Need for Conservation of water in Urban Areas By Maj Gen AK Chaturvedi,(Retd)



Recently, I attended a webinar where this issue was discussed. The deliberations during the Webinar, flagged the need to conserve water, lest we deprive future generations from their legitimate assured water supply. Rising population of urban settlements, while calls for increasing the supply of potable water it also calls for conserving the available water and reduce the wastage. It will also entail finding ways and means to optimize the utilization in a manner that even the last drop is fully accounted for.  In this paper, I will be restricting my analysis to the needs and related issues with respect to urban areas because the        problem is becoming more acute in urban areas.

Centrality of Water in Human Life

Water Needs– The water supply for each person must be sufficient and continuous for personal and domestic usage. The usage includes; drinking; personal sanitation; washing of clothes; food preparation; personal and household hygiene. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 50 and 100 liters of water per person per day is the minimum necessary to ensure that most basic needs are met and few health concerns arise. The water required for each personal or domestic use must be safe, therefore free from micro-organisms, chemical substances, and radiological hazards that constitute a threat to a person’s health. A bone-chilling statistic that puts in perspective the need for safe drinking water is that at any one time, close to half of all people in developing countries are suffering from health problems caused by poor water quality and inadequate arrangements for sanitation. Together, unclean water and poor sanitation are the world’s second-biggest killer of children.It has been calculated that 443 million school days are lost each year to water-related illnesses. The World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines for drinking-water quality provide a basis for the development of national standards that, if properly implemented, will ensure the safety of drinking water. Water should be of acceptable color, odour and taste for each personal or domestic use. All water facilities and services must be culturally appropriate and sensitive to gender, lifecycle, privacy requirements and above all based on the principle of ‘Access to all irrespective of caste, color or creed of a person. Everyone has the right to a water and sanitation service that is physically accessible within, or in the immediate vicinity of the household, educational institution, workplace or health institution. According to WHO, the water source has to be within 1,000 meters of the home and collection time should not exceed 30 minutes. There is a direct correlation between the distance of the water source and water consumption.It would be interesting to note that for the 884 million people or so in the world who live more than 1 kilometre away from a water source, survive on a quantity of water which is often less than 5 litres a day. of unsafe. Water, and facilities and services to provide water, must be affordable for all. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) suggests that water costs should not exceed 3 % of the household income.It is indeed strange that  world over people from lower income group pay more for the water. People living in the slums of Jakarta, Manila and Nairobi pay 5 to 10 times more for water than those living in high-income areas in the same cities and in fact more than consumers in London or New York.For example, In Manila, the cost of connecting to the utility represents about three months’ income for the poorest 20% of households, rising to six months in urban Kenya.

Water as a Human Right- In this connection it is important to note that the water has been acknowledged as a human right. In November 2002, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the UN,adopted General Comment No 15 on the right to water. Article I.1 states that “The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights”. Comment No. 15 also defined the right to water as the right of everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable and physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.On 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights. Therefore it is essential that expressing the willingness to give content and effect to this right, may be a way of encouraging the international community and governments to enhance their efforts to satisfy basic human needs and to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Indian Scenario

Urban Water Cycle- it is an interplay of changing land use pattern, increasing surface runoff, piped water supply and sanitation system. A survey was done in 32 Indian cities, and it was found that 22 cities suffered from water crisis, a possible outcome of disturbance to the fine balance between the four elements.

Water Availability– India accounts for 18% of the world population and about 4% of the world’s water resources. One of the issues which needs to be taken note of is that the availability of the water is likely to be increasing become critical in years ahead. As per available norms, water availability which was over 5000 cubic meters per capita per year at the time of independence, had become  1816 cubic meters in 2001, 1545 cubic meters in 2011 and has come down to 1486 cubic meters in 2021. Some of the causes for the steady decline include population explosion, use of technology to enhance utilization, pollution of the water sources, not doing enough to conserve the water, leakage and seepage in the supply system, among others.

