The Pulse

Southern India Grapples With Acute Water Shortage

Millions of Indians in Tamil Nadu are relying on water tank trucks to meet their daily needs.

By Ashok Sharma for
Southern India Grapples With Acute Water Shortage

Indians wait to fill vessels filled with drinking water from a water tanker in Chennai, capital of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, June 19, 2019.

Credit: AP Photo/R. Parthibhan

With the government able to meet only 40 percent of the water requirement, millions of people in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu are depending on water tank trucks because of an acute shortage caused by drying lakes and depleted groundwater.

Sekhar Raghvan, a water expert, said Monday that taps were running dry, but that meteorologists expect rain in the state this week and people are pinning their hopes on that. It rained for a while in the state two weeks ago, but not enough to replenish water bodies.

Gauri Shankar, a hotel general manager, said he was running his hotel in Chennai, the state capital, by hiring two tank trucks to bring water every day at a cost of 4,000 rupees ($57) each.

“There has been no improvement in the situation in the past month,” Shankar said, adding that some companies have asked employees to work from home, and that some restaurants are closing early.

Apart from people hiring private water tank trucks, the state government has deployed 900 water trucks in Chennai to distribute water free to the poorest, Raghvan said. Those who can afford it can also buy water from the tankers.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Television images showed people lining up for water cans in Chennai and other cities and towns in the state.

“I take a bath once every two days,” a resident told the New Delhi Television news channel without giving his name.

The state government says the drought followed a 62 percent shortfall in monsoon rains last year compared to 2017.

“The situation is very critical in the state, and without rain it’s not going to improve,” said Raghvan, director of the Rain Center, a private institute promoting water harvesting and sanitation in India.

This year’s June-September monsoon arrived in the southern state of Kerala a week late and slowly started moving to other parts of country. India is facing a more than 21 percent shortfall in monsoon rains across the country because of its late arrival, according to the India Meteorological Department.

Chennai is India’s sixth-largest city, with a population of around 10 million. It is a major destination for medical tourism, and Tamil Nadu state is a car manufacturing hub.

Chennai gets about 80-85 percent of its water during the monsoon season. It gets some rain during the southwest June-September monsoon, but it benefits mainly from the northeast monsoon from October to December.

By Ashok Sharma for The Associated Press.