Rising population and incessant urbanization can be seen as the core issues to all the unsolved prime concerns of the world in the 21st Century. Long back, Thomas Malthus and Paul R. Ehrlich had already talked about the skyrocketing population which is accompanied by disease, crime and poverty. Today, world is not only concerned about the growing population but also the growing mega cities. About five decades ago, New York and Tokyo were the world’s only megacities with over 10 million residents but now there are more than 33 such cities around the globe.
Not lagging far behind, India is a home to five such megacities where two more cities i.e. Ahmedabad and Hyderabad will join the league soon, as it is projected, that India will add another 416 million urban dwellers to cities by 2050.
Rising population taking toll on available resources
Indian mega cities are facing unique problems as city population is rising faster than the available resources. Rapid population growth and the development of economic activity are accelerating the rate of resource consumption which has dissipated the basic necessities required for a living such as water for drinking and other domestic purposes. It has been estimated that municipal or domestic water demand in India will see higher growth in demand in near future. India needs to be prepared for such a grave situation of rising population and reducing resource availability in urban India. The need is to plan, strategize and make our cities Smart, Sustainable, Accessible and Liveable.
Technology proved to be an enabler to facilitate things
In the technology driven society where everything is just a click away, there is a need to think beyond mega cities and transcendence them into smart cities. Smart cities use information, communication and technology to make critical infrastructure and public services more interactive, efficient and transparent. The urgency of challenges created by unsustainable growth of cities has triggered the concept of smart cities in India.
Scare water resource should be used prudently
To check irresponsible use of water, there have been certain innovative technologies which help in managing scare water resources sustainably. For instance, Smart meters record customer water usage, providing a clear picture of water consumption and conveying data to both consumer and utility, allowing for improved water management. Also, the use of Satellite/ drones/ GIS/AI in reservoir operation, flood forecasting and inundation mapping can help to mitigate floods and save thousands of life. Besides this, Indian utilities lose about 40-70% of water distributed on account of leakages, unauthorized connections; billing and collection inefficiencies. Fixed and mobile sensors can also be used to provide near real-time data on water quality, flows, pressures and water levels, among other parameters. Sensors can be dispersed throughout systems to aid daily operations by optimising resource use, detect, diagnose and proactively prevent detrimental events such as pipe bursts, water discoloration events, sewer collapses/blockages, etc.
Smartness and sustainability need of the hour
Beyond smart, a city should also be sustainable i.e. resilient enough to withhold any irregular and extreme events occur due to changing climatic trends and spurring population demands. In urban cities, the water is imported from the hundreds of kilometres faraway places for meeting the current water demands. For example, the city of Indore in the state of Madhya Pradesh gets its water from Narmada River, whereas the city of Bengaluru in Karnataka gets its water from Cauvery River located about 100 kms from the city. This not only comes with huge economic costs but also make a city dependent on unsustainable source of water. A sustainable city should explore and promote local water sources to augment and optimize water supply. This should not only be promoted at institutional level but also at household and community level. There is an urge to realise the importance of waste water management; reusing and recycling water supplied efficiently at least for non-potable uses. Besides this, an integrated approach is also required to make urban cities resilient to unplanned natural events due to climate change such as cyclones, floods and storms etc.
Beyond the peripheral approaches of making cities smart and sustainable, cities should intend to become more resident friendly, making the spaces and resources more accessible and liveable.
Robust sewage network
The recent pandemic of Coronavirus again brought the topic of importance of water in maintaining hygienic practices to the table. This calls for robust water supply and sewage network within the cities. The government programmes such as Jal Jeevan Mission and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan have initiated some steps in creating an infrastructure for piped water supply while strengthening solid and liquid waste management systems. Above and beyond, the timely operation and maintenance of the water supply and sewage network is also required for uninterrupted water supply in the urban cities.
Water wastage needs to be dealt with iron hand
However, the lack of funds restrains the water utilities to invest in preventive maintenance of infrastructure, resulting into decrepit and ineffective water system. Here, water metering can help urban water authorities to set a realistic and effective tariff structure and charge the premium fees from the imprudent users punishing them for water wastage, making water management system accessible to the residents.
Urban Water Bodies could play a key role
On a similar note, to make urban cities liveable and attractive to its residents, cities should also consider urban water bodies significant. Indian cities are blessed with traditional water bodies which used to act as a sponge and thermo regulators, helping areas to accumulate rainwater, enhance groundwater and regulate micro-climate. However, infringement and intrusion of water bodies led to loss of these valuable resources within cities. In 1960s, Bangalore had 262 lakes where the city now holds only 10 lakes. Similarly, New Delhi had 611 water bodies from which 274 have already dried up and as many as 190 have been lost forever and cannot be revived. Lucknow with 964 tanks and ponds in 1952 has lost about 50% of these valuable water sources. Therefore, there is a dire need to rejuvenate, renovate and reclaim these valuable water bodies to make cities peacefully liveable.
Urban India is the new norm and with certain advancements in technology, rise in urbanization will accumulate limited resources for an unsustainable use. Hence, there is a pressing need to think and plan for a future urban India where cities are Smart, sustainable, accessible and liveable.
(Disclaimer: The authors are Avinash Mishra, Adviser (WR & LR), NITI Aayog, Government of India, New Delhi and Aakanksha Sharma, Young Professional, WR & LR, NITI Aayog, Government of India, New Delhi. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NITI Aayog, Government of India.)