Impact of Growing Population– The consistent increase in the rate of growth of India’s population has  led to. Disturbing the land use, increase in demand and increase the need for the sewage management. In 2001, urban population was 285 million and with the per capita water requirement of 135 litres  per day, the domestic water demand was estimated at around 38,475 million litres per day (MLD). In 2011 the urban population went up to 377 million and the demand went up to  50,895 MLD. As per Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation (CPHEEO), an average water supply in urban local bodies is only 69.25litres per capita per day(LPCD) against the benchmark of 135 LPCD.  It is estimated that by 2050, half of India’s population will be living in urban areas and will face acute water problems. In urban areas only 96% have access to an proper water source and only 54% to improved sanitation.

Enhancing the SupplyOn the supply side the Monsoon precipitation has been the lifeline of India. India receives about 4000 billion cubic meters (bcm) of average annual precipitation along with snowfall, of which 3000 bcm is received in the monsoon season (June-September). The spatial distribution of the precipitation as per Central widely varies over the country from <100 mm in Rajasthan to >2500mm in Assam. As per an estimate by the Ground Water Board in 2015, Less than 50% of total precipitation flows to the rivers and as per Central Water Commission during the same year, only 690 bcm surface water resources can actually be utilised, which works out only 17.25%. However, It is encouraging to note that India can currently store 257 bcm of surface water in its reservoirs. Even more welcome is the prognosis that this quantity of water held in reservoirs (called “live storage”) could be extended to a maximum of 385 BCM in the near future.Annual utilizable ground water resources in India is assessed to be only 433 bcm.  No wonder cities are getting dry and water supply line to them is becoming longer and longer. To highlight this issue, cases of only two cities would suffice. Delhi gets her supply from 300 km and Mumbai gets its water from a distance of 150 km.

Leakage– Leakage in the distribution, transmission, in service connections and overflowis a major source of water wastage. In a survey of 71 cities, it was found to be quite sizable (greater than 50%). Following Table will highlight this aspect:-


Type of City Supply (LPD) Leakage (LPD)
Metro 16591 6150
Class-I 2775 706
Class-II & III 123 7

Here it is pertinent to note that wherever piped supply is inadequate the ground water is exploited and excessive groundwater exploitation leads to water table going south alarmingly resulting into ground water getting contaminated. In this connection the issue of city based water bodies getting dried up is a matter of great concern.  A city like Bangalore prided having 262 water bodies in 1960 but today it has only 10 water bodies left. In 2001 Ahmedabad had 137 lakes but now only 65 are left. Hyderabad has lost in last 12 year about 3245 hectare of wet land. No wonder, as mentioned earlier out of 32 cities surveyed, today 22 cities are having water crisis.

Impact of Climate Change– Although, it impacts not only urban areas but even the rural areas. However, due to climate change, while the rainfall over 90 days may not have undergone major changes overall, but intensity of rain over a shorter period in conjunction with poor watershed management, due to population explosion (changed land use pattern), poor water governance, silting of existing water bodies and deforestation results in floods, which brings in its wake devastation, is avoidable.In this connection following table is quite telling:-


Place/ Region Floods since 2000 Loss in water bodies in % terms Population impacted in Lacs
Ghaziabad 1 75 3.24
Delhi 3 62 24.4
Lucknow 4 46 4.5
Srinagar 2 50 3.0
Udaipur 2 50 1.08
Mumbai 9 25 28.6


Poor Waste Water Management–  Another aspect which is typical of cities is that poor waste water management, wherein 80% of the water reaching a house hold leaves as waste. Thus generating a sewage load of 61754 MLD, whereas the capacity to do sewage treatment within the country is only 22963 MLD. Therefore almost 62 % of the waste water gets discharged into nearest water body without any treatment. This results in reduced availability of water due to contamination of the water body and also increased incidence of the water borne diseases in the cities. Although, the stat quoted ahead is for the country but substantially it is a reflection on the quality of water in the cities.Annually about 37.7 million Indians are affected by waterborne diseases, 1.5 million children die due to diarrhoea and 73 million working days are lost leading to an economic burden of $600 million a year.Waterborne diseases such as Cholera, acute diarrhoeal diseases, typhoid and viral hepatitis continue to be prevalent in India and have caused 10,738 deaths, over the last five years since 2017. Of these, acute diarrhoeal diseases has caused maximum deaths followed by viral hepatitis, typhoid and cholera.Uttar Pradesh has recorded the highest deaths due to diarrhoea followed by West Bengal, Assam, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. It calls for enhancing the water efficiency and finding ways and means to use the sewage water for purposes other than potable water..

