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Smart Cities need to be futureproof too

Ducks snorkeling in Ganga (The Ganges) ©NitinKaushal/WWF-India

Ducks snorkeling in Ganga (The Ganges) ©NitinKaushal/WWF-India

Cities around the world are continually growing as they attract people, resources and ideas, and are drivers of global and national development. This is most evident in countries like India, where by 2030, 70% of the GDP and 70% of new jobs will come from cities.

The Latest:

Prime Minister, Mr. Modi government’s ambitious “100 Smart Cities” plan is making urban planning lucrative. India has been plagued by rapid and haphazard urbanization. People are migrating to the cities at an unprecedented rate. This creates problem, which is two folds. It makes the rural population dwindle and impacts the agriculture, eventually threatening food security. On the other hand, the migrating population increases pressure on the limited urban resources such as housing, water, wastewater management systems, electricity, transport, communication and so on.

India is estimated to have over 400 million urban inhabitants by 2050.  This is more than any other country in the world. Managing such growth will require unprecedented levels of planning and investing in housing, infrastructure and utilities especially water supply and wastewater management.

Payment for Services:

A leaking wastewater pipeline

A leaking wastewater pipeline

People believe that amongst other utilities, water should be free in a city and expect that government and utility providers should take care of maintaining them.  Water systems cost $3-$6 per month per household, in countries like India. At first glance it does not seem a lot, however when people make only $1-$3 a day, it can be a lot. When water supply  and wastewater management systems fail, poor people suffer the most in the cities. Urban poor, especially women and girls, do not get any return on their money or time invested.

Futureproofing Smart Cities’ water systems:

Cities will be smart if  water and wastewater services are planned based on the below criteria:

Smart cities do all the above mentioned and more by:

  • Integrating data from a wide range of sources–surveys, closed circuit cameras, utilities, public works and services, citizen reports and service providers to aid informed decision-making by policy makers, businesses and citizens.
  • Adapting continuously in the face of rapidly changing urban landscape, both in chronic (traffic, infrastructure, public utilities) and acute or long term events (upcoming neighborhoods, natural disasters) etc.
  • Building utilities and systems around the needs of population.
  • Providing essential infrastructure and services that make cities liveable.
  • Putting people at the center of all planning processes and projects.
Solar Powered water ATMs in Ahmedabad, India ©

Solar Powered water ATMs in Ahmedabad, India ©

Way ahead:

“Creative cities”, “sustainable cities”, “eco-cities”, “resilient cities” and “liveable cities” and now “Smart Cities”.  Doesn’t matter what name you call it, India, in order to sustain the growth of its robust economy and provide for growing needs of its urban populations, needs to recognize the value of its natural capital/resources and biocapacity in the planning process. It needs to develop strategies and policies to promote innovative solutions to foster efficiency in the use of limited urban resources, disposal of wastes and wastewater management and create opportunities for urban growth among others by

  • Maintaining water resources and wastewater systems over long term
  • Enabling reasonable support to issues that impact large urban population especially marginal and poor
  • Identifying costs and financing mechanisms for addressing these issues for present and future

This article has been adopted from the original sources. To read the original content, please click on the hyperlinks in the article.

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Cost Benefit Analysis of Water Investments

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Investment in Water and Sanitation in Poor/Developing Countries:

A recent World Bank (WB) estimate showed that investing to provide drinking water to 750 million people in poor nations make clear sense with larger than expected health benefits. Senior Economist at WB’s Water and Sanitation Program (WASH) said “Provision of basic water and sanitation facilities would be a good investment in economic terms,” in the report.

Indian Context:

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, addressed the nation by making basic toilets as a national priority on India’s 68th Independence Day (August 15, 2014). Mr. Modi highlighted that this would also yield strong returns, without even considering improved human dignity during his address.

Economics of water investments:

WB report states that the universal access to basic drinking water at home would cost $14 billion a year until 2030, and yield benefits of $52 billion, or about $4 for every dollar spent, according to the preliminary findings that will form part of a wider review.

New Findings:
The benefits were twice those estimated in a previous global study done in 2012. This is partly because of larger than expected falls in diarrheal disease (water born diseases), and lower costs of digging wells/boreholes. Overall, building toilets to eliminate defecation outside in rural areas would cost $13 billion a year to 2030 and give benefits of $84 billion, a return of $6 for every dollar spent. The benefits were slightly less than in a previous study.

I have written in several of my blog posts that the world’s costliest water is when women and girls in a household spend countless hours a year fetching water and doing no other activity. Open defecation also poses a threat to girls and women, in terms of abuse and getting attacked by animals in the wild.

