Please Sir, Can I Have Some More Paani?

Articles like this are always saddening to read. Delhi is facing an extreme water crisis. Even middle class people are foraging from tankers, and the millions of gallons of untreated sewage emptied into the River Yamuna every year are killing it.

One of the main figures cited in the article is Sunita Narain, of the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), the same people who brought us the summer pesticide/soda controversy. I know some readers will find her a controversial figure, but I don’t think the scale of Delhi’s water problem is really in dispute. Here are some of the stats Somini Sengupta brings to our attention:

  • 25 to 40 percent of the water sent into Delhi’s water pipes leaks out before it reaches its destination.
  • 45 percent of Delhi’s population isn’t connected to the public sewage system, and all of their waste runs back into the Yamuna untreated.
  • 2.1 million (Indian?) children die every year because of inadequate sanitation. [The article is unclear as to which children exactly are dying from sanitation related problems]
  • The river water is so polluted with fecal coliform that it’s not even remotely safe for bathing, which is required for devout Hindus.
  • Sewage plants have been constructed to treat waste, but have thus far have “produced little value.”

Better management might well make a difference:

Yet the most telling paradox of the cityÂ’s water crisis is that New Delhi is not entirely lacking in water. The problem is distribution, hampered by a feeble infrastructure and a lack of resources, concedes Arun Mathur, chief executive of the Jal Board.

The Jal Board estimates that consumers pay no more than 40 percent of the actual cost of water. Raising the rates is unrealistic for now, as Mr. Mathur well knows. “It would be easier to ask people to pay up more if we can make water abundantly available,” he said. A proposal to privatize water supply in some neighborhoods met with stiff opposition last year and was dropped. (link)

Privatization is, I think most people would agree, the wrong direction to go in for an essential resource like water. But the government seems to have been so thoroughly incompetent, it’s hard to see how simply pumping more money into the system will make a big difference. Government money is, like water, prone to “leak.”

43 thoughts on “Please Sir, Can I Have Some More Paani?

  1. Why is privatization the wrong direction to move in? You could, for example, have private delivery to households, and then a limited public delivery (a trickly) to public standpipes. Or you could have private delivery to households and public subsidy of a certain amount of it, like a water voucher for the first 1,000 rupees worth.

    A private company would care far more about issues of execution, since all that water lost means revenue lost. I’m not a knee jerk large L libertarian. However, when governments fail to provide services, they do end up being de facto privatized in any case. Either people are paying for services via bribes, or they are buying the service on the private market because the public supply is so low or so low quality. Proper privatization is far better than this sort of de-facto privatization.

  2. itÂ’s hard to see how simply pumping more money into the system will make a big difference.

    Pumping more money in without the proper accompanying incentives will be ineffective. You can create these incentives politically – transparency, monitoring and sanction – or via the market – which is simpler and more effective – but they have to be in place.

  3. Last comment – sewage, which has many externalities, is a far better example of a public good. Private sewage will probably not work as well as public sewage, even private sewage requires far tighter enforcement of anti-dumping and pollution laws.

  4. However, when governments fail to provide services, they do end up being de facto privatized in any case. Either people are paying for services via bribes, or they are buying the service on the private market because the public supply is so low or so low quality. Proper privatization is far better than this sort of de-facto privatization.

    Exactly right. In oh-so-socialist France, water distribution has been operated by private firms since the early 20th century, and there’s nothing wrong with the service or coverage. The questions is what kind of contract the firms operate under, and how the state and the private company divide the responsibilities and the benefits, and how well all of this can be enforced. The ideal government would do a better job providing public services than would the ideal private company, since the latter would cherry-pick and only serve profitable customers; but since neither the ideal government nor the ideal private company exist, it all comes down to case by case.

  5. I agree with Ennis, the distribution of electricity in Mumbai (BSES and TATA) and subsequently now in Delhi is privatized (thru NDPL which is a joint venture between Delhi Govt and Tata Power), you are correct in saying that private companies may care more about issues of execution and although the electricity problem has not completely gone away it has certainly become better.

  6. Ennis, point taken. The reason I said that was that I don’t think a private corporation will have an interest in getting water to the slums. Then again, clearly the government doesn’t seem to be interested in that either. Perhaps privatization with government oversight, and a mandate to provide water to everyone?

  7. I have been trolling the web for good stories of how old cities grew up and modernized their infrastructures. If someone has links, please share.

    I think India is about three years from falling totally out of the game if they don’t have a solution to their infrastructural needs. Bangalore is a classic example of a city that is crumbling, despite huge amounts of money coming in. Desi cities will need politicians with balls and less sticky fingers, business leaders with vision and a citizenry with dollops of patience – huge dollops. Which is why I have been trying to find out how NYC, Chicago etc. pulled it off. I think Shanghai is a bad example because no body wants central govt. style slate-wiping.

  8. I think it’s safe to say that food is as essential to life as water (and more essential than even shelter, clothing, education or health care). Yet generally people don’t advocate public control of the entire food distribution system, from farmer to samosa-wallah. So I’m curious how you can casually throw off a line like “Privatization is, I think most people would agree, the wrong direction to go in for an essential resource like water”. Especially in the context of a post whose subject is the abject failure of public water systems. From the article, it’s clear that an enormous amount of investment is required in two specific areas: (i) repairing the existing pipe network and adding new pipes and (ii) building reliable sewage treatment systems. This is going to cost $Billions. Now how do you do this effectively when:

    (i) people are only paying 40% of the cost of water (ii) there is undoubtedly much corruption in the Jal board (this is India after all)

    I don’t think privatization is always the solution. After all, the Delhi Metro is a good example of an apparently highly effective public works project. But I also don’t think that private involvement should be dismissed out of hand if one is serious about solving the problem and improving people’s lives.

