‘Sustainability of water supply project depends on sustainability of water sources’

Drawing attention to the demand for drinking water by people, the state government held a meeting in June, 2019 declaring a drought like situation in the state.

“You know what it is like to carry a gallon of petrol from a car to a garage? Try a gallon in each hand at 8 pounds each. The total weight would be less than half the 44 pounds a woman carries on her head in a 20 litre jerrycan. You see, carrying water is not just difficult. It is a lifelong pain in the neck or back that sometimes causes serious health problems,” said Aribam Ebemcha who fetches water from Iril River.

But the 20 litre jerrycan is not enough for her family to drink, cook, bathe and wash for a day. Fifteen litres a day is considered a bare minimum water supply for one person. As a daily routine, Ebemcha would fetch water from the Iril River to her home in Top Khongnangkhong, a distance of 1 km twice a day. During the rainy season, she would fill up every single utensil with rain water. However, the stored rain water is already used by the time rain stops.  Again, even though the river level increases and runs with muddy water, I still go out to find spots where the river is clear and fetch water, Ebemcha said.

“Most of my neighbours buy water from private water tankers as they can store it on plastic water tanks which they keep at home. But people like me who depend on daily wages cannot afford to buy such water tanks. One 500 litre plastic tank is not enough to last a month,” said Ebemcha while speaking to the Imphal Free Press.

This reporter visited some areas under Imphal East, which are nearer to the Iril river concerning the water supply provided by the state government. It was found that most of the houses which are nearer to the river do not get water supply. They buy 500 litres of water at Rs 250 to Rs 300 from private water tankers.

Three major rivers namely Imphal River, Iril River and Kongba river cross Imphal East district. The state PHED installed pipe lines in many villages but the water supply through the pipe is very less because of water availability, harvesting and conservation problems.

Thoudam Dennison, a farmer from Kongpal near to Kongba river said that drought and flood frequently occur during lean and monsoon seasons. Every year, scarcity of water for drinking, domestic and irrigation purposes are being faced, he said. The people make arrangements to buy water storage tanks or construct a tank. People do not depend on Kongba River as the river is much polluted and they would rather buy water from water suppliers.

He said last year, some people came and installed a water pipe on the road saying water will reach the consumers’ homes directly. Believing them, he paid Rs 1,000 for enrolment and the charge of fitting a pipe. But still, no drinking water came into their homes, he said.

Due to the ongoing lockdown, the charge of water suppliers has increased from the usual rate.  However, some suppliers have stopped their businesses. While interacting with some private water tankers, they expressed that in normal times, they could sell water with more than three trips a day. Due to this COVID-19 lockdown, one time makes enough as petrol or diesels are inadequate, they said.

An employee of Porompat water supply said that more than 50 water tankers used to come for filling drinking water. But hardly 6-10 tankers came in March, he said.

The complaint of scarcity of water and flood during the rainy season pertains to all districts of Manipur, facing acute shortage of drinking water and for domestic purposes. The issue has been prevalent since the last 10-20 years.

PWD minister Th Bihwajit in 2019 stated that scarcity of water will not only lead to lack of drinking water but affect the growth of crops as well. The minister noted the areas around Imphal city are often flooded and Imphal and Iril rivers overflow whenever it rains and added that the causes of such a scenario are lack of policy and lack of management of water from the catchment area.

Associate professor of Thoubal College Kh Jugindro said that water resources in Manipur are from both water surface and groundwater.

Manipur falls under high intensity of rainfall in northeast India during monsoon season. However, the state faces acute shortage of water particularly during the dry or lean season that is January to May every year. Flood occurs every year during the rainy season (June-October) while drought-like situations occur during the month of February-May, he said. It is because of deforestation in the river catchment area, sided with shifting cultivation which causes rainwater to drain quickly into the river after rainfall, he said. And again, due to depletion of raw water at source and drying up all the water bodies like ponds, lakes, he added.

He pointed out that the entire basins environment of the state gets disturbed due to injudiciously cutting of valuable trees in the upstream. As a result, there is an occurrence of scarcity of water for agriculture, domestic purpose and drinking in the river basin, he said. The state is receiving sufficient monsoon rain but suffering water scarcity due to improper water management. Rivers of Manipur are far from fulfilling the water requirement, he added.