What does this mean ultimately?
Investments in better water could mean 170,000 fewer deaths a year, while basic sanitation would cut 80,000 deaths, mostly from infectious diarrhea.

Urbanization and water:

In the past 25 years, more than two billion people of a world population now totaling about 7.3 billion have gained access to better water and almost two billion to sanitation. The study estimated only health benefits and time saved, such as from walking to a river to fetch water. They hide intangible impacts such as dignity, social status and security.

Water as Fundamental Human Right:

The United Nations in 2010 defined improved sanitation and water as fundamental human right.

Way forward:

In addition to the economics of water investments behavioral change, translated which means feeling pride in building a basis toilet at home and abandoning open defecation for good, would drive the movement in India. The country can also take lessons from neighboring Bangladesh.


This article is an adoption of the original articles that appeared on various websites. To read the original content, please visit the source websites by clicking the hyperlinks. Thoughts expressed are my own.

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Culprit behind polluted aquifers

Urban pollutants and agriculture run off effect an aquifers' quality ©

Urban pollutants and agriculture run off affect aquifers’ quality ©Neer Foundation, Meerut India

Its no news that agriculture (farming practices, irrigation and others) and rapid urbanization are two major factors to change the land usage and availability. Recent US Geological Survey  report reveals that concentrations of natural and man-made pollutants that could persist for decades otherwise known as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in essential underground water sources can change the chemistry and physical properties of the nation’s aquifers leading to greater concentrations.

The report:

About 130 million people in the United States rely on groundwater for drinking water, and the need for high-quality drinking-water supplies becomes more urgent as our population grows. Although groundwater is a safe, reliable source of drinking water for millions of people nationwide, high concentrations of some chemical constituents can pose potential human-health concerns. Some of these contaminants come from the rocks and sediments of the aquifers themselves, and others are chemicals that we use in agriculture, industry, and day-to-day life. When groundwater supplies are contaminated, millions of dollars can be required for treatment so that the supplies can be usable. Contaminants in groundwater can also affect the health of our streams and valuable coastal waters. By knowing where contaminants occur in groundwater, what factors control contaminant concentrations, and what kinds of changes in groundwater quality might be expected in the future, we can ensure the availability and quality of this vital natural resource in the future.

Major Findings:

  • Contaminants from geologic or man-made sources were a potential human-health concern in one of every five wells sampled in the parts of aquifers used for drinking water
  • Differences in geology, hydrology, geochemistry, and chemical use explain how and why aquifer vulnerability and concentrations of contaminants vary across the Nation
  • Changes to groundwater flow have also altered groundwater quality
    Our actions today are determining groundwater quality for decades to come

These finding are not something unique to just the US aquifers. The type of soil (porous limestone in to volcanic basalts and from frozen surfaces in the high altitudes to parched deserts) have a unique chemical property and alter the composition of groundwater aquifers in countries like India and others.

Detection of pollutants in water or aquifers is not always a bad news. Its the affect that these pollutants might have on human health and organisms that raises a red flag. Moreover, you cannot define the aquifer boundaries as easily as land can be divided. In lay terms, if one farmer or city is causing pollution, then the chemicals and pollutants can easily bleach into the neighboring city’ (or farmer’s) aquifer.

We need to take the historic account of how much groundwater has been drawn by us over the years. Each day more than 288 million (76 billion gallons) are pumped from aquifers for farms and cities. 

This article has bee adopted from the original article that appeared on Circle of Blue and USGS’s report. To read the original articles, please click on the hyperlinks above.

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Top Global Risk- Any Guesses?

River Ganga (Ganges) at Narora India

River Ganga (Ganges) at Narora, India

Did you guess that its terrorism, human trafficking or the nuclear war? Wrong!

World Economic Forum (WEF) 2015 ranked water crisis as the top global risk this week. Having observed the profound impact that quantity and quality of water can have over communities, it comes as no surprise to someone like me.

I also believe that we have to consider a few points while accessing water as top global risk:


  1. Agriculture water productivity: The competition for limited resource and growing demand with increasing world population.  There is also the issue of the quality of water used for irrigation, and the crops produced.

    Abandoned pond (tank), a traditional rainwater harvesting body ©NeerFoundation,India

    Abandoned pond (tank), a traditional rainwater harvesting body ©NeerFoundation,India

  2. Water and energy nexus: We need water to irrigate the crops and electricity for water supply and withdrawing the ever depleting groundwater. e2abb10389aa4d5caa32e2af81df250f244d8e87534c95b3441105bdfd51ef76
  3. Blue green cities: With the unprecedented rate of urbanization, water bodies and green spaces are a challenge to maintain and develop, as the land availability in the cities is a scarce commodity.

