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Water, Waste and Urbanisation

The current population of India stands at 1.4 billion, of which an estimated 65% reside in rural areas (World Bank, 2021). The remaining 35%, roughly 498 million people, are crammed into India’s bustling cities. With the growth rate at 0.99% per year, and people rapidly migrating to rural areas, the pressure for cities to accommodate an ever-increasing number of people means that cities are expanding outwardly, and rural areas on the outskirts of cities are quickly becoming urban hubs.
















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This migration into cities, and subsequently the rapid expansion of them, has had serious implications on sociocultural structures, infrastructure, and quality of life. Rural areas that have limited infrastructure and are not built or equipped to house a large number of inhabitants have very suddenly experienced an influx of people since 2001 (Rajan, 2022). This has resulted in the generation of excessive waste, where there are no waste management systems; flooding and waterlogging, where there are no drainage systems; noise pollution in previously quiet areas; overcrowding, and the loss of agricultural land.


Most significantly, poor planning and maintenance of water and drainage systems have devastating effects when there is an increase in rainfall. This problem is compounded when mixed waste is dumped into drains. The lack of proper drainage systems and the disposal of waste in open drains has resulted in the blocking of waterways, leading to flooding during the monsoon season. With the onset of climate change, heavy rainfall during the monsoon seasons is set to be more frequent and intense. Rainfall is more erratic, becoming heavier and more frequent in some states, especially western states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat, and leaving some states unusually dry (Deshpande, 2021). Slow climate adaptation, poor urban planning, and unmanaged waste exacerbate the effects of these circumstances.

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The flooding that is the result of these issues has caused immense damage to crops, livestock, and infrastructure, leading to significant economic losses for the rural population. The dumping of waste in open drains has also resulted in water pollution, which has had adverse effects on human health and the environment. Contaminated water poses a threat to aquatic life and can lead to the spread of waterborne diseases. Additionally, the accumulation of waste in waterways contributes to soil erosion and degrades the quality of the surrounding ecosystem.


In already-developed cities, drainage systems are outdated and ill-equipped to handle the current changing precipitation patterns which consist of fewer rainy days and increased rainfall when it does rain (Udas-Mankikar, 2020). These systems were based on the Manual on Sewerage and Sewerage Treatment created by the ‘Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation’. These guidelines only prepared stormwater drains for an intensity of 12-20mm per hour, which is far less than current rainfall standards (ibid.). Though the ‘Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs’ has released a new manual for how stormwater drainage systems are to be replaced or retrofitted based on current needs, these changes are yet to be implemented.


To mitigate the devastating effects of flooding and pollution of stormwater drains, government institutions must act preventatively and not retrospectively by doing sound urban planning and introducing proper end-to-end waste management systems. This means introducing adequate scientific stormwater and sewer drainage systems, as well as setting up infrastructure for the collection and processing of all types of waste before large housing and commercial complexes are established. Gram Panchayats often lack institutional capacity and are not adequately supported by the state governments in developing and implementing infrastructure projects at the rural level (Goel, 2020). The government has come out with the ‘Rurban Mission’, which seeks to preserve the essence of rural community life, whilst still providing facilities that are ‘perceived to be essentially urban in nature’. The mission aims to develop 300 ‘Rurban clusters’ in the next five years, though the target outcomes of the mission and how they will be achieved remains vague. The private sector can lend its help in setting up systems by disseminating CSR funds to causes related to infrastructure and civic development, as in the case of Ecogram. It is imperative that local and state institutions act quickly in planning and implementing effective civic services and systems for our population which continues to grow at an alarmingly rapid rate. Not only will this prevent the devastating effects of flooding and groundwater pollution, but it will also improve the quality of life of citizens inhabiting these areas. It is our hope that local and state institutions will overcome the bureaucratic barriers to the implementation of infrastructure such as political corruption, and work in partnership with the private sector to ensure that rural and newly urbanising will receive the same attention and resources as urban areas to develop.



References

Deshpande, T. (2021) Climate Change Is Making India’s Monsoon More Erratic Available from https://www.indiaspend.com/earthcheck/climate-change-is-making-indias-monsoon-more-erratic-780356.


Rajan, S.I (2022) India’s soul: From rural to urban Available from https://www.deccanherald.com/national/independence-day-india-at-75-india-s-soul-from-rural-to-urban-1135199.html.


Udas-Mankikar, S. (2020) Inadequate storm water infrastructure biggest hurdle in urban flood resilience Available from https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/inadequate-storm-water-infrastructure-biggest-hurdle-in-urban-flood-resilience/ [accessed 19 April 2023].


World Bank Open Data (n.d.) Available from https://data.worldbank.org.


Goel, V ( 2020) The rural infrastructure sector under National Infrastructure ... Available from https://www.investindia.gov.in/team-india-blogs/rural-infrastructure-sector-under-national-infrastructure-pipeline.



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