The coastal metropolis is the world’s first major city to be facing a severe water shortage, but several large cities around the world may soon face a similar crisis. The four reservoirs supplying the region have dried up, leaving small potholes filled with muddy stagnant puddles of dirty water.
The monsoons, that usually start in June, are late this year and even if the region were to get a little rainfall, it would not help the ever-growing problem that takes in a myriad of issues, including poor management, overusing groundwater, and a shifting climate turning the hydrological cycle on its head.
City officials have been relying on a mix of desalination plants and water being brought in by train and truck to quell the increasing unrest as people wait in lines for hours to get water from municipal or private tankers. And the lack of water is affected the poorest residents the hardest.
The timelapse imagery of Chennai's disappearing reservoirs is mind boggling. That’s roughly 3 billion cubic feet of water gone in less than a year hEdu7SXOCC
— Brian L Kahn (@blkahn) June 21, 2019
Wealthy residents have no problem paying a premium for water from the private sources, something the poor cannot afford. Police arrested hundreds of people last week outside the municipal water authority’s government headquarters building where huge crowds had gathered to protest the mismanagement of the precious resource.
A population dependent on the monsoons
Chennai is just one of a number of cities in India and for that matter, around the world that has struggled to meet its water needs the past few years. In India, alone, Chennai is one of 21 cities in the country that is forecast to run out of groundwater by 2020.
Officials from Tamil Nadu, the state government, said they have been trucking in more water each year to meet the populationj’s water needs.
“In 2017, we were supplying 450 liters of water,” S.P. Velumani, a minister for the municipal administration, told Reuters. “Now, we are supplying 525 million liters per day.” And that is the minimum needed, just to get by, she says. Velumani says last year’s monsoon season delivered 62 percent less rain in Chennai compared to 2017.
Chennai’s main water reservoirs have gone bone dry. Pics taken today BsZsYfA86r
— Srini Swaminathan (@srini091) June 17, 2019
Temperatures in Chennai typically peak in May and June, around the same time that rainfall starts picking up. February, March, and April are typically drought season, while the heaviest monsoon rains come in October, November, and December.
“Only rain can save Chennai from this situation,” one local official told BBC Tamil, according to the Pacific Standard. But the later monsoons are way off yet. In the meantime, the citizens of Chennai may have to secure water from neighboring states over the summer months.
In Cape Town, reservoirs turned to dust last year in a preview of what the future climate holds, reports Gizmodo. Sao Paulo ran out of water in 2015, And the situation is going to get worse, according to many scientists, especially as more people move to already over-crowded cities, stretching water supplies that are more often than not, mismanaged in the first place.