    Sunset at Sangam, Allahabad, India ©NitinKaushal/WWF-India

    Sunset at Sangam, Allahabad, India ©NitinKaushal/WWF-India

  4. Geopolitical sensitivities: India and China come to mind at once. Both are struggling with limited water resources and grappling the shared waters resources (primarily from rivers) as much as possible. The potential for shared management of water as a means to achieve regional co­operation and conflict prevention is vital. India, as both an upper and lower riparian nation, finds itself at the centre of water disputes with its eastern and western downstream neighbors — Bangladesh and Pakistan, who accuse New Delhi of monopolizing water flows.

    Promotion by Aqaufina

    Promotion by Aqaufina

  5. Water quality, availability, and business impact: Dialogue surrounding the global water challenge tends to focus on supply, but we hear much less about the quality of our water. Water availability and quality not only has an impact on the businesses but also on the communities in their vicinity.

    A leaking wastewater pipeline

    A leaking wastewater pipeline

  6. Economics of traditional water management systems: Operation and maintenance of the water supply systems is antiquated and labor intensive, in most developing countries. It takes a lot of money, resources and will to ensure that these systems are up and running.   shutterstock_54898747
  7. Last but not the least climate change: India also has challenges, as the neighboring Bangladesh, because of the rising sea levels.  Bangladesh is one of the most threatened countries, when it comes to sea level rise issue because of climate change.

Identifying water as top global risk is work half done. It will take a multi-stakeholder and multi-pronged approach to understand what this risk means for the world.

The opinions expressed in this article are entirely of the author. To read on the sources cited in this article, please visit the original websites by clicking the hyperlinks.

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New site for an old tale

Kali Nadi, Meerut U.P, India

Kali Nadi, Meerut U.P, India

Toxic water and farming:

Recent survey conducted by the Punjab (northern India state) Government on the contamination of vegetables reveals a threatening picture of what people consume, and the urgency required to resolve the issues.

According to the above survey, 51 samples of 16 vegetables were collected from nine divisional headquarters and tested for 22 metals. They were found to have been contaminated with toxic metals like cadmium, chromium, lead, nickel etc. In Punjab, 98 tehsil municipal areas produce 504m gallons of wastewater daily, and out of them 66 use the same water for agriculture purposes, and 28 dispose their wastewater into canals, rivers and their tributaries; only four have some kind of wastewater disposal system. Thus, an overwhelming amount of the wastewater finds its way into agriculture. The provincial water treatment capacity is woefully inadequate. Punjab has only oxidation ponds in the southern part of the province. Thus, its most populated areas (major cities) like Lahore, Faisalabad and Gujranwala do not have any treatment plants.

Unfortunately, this problem is not unique to the state of Punjab in northern India. For decades, farmers in Meerut and adjoining districts in Western Uttar Pradesh (U.P.), have irrigated their crops with pesticides laden water. These same pesticides are banned in the developed nations due to their carcinogenic and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) characteristics.

The problem elevates where these toxic material finds their way into the food supply chain.This results in Biomagnification (also known as bioamplification or biological magnification), where the concentration of a substance, such as DDT or mercury, in an organism exceeds the background concentration of the substance in its diet.

I was a part of  the study that People Sciences Institute (PSI), Dehradun’s staff undertook, accompanied by the staff of Janhit Foundation in the districts of western (U.P.). The team collected soil and vegetable samples from different locations during November 2004 end and in May 2005. Considering the nature of pesticides and possibility of their leaching into groundwater, samples from dug wells, tube wells, and the nearby Eastern Kali river, were also gathered. Fifty samples were analyzed with the help of  Gas Chromatograph in PSI’s Environmental Quality Monitoring (EQM) lab. Information about the frequency of pesticides applications, quantity and types of pesticides used were obtained from the farmers. This information was used to select the pesticides for quantitative analyses. For sampling, extraction and analyses, EPA methods (8081A and 8141A) were followed.

Scientists, policy makers, local and state administrative staff, nonprofits, donor agencies and other experts have undertaken several visits and studies, since 2005,  however only little or no improvement is evident in the present state of Kali river and farming around it. It has also been concluded time and again that if this situation remains unchecked, the slow poisoning would only help create a generation of physically and mentally handicapped citizens. This threat is visible in the follow up public health and environmental studies, undertaken by a few nonprofits in the effected areas.