Measures to Conserve

The National water policy was formulated in 1987 and has been reviewed and updated up to 2012. The objective of this policy is to govern the planning and development of water resources and their optimum utilization. The letter of the PM to the sarpanches dated 08 Jun 2019 suggesting the importance of the water and making conservation as a movement was meant to generate awareness and making a common citizen a stake holder in the conservation movement. India is also committed to implement Sustainable Development Goals 6 (SDG 6)[1] of UN by 2030. Also govt schemes like Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT)[2] and the Smart-City[3] projectsare meant to improve water supply and sanitation in the urban settlements. Following aspects need special attention:-

  1. Awareness Generation Among the Inhabitants of the Cities– NGOs and social media needs to be effectively used for this purpose. Here, it needs to be appreciated that every household has a potential, to save at least 30-40% of the water, presently being used by them.
  2. Addressing the Leakages on Priority-Ensuring that the leakages ofAll kinds of kinds are attended in real time. That will help in improving the water efficiency which currently is just about 20%.
  3. Recharging of Water Table– Effective implementation of the Rain water Harvesting (RWH) schemes in the housing societies as well as single houses. Concept of city lake in conjunction with a city forest in the middle of the city will help in recharging of water table and change of micro-climate of cities. In this connection a lead can be taken from cantonments in the cities where water bodies in the local environment parks, which themself are designed on the lines of city forests. All existing water bodies in the cities be identified and rejuvenated by having a proper scheme of water shed management so that flow of water to these water bodies is not interrupted. In addition, where some old non perennial water streams have become dry can be rejuvenated by deepening and water shed management.
  4. Waste-Water Management– An effective ‘Waste-Water Management’ can definitely reduce the requirement of fresh potable water by having a separate line for treated water which can be used for arboriculture, ablution and water closets for flushing. In this connection certain changes in the fixtures in conjunction with sanitary fixtures making industry will help in optimizing the utilization of water in the bathrooms. Also, the strict implementation of the rule of buildings having minimum discharge of 10,000 liters of waste water to have a waste-water recycling plant, should be ensured.
  5. Pollution Control– Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution)of 1974, needs to be strictly implemented and procedure to prosecute the polluters be streamlined so that they are not able to circumvent the law.
  6. Pilot Project– One of the cities can be identified to implement all these recommendations as a part of a pilot project and thereafter the amended plan based on the lessons learnt from the pilot project can be rolled out for wider implementation.


Water management in urban areas is an important idea whose time has come, because limited water resources need to be harnessed to the fullest to ensure that a sustainable availability of water to meet the requirements of burgeoning population and other needs in the urban areas are met.


6.1Achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
6.2 Achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.
6.3 Improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated waste water, and increasing recycling and safe.
6.4 Substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity, and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.
6.5Implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate.
6.A Expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water and sanitation related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies.
6.B Support and strengthen the participation of local communities for improving water and sanitation management.

[2]AMRUT- Thrust area among others are Water Supply, Sewerage and septage management and Storm Water Drainage to reduce flooding and 500 cities are covered under this scheme

[3]Smart City project-Mission is to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life of people by enabling local area development and harnessing technology, especially technology that leads to Smart outcomes with a view to do the urban renewal. Sensor-based sanitation and water supply management is part of the outcome.

Author Maj Gen AK Chaturvedi, AVSM, VSM (Retd)  is a retired Indian Army General Officer who has served in Jammu & Kashmir, NE, Andman Nikobar on various appointments at Command and Army HQs. . He is Vice Chairman of Think Tank, “STRIVE”,  after retirement is pursuing his favorite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals, and think tanks.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the STRIVE.

13 thoughts on “Need for Conservation of water in Urban Areas By Maj Gen AK Chaturvedi,(Retd)

  • June 28, 2021 at 6:08 pm

    A very well researched article on the need to conserve water.

