HomeExpertSpeakWater Resources and Urbanization in India, Anup Kumar Tripathi

Water Resources and Urbanization in India, Anup Kumar Tripathi

‘By 2030, the United Nations (2006) projects that the proportion of people living in urban areas will be over 60 percent of the total global population, totaling 4.9 billion people. Roughly 95 percent of the urban growth will occur in less developed countries, with over 60 percent of the increase in the world’s urban population occurring in Asia’, says Anup Kumar Tripathi, Country Head, Sloan India Pvt. Ltd.

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Humanity has crossed the line from being a rural to urban species since 2007. For the first time in history, more people live in cities and urban areas than in the countryside. Starting in the developed nations, where the urbanization process has been significantly decelerated in the meantime, urbanization has especially increased in Asia and South America as well as in Africa to a substantial extent in the second half of the last century. The vast dynamic in these countries is documented by the fact that only three cities with more than four million inhabitants have been in the countries of the developing nations in the 1950s.

 (Environmental and Social Problems)
(Environmental and Social Problems)

Nowadays, there are already 28 megacities in these countries. Due to the “Functional Primacy” megacities appeal an enormous attractiveness to people and thus mostly become centers of immigration. By 2030, the United Nations (2006) projects that the proportion of people living in urban areas will be over 60 percent of the total global population, totaling 4.9 billion people. Roughly 95 percent of the urban growth will occur in less developed countries, with over 60 percent of the increase in the world’s urban population occurring in Asia. While the population of many urban areas around the globe is rapidly increasing, the largest growth is occurring in South Asia, which during the last fifty years underwent a doubling in total population and an increase of the urban population by more than five times. The rapid urbanization process in South Asia could result in serious environmental and social problems and accelerate global environmental change. Urban residents are also facing the potentially detrimental consequences of climate change and variability.

Especially in developing and emerging countries, the hydrological and hydrogeological setting of each region has deteriorated through growing urbanization processes. Due to the high population density, these regions show, in contrast to the rural areas, a rapid interaction between surface water and groundwater as well as between drinking water and sewage system. Urbanization and the attended changes in the settlement and land use structure, which in these countries often take place under informal conditions, will eventually lead to negative consequences for the environment as well as for the water resources. The supply and disposal of water in the megacities of the developing countries will become an existential question. The European and American infrastructural systems for water supply are much too expensive to transfer them globally. It is to be assumed that the water problem in the megacities of the developing countries will continue to intensify. In this context, one of the key tasks of sustainable and long-term land and natural resources management is to optimize water resource utilization referring to the spatial distribution of people and their activities.

Urbanization Process in India


Geographers and planners of the Global North describe the physical growth of cities as dense and centralized, and expanding outwards from consolidated urban areas; whereas little is known about the physical growth in the urban infrastructure of South Asia. Scholars have started to describe current urban growth trajectories in of social and environmental consequences. Emerging evidence suggests a particularly significant link between the patterns of uncoordinated urban growth and the Asia as ‘Fragmented’, consisting of leapfrog developments and with little consideration contamination of drinking water, causing extensive illnesses and deaths from diarrhea and other waterborne illnesses. Take for example that in India 21% of communicable diseases are related to unsafe water, and that diarrhea alone causes more than 1,600 deaths per year (World Bank 2005). Although current efforts to improve access to and quality of water resources are in place, such as policies regulating effluent discharges, progressive pricing for urban water use, and incentives for reuse and rainwater programs, recent Indian Central Government policies to increase direct foreign investment and expand economic output is placing extensive pressure on the water systems, causing many water management systems (e.g. wastewater treatment, public water delivery, and stormwater retention) to be overwhelmed and unable to accommodate rapid increases in demand.

Effects on Water Resources

The pressing water quality and quantity challenges posed by the depletion and degradation of water resources in urban India are confounded by climate change and variability. Water in the Indian subcontinent is highly susceptible to climate change, particularly in some regions where 80% of the water comes from monsoons. While empirical evidence is limited, some scholars suggest that climate change may force the pace of rural-to-urban migration to increase over the next few decades, due in part to an ongoing water shortages in the agrarian communities  rural India. These water shortages are themselves being further exacerbated by increases in extreme climate events, greater monsoon variability, endemic drought, flooding, and resource conflict. Such climate-induced challenges of water scarcity, the breakdown of environmental services, and increases in water-borne diseases are affecting urban populations throughout India. While these scenarios have only been broadly articulated, few have systematically evaluated the relationship between climate impacts and the social and environmental challenges occurring in urban areas. Climate change is expected to become an increasingly important strategic economic and political concern as changes in water availability begins to impact India’s economic growth rates and affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

(Waste Water Disposal by Open Sewer)

The environmental and social problems associated with water scarcity point to a crisis in urban water resources management, and one that threatens the security and livelihood of the population and the environment over the coming decades. This complex interaction between water resources and urban development is becoming increasingly recognized across the world, as the urban areas become home to an increasing number of people. The rate of urbanization in the India represents an unprecedented opportunity to understand the applicability of urban growth theories in non-western contexts, and for developing methods to examine the patterns and processes that impact water conditions in human-dominated landscapes. The urban water household represents one of the most vulnerable sectors in the course of rapid urbanization: With rising population the adequate water supply risks to become an insolvable problem due to the serious decrease of ground and surface water quality together with a drastically decreasing infiltration rate by reason of rising structural densification. Although research on urban water resources in other developing countries, such as China and Latin America’ describe specific impacts from urban development, South Asia contains 10 of the 25 fastest growing urban populations in the world, and a limited number of studies focusing on urban water management. Until the year 2015 the number of megacities in India will increase to nine. Three of them will belong to the biggest cities in the world. Of immediate need is knowledge to understand how the patterns and rates of growth interact to impede the availability, governance, and quality of an increasingly limited resource.


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