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Delhi Water Crisis: Who bears the brunt of the pandemic anyway?

By Chaitali Pant for ‘Jal Se Jalashay’ Campaign by Haiyya

The trajectory of resource allocation is often discussed in activist circles, student forums, organizational meetings to even United Nations bodies. Water as a source of life is a part of school textbooks and exam problems. However, for most citizens, individual knowledge of consumption has only narrowed down in terms of water storage, a systematic transformation from earthen pots to RO purifiers. Capitalist interference has led to the discovery of packaged water, something the upper middle-class swears by, in everyday life. Privatization of water is as political as the issue of casteist monopoly of life resources.

Women bear the brunt of non-availability more than others in society. Association of domestic work with women makes the private sphere dependent, sometimes completely on the inherent division of labour. How a woman asserts her identity in the process of taking the responsibility of water, food and the likes, within and outside the boundaries of a home which, a lot of times, is not her own, allows one the freedom to understand the politics of power hierarchy. Given the fact that the ownership of water rests with upper-caste men, there is a lot in the hierarchical ways of consumption that remains unexplored.

According to a 2018 Niti Ayog report, Delhi, the capital of India, is among 21 Indian cities that are poised to run out of groundwater by 2020. Illegal constructions near reservoirs, over-extraction of groundwater, pollution in water bodies, and wastage of residential water supply are some of the reasons Delhi is running dry. With the maximum number of piped arrangements that run parallel to the massive city, the government bodies fail to address the giant division between the haves and the have-nots, something that concerns the fundamental right to live with dignity. Scientists have deliberated that the source remains dry and therefore, taps will bear no water. It is likely that a famine is on its way to deliver the injustice caused by the human race to nature and the one that binds nature and the human together, that is, planet Earth.

A 2014-report by Delhi Parks and Gardens Society states that at least 200 among more than a 1000 water bodies in Delhi — lakes, ponds, moats, that existed far back in the 20th century — have been encroached upon and lost due to inaction and possible connivance of multiple agencies that owned the land that these water bodies existed on. These include Delhi Development Authority, Block District Officers or BDOs (in Delhi’s urban villages), Archaeological Survey of India, the forest department, and municipal corporations (five in Delhi: East, South, North, and New Delhi Municipal Corporations and Delhi Cantonment Board), notes the report. The authorities confirm that the time when the country becomes waterless, is not far. With a global pandemic and a looming water crisis, it is high time one should emerge wiser and more sensitive about the issues at hand and many more which are yet to present themselves.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a distasteful topping to this miserable cake. It has managed to increase the divide between the rich and the poor, with acceleration in the unavailability of water and the violence which is a likely consequence of the same. A lot of residents have been left in the lurch, as they are made to wait to access water for long hours, under scorching heat and unbearable conditions.

Communities facing the worst of this crisis are women, children, and the marginalized sections of the society. Women, from the ones who perform housework to those who are engaged in sex work are the ones, bitterly hit in the pandemic. “Brothel districts always suffer a great deal when it comes to the accessibility of water. However necessary it is right now, the condition has not really changed. The supply is minimal, challenging the culture of hygiene in a pandemic situation,” says a sex worker who lives in G.B. Road.

From sanitation to the limited accessibility of water, makes it hard for the workers to keep up with the global advice of washing hands and being sanitized twenty-four hours a day. In addition to this, residents from areas like Nehru Nagar, Shiv Vihar, some areas of Govindpuri and the like are facing a lot of issues during a nationwide lockdown. Expert Himanshu Thakkar maintains that the demand-supply gap is scary. Everyone is talking about washing hands for 20 seconds, but it’s a luxury for a vast chunk of the population that doesn’t even have access to water. He adds that the AAP government has fixed many gaps but the problem still remains acute. The central government has failed in this aspect its focus remains pushing for big projects.

Now is the time to act as the situation will get worse during peak summer. For people living in these areas, Covid-19 is a second concern as arranging drinking water remains their priority. “We know about the threat of coronavirus. But what can we do about it? My prime objective is to arrange drinking water for my family. We can live with the virus but we cannot survive without drinking water,” says Sumitra Yadav of Deoli.

How is it that we have not moved an inch beyond the report published in the year 2018? Why is it that the most vulnerable section are the ones prone to the most difficult of circumstances in any scenario? How are we still watching corporate machos deliver speeches on how water is not a social commodity, on all kinds of platforms they have access to! The fact that we have welcomed such ideas with open arms leads the very basis of us being privileged citizens of a not-so-privileged state.

“There seems to have emerged a giant water crisis in our area. The residents have to be in long queues to fill water every day. This has resulted in a very difficult situation for us, especially during a time when social distancing must be practiced,” says a homemaker, who is a permanent resident of Nehru Nagar.

The issue with the minority areas has increased with the increasing status of the lockdown. One of the female students (resident of Batla House) highlights a different but very real issue that remains ignored amidst the crisis. She says, “The area I live in, always bore the brunt of water crisis. With the rise in COVID cases, our supply of water has only reduced. This directly affects the female students living in that area. The days when we menstruate become more difficult.”

One of the female respondents who talked about the effects of lockdown on the ongoing water crisis in Shiv Vihar says, “Our area is densely populated and a state of lockdown means that the wait for a water tanker can last for three days in such a scenario, and we have to bear with shortage of water in the peak of summer season.” It is rather strange to imagine ghettoization with acute shortage of resources, which are the only necessities that the human race has every right to. However, it fails our understanding that divisions in the society are solely borne by the ones who are in the subordinate positions.

“Allocation of water has become a tedious task. The minimum amount of water that we are able to access is consumed in the family. How do we water the vegetables that we sell, even in the times of COVID-19? There is no water left for washing hands or keeping ourselves hygienic,” says a vegetable vendor who sits in Nehru Nagar every morning till noon. She insists that the crisis of water has only increased in the lockdown.

Another respondent highlighted the long-term consequence of such a state of affairs and its ground reality, “Collection of water is very difficult for an individual. So, it is likely that the children will help us every day. Their education is also getting affected this way.”

Who is to be blamed here? The woman who lets her children work or the structure which denies basic rights of education to women from the lower strata, through activities which are inversely proportioned to systemic oppression? The answers lie within us, within the very privileges we are surrounded by.

Chaitali Pant is a student of Masters of Arts in Gender Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. She loves to write and perform pieces on sexuality, politics and literature.The article has been written as part of the Jal Se Jalshay, a community and youth-led campaign by Haiyya to address water crises in Delhi. Following the campaign on twitter @JalSeJalashay.

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Haiyya is a youth-led feminist movement building organization based out India. We equip social changemakers, organizations and citizen groups to learn, innovate and adapt to the needs of the changemaking landscape.

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Haiyya

Haiyya is a youth-led feminist movement building organization that works at the intersection of youth leadership, social justice and people power organizing