28 May 2009

Water woes

Photo: M Kumar/AP

Yesterday morning I noticed the water had a murky yellowish colour and a bad smell. This happens sometimes, especially during the monsoon. But it had never been this bad.

I tried out the water purifier, which purifies the tap water so that it’s potable. The purifier has a special 3-stage filter process: the tap water goes through an a micron pre-filter, followed by a silver-impregnated activated carbon purifier, before it is zapped by ultra-violet light. The result is drinking water as good as the mineral water sold in bottles in the shops. But this time, once run through the purifier, the water had a slight yellow tinge and a bad taste. I went up to the roof, opened the lid of the tank and peered inside. The water was so cloudy, I couldn’t see the bottom.

Water is stored in tanks on the roof.

On my way to the shop to get a few bottles of mineral water, I stopped by to see my landlords and ask them what was going on. My landlady told me that her husband is sick, and so are some of our neighbours. Everyone is complaining about the water. She reassured me by saying that they had called someone to come and empty and clean the sump and tanks. Clean water would then be delivered from a private water company.

Whoever said that future wars will be waged over water was so right. During my first weeks in Bangalore I had written about the bandh or general strike that had been called in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Cauvery water dispute. The Cauvery is an important river in South India. It’s one of India’s seven sacred rivers, and perhaps most importantly, the main water source for three South Indian states: Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. 80% of Bangalore’s water comes from the Cauvery river which is 120 kilometres away. Water is a very precious commodity in India. Shortages are frequent, especially during the hot, rainless summer months. Ads for apartments for rent boast ‘24-hour water supply’ along with other important features like fitted kitchens and uninterrupted electricity.

Luckily we have never had problems with water supply. Water from the corporation (municipal authorities) arrives in the sump. It’s pumped up into tanks on the roof where it’s stored until we turn on a tap. My landlord has to remember to turn on the pump every other day or so, so that the tanks stay full. In other houses and apartments, water arrives via a tanker. Water tankers (painted in bright colours) are a very familiar sight in Bangalore. I regularly see them barrelling down the roads, sometimes with water sloshing from the top or even running over the side! But although our water supply is frequent, as you’ve just seen above, it is not always clean.

Photo courtesy of KeithDM

One of these colourful tankers showed up at our house that same day and we now have good, clean water again. But my landlord is livid because this ‘private water’ is of course more expensive that the murky yellow stuff the corporation gives us. He filled a bottle with the yellowish stuff and stomped off to the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) to complain – to no avail. “They are not concerned. They are corrupt to the core!” he angrily told me. He then contacted The Times of India. He’s saving the bottle of murky water for the journalist who has promised to come and hear his water woes.

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