Water is complex and it takes time in understanding how its toxicity effects the living beings it passes through.

Double rejoice on a single day?!?!

Girls fetching water©

Girls fetching water©

Since 2012, the United Nations marks 11 October as the ‘International Day of the Girl Child’. The day promotes girls’ human rights, highlights gender inequalities that remain between girls and boys and addresses the various forms of discrimination and abuse suffered by girls around the world. This year, the theme is “Empowering adolescent girls: Ending the cycle of violence”.

Today is also the day the The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014 is to be awarded to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.  Children must go to school and not be financially exploited.  In the poor countries of the world, 60% of the present population is under 25 years of age.  It is a prerequisite for peaceful global development that the rights of children and young people be respected.

How do these iconic days relate to water and gender issues in general?

In terms of availability of clean water on a daily basis for the children in the developing countries and especially girl child it’s a constant struggle.

Throughout the course of my decade long career in India, I have seen women and girls fetch water from distances as far as 10 kms (6.21371 miles) or dedicating 8-10 hours of the day just collecting water for their families. I will admit that the country has come a long way since the early 2000s. In tier II cities, such as Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, it is still evident what life means for women and girls in terms of the potable water availability every day in urban slums. Non-availability of potable water close to home also results in violence against women and girl child since they are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse while seeking water sources located remotely. There could be other dangers in the form of animal (dogs) attack and others as well.

Fortunately there is a ray of hopes in the form of grassroots organizations working tirelessly to alleviate the everyday drudgery of women and girls in terms of water availability.

On this side of the globe, organizations are trying to push for mainstreaming policies by keeping the girls and women at their center.

How does all this relate to the UN Women’s and Noble Peace Prize’s theme? One can imagine that if the women and girls in a family are free of their daily chores of searching for water, they can easily attend school without having to spend their time otherwise. The old saying goes, “when you educate a boy you educate an individual, however when you educate a girl you educate a family or household.” This cannot resonate more than on a day like today.

Joint efforts from both sides of developing and developed world shall go a long way in educating the girl child and children overall in making them informed and progressive citizens of tomorrow.

For related posts, please click the below links:

Water markets: From esoteric to a tool for water supply


Watershed in fall colors ©Rohith Roy

Watershed in fall colors ©Rohith Roy


Data about water availability and quality are fundamental to some of the most important decisions making process of the governments, businesses, farmers and last but not the least communities. Abundance and quality of water are critical factors in many aspects of our economy, environment, and social and physical well-being. Many experts argue that Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) for multiple water resources objectives must be simultaneously managed. The costs of sub-optimal water resources choices can be while determining substantial PES. These forces when come into play together give rise to water markets as we know them today.

What are water markets?

Water markets have been considered as a coping strategy to allocate water from surplus to scarcity  regions.

The functional benefits of water markets have often been assessed from the perspective of economics, for example, the ability of markets to facilitate transfers of water-use rights from lower-value uses to higher-value uses, and the resulting increases in water productivity.


Water markets are not new and they have evolved over the years in shapes and appearances based on the regions and type of water traded (groundwater of surface water). Historically, water markets have existed in a number of agriculturally dominant countries ranging from secured and transferable  form Chile in South America to informal and local ones in India in Asia.


One can be interested in exploring the significance of water markets by asking whether

  • Water markets can help improve overall water security (e.g., by preventing or alleviating shortages),
  • Encourage improvements in water conservation and water-use efficiency, and
  • Whether markets can contribute to environmental protection.


There are a range of different types of water market that can be introduced based on the local geographic conditions, regulations, permits and other factors:

  • Open water markets
  • Spot market
  • Informal water markets


Do water markets actually work?

My favorite economist recently posted information from a functioning water market. He recommends that we read Waterfind’s  annual report [pdf], which is full of market and price data. You may also want to read this post and listen to the water chats Dr. Zetland did with Waterfind CEO, Tom Rooney, a few years ago.


A number of US based and international organizations are in the process of exploring the concept of water markets further. They often ask the question of whether water markets should emerge from one of their existing initiatives or should they be something brand new. There is a huge potential of studying these further via surface availability and through government permits and how much will water markets contribute towards environmental protection, payment of ecosystem services and environmental equity and justice so on. Water Users Associations (WUAs) can form a significant part for resolving conflicts over water rights. How will WUAs come into play, with increasing urbanization around us when water is being channelized for non-irrigation/agricultural purposes. How much will WUAs be effective in fulfilling this responsibility is left to be seen.




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