Current Public Administration Magazine (May - 2016) - Compounding The Urban Water Crisis

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Compounding The Urban Water Crisis

Against the backdrop of the water scarcity and crisis scenario, this study attempts to assess urban attitudes towards water and the factors contributing to it. The results of the present study were found to be in line with some of the previous researches. A recent survey and analysis carried out under the World Bank’s Global Water Partnership Associate Program, for the medium-sized city of Aurangabad, also highlighted the necessity of citizen participation and awareness efforts for creating a climate of sensible water use. The Observer Research Foundation, in the ‘Water for Indian Cities: Government Practices and Policy Concerns’ study, reported complacent water attitudes in the cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. It was found that the lethargic self-satisfaction cuts across all the stakeholders— residential and non-residential users in various areas, builders and developers, officials and staff of the water supply boards. The various indicators in this regard included water losses due to leakages, significant proportion of non-revenue water, unaccounted flow of water due to nonfunctional meters, intra urban disparities with inadequate supply of water to poor communities, low cost recovery, poor maintenance of structures, lack of private sector involvement, lack of appropriate data and information, lack of participation of users and awareness initiatives. The major issues which emerged from this research are similar to the inferences drawn from the present study and corroborate the overall complacency, mediocrity and satisfaction with the existing scenario. Based on studies in urban and rural areas of Southwest Victoria, Australia Graymore and Wallis (2010) concluded that the factors which appear to impact the water use behaviour included the source of water supply (groundwater versus surface water), previous experience with water shortages and trust in the water authority and government. It has also been found in the present study that there is reservation about usage of waste water. A comparative study by the faculty of Architecture Building and Planning, University of Melbourne, Australia indicated that the locational context of water availability, a person’s experience and particular cultural and psychological perceptions facilitate greater willingness to use recycled water. The conclusions of the present study are similar to the above conclusions even though the studies have been done in different continents. In the present study it was found that certain participants were extremely educated and also aware about conservation of water, however this awareness was not translated into actions on their part. Canadian polls (2011) ‘Conservation Values Not Always Practiced’ also support this kind of ambiguity in attitudes where an obvious disconnect between the desire to conserve water by Canadians and their actions was revealed. Besides education and awareness about water issues, the low water rates were also considered contributing to this gap between the values professed and practiced. Based on the analysis of the data and the findings resulting from it, certain recommendations may be made to improve the scenario that has emerged in the present study on the urban attitudes towards water.

(i) Create awareness and educate to change consumption and lifestyles — People will be motivated to make behavioural corrections voluntarily if they understand the water crisis problem better. Sharing of related data in public domain and educating about the right to water and the commensurate duty towards water can create a psychological climate of ownership of resources and a sense of participation and responsibility. Inculcation of positive water attitudes, starting from childhood, in schools as well as at home should be done. A major overhaul of all forms of consumption is required, from individual use to community and corporate use in residential, commercial and industrial sectors.

(ii) Use of Media — Powerful, aggressive and recurrent use of various kinds of media to build positive attitudes. The relation to economic and environmental cost should also be highlighted. Use of popular role models and sharing of success stories so that people learn from fellow citizens in similar circumstances is also an effective strategy. The media’s role as facilitator and catalyst to bring about a positive change should be highlighted.

(iii) Recycle wastewater — Almost 80 per cent of the water consumed can be recovered back. However, the biggest hurdle is the psychological mindset which can be changed by positive affirmative efforts, e.g. sharing of success stories, some economic incentive, perhaps in form of lower water rates / exemptions can together, change the mindset gradually.

(iv) Improve quality and distribution infrastructure — Poor infrastructure and quality of water is devastating to health and the economy. The response repair time for pipe bursts/leaks and sewage treatment systems should be improved, and distribution and transmission losses be brought down to the minimal. Strengthening of infrastructure or part privatization may be done to support the overburdened government agencies. Local communities can be assigned the role of a watchdog to prevent unauthorised connections.

(v) Address pollution — By measuring and monitoring water quality, strict enforcement, and creation of educated vigilant public (as a result of feeling of responsibility towards the precious resource of water) is also required.

(vi) Appropriately price water — Water pricing and rights go hand in hand, though consumers question the benefit of higher prices. Extremely low and universal water rates are a disincentive to water conservation and positive water attitudes. Keeping in mind the diverse economic tapestry of cities, cross subsidisation of water rates can be thought of. Obsolete utility pricing systems send the wrong signals. Water needs to be recognised as an economic good.

(vii) Improve water catchment and harvesting — Water catchment systems are essential for areas with depletion of reliable water sources. Rainwater harvesting systems, providing independent control of water resources, require active participation of the community.

(viii) Water metres — With increased affluence and urbanisation a reliable water supply is increasingly regarded as a basic right of urban people. The awareness of concept of “water metres” that is the distance water is transported from its point of capture to consumption, will encourage greater on-site water captures for on-site use and will stimulate Rain Water Harvesting.

(ix) Look to community-based governance and partnerships with NGOs and all stakeholders — Policy interventions and water reforms cannot be successful without a pro-active participation of the community and the feeling of ownership and responsibility by them. Incentives like social recognition, water user groups comprising citizens, officials, media and other stakeholders can be used to encourage community participation and bottom-up approach.

(x) Policy reforms to shrink corporate water footprints — Industrial water use accounts for approximately 22 per cent of global consumption. The corporate footprint can be reduced by conscious sustainable manufacturing with pricing incentives and disincentives.

(xi) Holistically manage ecosystems — By taking into account economic, cultural, and ecological goals. For example communities operate sewage treatment plants to use wastewater to fertilize algae and other bio-fuel crops. The crops, in turn, soak up nutrients and purify wastewater, significantly reducing pumping and treatment costs. (xii) Population growth control — Some parts of the world could see a supply demand gap of up to 65 per cent in water resources by 2030. The simple message is that the more the people, the more the demand for water should be propagated.


There exists a high degree of complacency and indifference towards water amongst urban citizens. Such complacent urban water attitudes do not exist in a vacuum but are a product of a multitude of complex factors, including economic and educational levels, quality and pricing of water, and awareness about environmental issues. The suggested water reforms can help in inculcating a proactive attitude of valuing water in light of its different values (economic, social, environmental, cultural), and in strengthening the institutional environment to bring about the change in complacent attitudes so that ‘water conservation’ becomes a lifestyle attitude.

(Source- ANUSHREE JAIN @ IIPA Journal)

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