While referring to the impact of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on fifth assessment report noted that the impacts of climate variability, increase in temperature and decline in rainfall will affect the global hydrological cycle affecting both the groundwater and surface water supply and hence the possibility of water deficit by 2020s.

Explaining the crisis of water resource, deputy director of directorate of environment and climate change, K Brajakumar said that with a growing population and erratic rainfall, the water resources in the state are under tremendous pressure to meet the rising demand. Rainfall intensity has been increasing in the last few years with frequent flash floods and landslides, he said. Scarcity of water problem is also aggravated due to climate variability resulting in shortage of water supply every year, he added.

He said that floods were experienced in 1952, 1965, 1966, 1974, 1980, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1992, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2015, 2017 and 2018. They have occurred due to high intensity of rainfall in hilly areas, which are the upper catchment areas of various rivers which drain into the valley during the rainy season. The loss of forest cover due to large scale deforestation coupled with the erratic rainfall has led the state towards a drought scenario. In 2019, the state declared a drought state by state government.

In spite of receiving annual rainfall of 1,467.5 mm, higher than the national average, Manipur experienced water scarcity due to lack of rainwater harvesting facilities and destruction of catchment areas. Imphal, alone, faces a potable water shortage of 20,000 to 30,000 million litres in a day, he said.

Drawing attention to the demand for drinking water by people, the state government held a meeting in June, 2019 declaring a drought like situation in the state.

However, it may be mentioned that the state has various schemes related to water supply. In this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of a Rs 3,050 crore Manipur Water Supply Project under the Jal Jeevan Mission-Har Ghar Jal scheme. “This project will give clean drinking water to Greater Imphal and 1,700 villages in Manipur. It will provide a lifeline to these people,” PM Mod said as he laid the foundation stone for the water supply project.

"The 'jal dhara' from this project will become 'jeevan dhara' for 25 cities and towns including Greater Imphal and 1,700 villages. The big thing is that this project is designed keeping in mind the needs of not only today but for the next 20-22 years. With this project, millions of people will not only have access to clean drinking water, but thousands of people will also get employment," he said.

The Government of India initiated the Jal Jeevan Mission to provide safe and adequate quantity drinking water to every rural household of the country by 2024 with the motto "Har Ghar Jal". The government has provided funds under Jal Jeevan Mission to Manipur for Freshwater Household Tap Connections (FHTCs) to cover 1,185 habitations with 1, 42,749 households.

The question here is how the water supply project will become a success without proper watershed management.

Regarding this, CSIR, senior scientist Huidrom Birkumar stated that unless and until the resources of the state have full management, any project will not get target achievement. Even the water resources of Manipur, mainly the major river catchment areas are already in a critical situation, he said. “It is not that water availability in the state is less. Efficient water is available in the state but there is a lack of knowledge regarding management. To achieve any water schemes or projects, the focus should give on healthy watershed,” he added.

He recommends healthy watershed management first to make the schemes or projects in water successful. Forest areas should not be disturbed; large areas of forest (primary) should be preserved, he said. Until and unless there is no protection in forest areas, enormous rainfall will lead to flood and drought. Rain harvesting, water harvesting or check dams in specific locations at small scale and community scale will help in keeping watersheds healthy and able to manage well, he added.

Speaking to Superintending Engineer (SE) of Water Resource Department Manipur, K Kiran, he said, it is true that watershed management is highly essential in the state as many of water resources are in a critical situation. Water resource department has already started assessment, survey and field studies on watershed and water catchment areas of the state, he said. Measures are also being taken up to manage the water basin and catchment area in coordination with the aligned department.

He said to bring sustainability on water supply projects, it is necessary to sustain water shed management. Reports on assessment of watershed management have been sent to the concerned ministry to approve a proposal, he said. The proposal is for management of watersheds to achieve the target of water supply projects, he added.

(Published under Khelen Thokchom Trust) 

First Published:Aug. 31, 2020, 10:19 p.m.