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Delhi minister stages hunger strike for more water to city amid extreme heat

By Thomson Reuters Jun 24, 2024 | 7:16 AM

By Shivam Patel

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A Delhi city minister has started an indefinite hunger strike to demand more drinking water for India’s capital, where taps in some of its poorest neighbourhoods are running nearly dry in the middle of searing heat.

“There are 2.8 million people in the city who are aching for just a drop of water,” Delhi Water Minister Atishi said on Monday, the fourth day of her fast.

Millions of Indians face water shortages every summer when water demand rises in farms, offices and homes against a limited supply, but a prolonged heatwave this year has worsened the shortfall, including in Delhi and the southern tech hub of Bengaluru.

Delhi relies on the Yamuna River that runs through the capital for most of its water needs but the river slows down during dry summer months, causing shortages that lead to protests and calls for better water conservation.

Atishi blamed the neighbouring farming state of Haryana for guzzling up a large share of river water.

Haryana’s government responded that it was Delhi’s mismanagement that was causing water shortages. Experts said a federal-level review of decades-old water sharing pacts was needed to accommodate population growth.

Delhi, a city of 20 million people, is one of the world’s most densely populated capitals, where upscale neighbourhoods and manicured lawns are just a few miles away from unplanned working-class areas and slums.

But, in contrast to growing unplanned development over the years, the city’s water allocation from rivers has remained unchanged since 1994, said Depinder Kapur, the director of water programme at think tank Centre for Science and Environment.

“What was true 10-15 years ago is not true anymore. So, there is a situation of crisis and it’s a distribution issue,” he said.

The Delhi government is working on plans to improve the groundwater table by reviving lakes and storing water overflow from the Yamuna during the seasonal monsoon rains, but officials say the summer shortfall is difficult to tackle by these measures alone.

“Water crisis in Delhi is a year-long crisis because extreme temperatures are not going anywhere,” said environmentalist Vimlendu Jha. “Delhi needs a comprehensive water management plan in which Yamuna can’t be the only major source of water.”

(Reporting by Shivam Patel; Editing by Angus MacSwan)