By Sarah Bates
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2660

Life-threatening water shortages in India flow from climate catastrophe

This article is over 2 years, 10 months old
Issue 2660
A dry well- one of many across Chennai
A dry well- one of many across Chennai (Pic: Caritas India/Irin)

Millions of people in India are battling an acute water crisis and a record-breaking heatwave.

In Chennai—India’s sixth largest city—water supplies have almost run out.

The four reservoirs that supply the capital of Tamil Nadu state have run dry, so residents have to queue up for water rations driven into the city by tankers.

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A blistering heatwave and a late monsoon mean the Chennai has experienced only one major period of rainfall since December of last year. Rainfall heavy enough to fill up the reservoirs isn’t expected until November.

Wealthier families are able to buy private water tankers to deliver to their homes.

But poorer people, such N Bhagyalakshmi and her sons, have to stand for hours in soaring heat to fill plastic water pots.

“I come here every night and early morning hours to collect water with my neighbour and my son,” she said.

The crisis has led to desperate people hijacking tanker trucks and attacking drivers to access the rations.

At least 550 people were arrested as part of protests in Coimbatore, a city in Tamil Nadu state.


They were outside the local government headquarters last Wednesday demanding more deliveries of fresh drinking water.

More protests are expected this week.

The horrors of extreme weather are a direct result of climate change.

Monsoon rains have become more erratic, heatwaves more severe and droughts more common.

They have such devastating effects due to widespread poverty and poor water harvesting—the collection of water from rainfall.

Most people in India rely on groundwater.

But supplies are so depleted that 100 million people will soon be living in cities without groundwater access.

Only around a quarter of households have clean drinking water at home.

And about 200,000 people die each year due to inadequate supply or contamination.

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