight.