Damage to India canal highlights New Delhi's water vulnerability

NEW DELHI - Engineers were working Tuesday on restoring New Delhi's full water supply after protesters damaged a key canal in a neighbouring state and disrupted supplies over the weekend - highlighting the extreme water vulnerability faced by the Indian capital's 18 million residents.

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Partial water supplies were restored in northern and central parts of New Delhi, and will hopefully reach western neighbourhoods by Tuesday evening, said Delhi's water minister, Kapil Mishra. In the meantime, he said, 70 water tankers have been sent to western areas of the city.

The destruction of the Munak canal link by protesters in the state of Haryana has focused attention on New Delhi's precarious water supply. The canal, which channels water from north Indian rivers, accounts for about 60 per cent of the city's water supply. Another 25 per cent comes from groundwater, while the polluted Yamuna River supplies about 12 per cent.

Yet even when the Munak canal flow is unimpeded, the overall water supply to New Delhi is not enough to meet its needs.

The situation is especially bad for the most marginal communities living in slums or riverside shanties, where many rely on sewage-tainted river water or deliveries by municipal water trucks. Others in the city draw heavily from the ground, leading New Delhi's aquifer levels to decline by 4 metres in the last decade, according to the Central Ground Water Board.

When protesters from the underprivileged Jat community breached the canal wall on Saturday, they effectively cut off about two-thirds of New Delhi's water supply. The Jats, traditionally a farming community within India's ancient system of caste hierarchy, were demanding quotas in government jobs and educational institutions.

In Sanjay Colony, a slum in southwest New Delhi, residents said Tuesday that this week's water shortage was making an already bad situation worse.

"We already spend a lot of hours trying to get water," said Indrapal, a security worker who gave only his first name. "People haven't been able to go to work."

They worried that a water crisis created by political protesters was setting a bad precedent for New Delhi's water security.

"Now it's the Jat community. Later it will be someone else asking for something," a Sanjay Colony resident named Lila said. "The government has been slow in reacting."

Ram Lal, a man who runs a small shop in the slum, also criticized the protesters, saying they "have done wrong. They should not have cut the water supply. Because of that, we couldn't get our water tanker."

Authorities in New Delhi had issued warnings over the weekend of impending water shortages, advising residents to use the resource sparingly and cancelling all school classes on Monday.

Meanwhile, Delhi water board authorities were working with experts in the army and Haryana state on repairing the damage done by the protesters, said Mishra, the Delhi water minister. By Monday, army troops had retaken control of the canal.

The city's reliance on groundwater has buffeted some of the population from the crisis, allowing many wealthier households to turn on their taps as usual. Elsewhere, residents were filling buckets and bottles in case the situation worsened.


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