The monsoon is late, the wells are running dry and in the teeming city of Bhopal, water supply is now a deadly issue. In Bhopal’s Sanjay Nagar slum, three members of the Malviya family were hacked to death by angry neighbours who accused them of stealing water.
Across much of northern India, a late monsoon and the driest June for 83 years are exacerbating the effects of a widespread drought. India’s vast farming economy is on the verge of crisis. The lack of rain has hit northern areas most, but even in Mumbai, which has experienced heavy rainfall and flooding, authorities were forced to cut the water supply by 30% in the beginning of July 2009, as levels in the lakes serving the city ran perilously low.
Across the country, from Gujarat to Hyderabad, in Andhra Pradesh, the state that claims to be “the rice bowl of India”, special prayers have been held for more rain after cumulative monsoon season figures fell 43% below average. India’s agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar, said the country was facing a drought-like situation that was a “matter for concern”, with serious problems developing in states such as Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
In Bhopal, the population of 1.8 million has been rationed to 30 minutes of water supply every other day since October 2008. That became one day in three as the monsoon failed to materialise. In nearby Indore the ration is half an hour’s supply every seven days.
Fights break out regularly in Bhopal, where 100,000 people rely solely on water tankers. [...] Not everyone gets a tanker delivery. The city has 380 registered slums, but there are numerous other shanties where people have to find their own methods. Some, like the Malviyas, tap into the main supply. Others cluster around the ventilation valves for the main pipelines that stick up out of the ground from place to place, trying to catch the small amounts of water leaking out. In the Balveer Nagar slum, 250 families have no supply at all. The women get up in the middle of the night to walk 2km to the nearest pumping station, where someone has removed a couple of bricks from the base to allow a steady flow of water to pour out.
A few communities have received help from non-governmental organisations. In the Arjun Nagar slum, a borewell has been drilled down 115 metres by Water Aid to provide water for 100 families, each paying 40 rupees (50p) a month. [...] Water Aid is working in 17 of the city’s 380 registered slums, providing water and sanitation.