    You have rightly brought out the scourge of ever vanishing water bodies, however we also need to look into as to who is responsible for all such disappearances especially in major cities where housing societies appear in all these lakes of yester years. There should be a protection status given to all the water bodies now existing and not a single yard be allowed to be declared as reclaimed land. And this protection status should be given by the Honourable Supreme Court and any reduction of water area be deemed as a contempt.

    Even I had written an article on missing lakes of Bangalore way back in 2018 and with the help of Google Earth and GIS tried to find out the area covered by lakes in Bangalore and the statistics are alarming. In about 80 years, 80 percent of water area has vanished from Bangalore. The total lake area of about 10.5 square kms in the 1930s is now reduced to just 2.25 sq kms. You can read about my findings here on the link

    Now I am not an advocate, however I would exhort the lawyer community to file a PIL in Supreme Court regarding providing absolute protection to these water bodies against any kind of encroachment.

    I thank you Gen Chaturvedi for an excellent article on the need of water conservation and hope each and everyone of us wake up to be proactive in conserving this resource.

    Sanjay Mohan

    • June 29, 2021 at 12:39 am

      Thanks Sanjay. You prove the point that ‘Fools’ seldom differ. I am joking! I admire your thought process. But Banglore appears to changing because of committed citizens like you doing their bit to revive old lakes. In 2019 I saw one in RMZ area, one in Ballendur and third near HSR Agrajan. If this trend continues after few years Bangalore will regain its bold glory.

  • June 26, 2021 at 9:49 pm

    Very nice article – one area you may consider to add, if it appeals to you is the changing pattern of food in our country which is water hungry. 1 kg of

    Beef is 10000 ltrs
    Rice is 2500-3500 ltrs
    Sugar is 1800 ltrs
    Wheat is 1500 ltrs
    Bakra is 900 ltrs
    Vegetables is 300 ltrs
    Jau is 300 ltrs

    No marks for guessing where the food chain is shifting from to.

    • June 29, 2021 at 12:45 am

      yes agreed . But fact remains the food habits are difficult to change. Therefore we need to find different ways and means. However wherever possible we need to go for those items of food/ harvest which are not water intensive.

  • June 26, 2021 at 5:40 pm

    The problem and the strategy for water management in the urban areas has been well summarised.
    Water crisis in the urban areas is already upon us.The plight of water starved Chennai was in the news in recent past. Time for action is now.
    A project mode approach in one urban area in each state needs to be adopted. The project should be sponsored and funded by the State government under the Ministry of Urban Affairs,
    It should be headed by a Public Health Engineer who has had experience in Urban planning and development. He hould be assisted by a team ,selected by him comprising administrators, urban planners, engineers, reps of Nagar Nigam and others as required.
    The first year of the Project may be devoted to consultation with different stakeholders to assess the felt needs, to study the layout of the field area for work a identify the problem areas and to develop a plan for action,staffing and allocation of responsibilities ,sub allocation of funds etc, The second and the third years be devoted to the execution of the plan and the 4th to the handling over the Project to the Nagar Nigam and submitting a Report to the State and the Central governments.
    The report may set into motion launch of similar Projects in the other urban areas of the state with modifications as per local needs.

    • June 29, 2021 at 12:47 am

      Sir, this indeed is what I have advocated, ie; a pilot project in one of the cities.

  • June 26, 2021 at 5:38 pm

    A well researched article on a hot topic already shaping as a crisis. Needs to be addressed holistically both by government and the society. Curtailing leakages, waste water management and drip irrigation needs top most attention.

    • June 29, 2021 at 12:49 am

      Thanks Sukhi!

  • June 26, 2021 at 4:28 pm

    A very well articulated account on the need for water conservation in urban areas by Maj Gen Chaturvedi.

    • June 29, 2021 at 8:01 am

      Thanks Bhaskar

  • June 26, 2021 at 4:09 pm

    so informative sir

    • June 27, 2021 at 9:30 am

      Excellent observations and solutions to save water, and right to have clean water! Unfortunately, out Governments are least bothered to look at even the half of the remedies mentioned in this article! Big titles are given to those who do nothing to save the Earth such as CHAMPION OF THE EARTH!

      • June 29, 2021 at 12:52 am

        One must do what one can do rather than hankering for titles.

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