  9. The Rural folks vote and get Gov. elected; the Gov. will take care of them more than the non-voting Middle class of large cities.

    Do you remember C. Naidu, the progressive CM who lost because of his pro-urban policies rather than pro-farmer policies. To get elected, just promise people cheap food, free rice, large farm subisdies, cheap electricity etc, nothing else matters.

    Welcome to Democracy.

  10. Ennis – “Why is privatization the wrong direction to move in?”

    As much as I love the free markets/privatization, water isone resouorce, where i would draw the line. why? you ask.. Two reasons – Bolivia and Bechtel.

  11. As much as I love the free markets/privatization, water isone resouorce, where i would draw the line. why? you ask.. Two reasons – Bolivia and Bechtel. Isn’t that a somewhat arbitrary line to draw in excluding water alone? I had the chance here in Austin to hear Sainath speak last week about the problem of water around the world, and I do sympathize somewhat with the position that allowing unrestricted private control could turn out to be regressive. Water in agricultural economies is literally power. But aren’t we ignoring the specifics of the situation in Delhi here? We are talking of a primarily urban market where the problem is one of distribution.

  12. This problem faces nearly every developing country in the world. In the U.S., early 20th century, the biggest reason for increase in life expectancy was not the advent of antibiotics or vaccines, rather an increase in the supply and distribution of potable water. I don’t see a problem with privatization so long as ultimate decision making authority rests with the government and the private activity is closely monitored and regulated. The sad part is, even if all the bureaucracy and corruption is cleared up, it will still take decades to install the proper infrastructure and treatment facilities. It will take decades after that for the waterways to recover. We are looking at a solution that is a 50 years away, best case scenario.

  13. As much as I love the free markets/privatization, water isone resouorce, where i would draw the line. why? you ask.. Two reasons – Bolivia and Bechtel.

    Add to that Atlanta, Argentina, Quebec, Stockton (CA), South Africa and others. Canada’s CBC did a good documentary on this issue though Delhi wasn’t featured. I believe it airs every now and then on LinkTV.

  14. Bham Bham Bhola Jagat Ki Mata Paani Da Da

    Both the river water and even ground water in India is pretty bad. They will have to make some fundamental changes in general life in India.

    Infrastructure, man, that is what is needed.

  15. A lot has been written about the developing world’s water needs and the consensus from the academics (world bank, WHO, etc.) is that privatization w/oversight is the answer:

    The Millennium Development Goals aim to reduce the number of people without access to water and sanitation in half by 2015. Evidence shows that the private sector, under contract with the public sector, has often yielded better results than public sector utilities alone. The ability of the private sector to deliver improved results depends heavily on the design of its contract with the public sector.

    Details at: http://rru.worldbank.org/PapersLinks/Privatizing-Water-Sanitation-Services/

  16. 9. If you think C.Naidu is great I have a rare 11 Rupee note to sell you. The guy was all talk and no work. See what the latest IndiaToday poll has to say about attitudes of people towards congress and incumbent YSR. The point of bringing these figures is to show that urban class is as pissed off with him, if not more than the farmers. And TDP suffered a route in local body elections of urban areas.

    I am travelling today and cann’t give more details. I guess you are one of those non-andhrites who got jealous seeing his media blitz. His route is a perfect example of democracy kicking out incompetent.

  17. Government money is, like water, prone to “leak.”

    nicely put. seriously though, i’m no expert, but so much of what i read about india’s problems these days lead directly or indirectly to a systemic lack of infrastructure.

  18. Delhi and the surrounding areas used to be heaviliy forested.

    Now with de-forestation we are left with a desert-like terrain.

    Although tropical fruits like papaya are possible to grow there, they are not grown.

    Dry land, lack of water (which could be solved via redirecting Jamuna and irrigation), leave us all high and dry.

    Ineffective sewage system and people literally going to the Jamuna’s banks to pass their morning stool all adds to the problem.

    Brahmins are no longer able to perform their pujas properly due to a lack of clean holy water.

    Others are left thirsty and without washing water which again adds to waste accumulation all round.

  19. Amardeep wrote :“Privatization is, I think most people would agree, the wrong direction to go in for an essential resource like water.”

    and

    “The reason I said that was that I don’t think a private corporation will have an interest in getting water to the slums.”

    VERY LONG COMMENT WARNING: ;-)

    I disagre, since I spent half-a-year studying emerging markets and economic development and my research (mainly into academic papers) showed facts that are simply the opposite. The University of California at Berkeley has found that privatisation of water helps prevent the tragedy of the commons and benefits the poor. There is a direct correlation between the reduction of infant mortality and water privatisation especially in low income households.

    With regard to slums – the government has failed to provide water to slums and they have no recource but to pay slum lords, and the like who restrict access to water or hoard it. Research has shown that slum dwellers pay a premium to procure water since the only recourse is to depend the water-mafia or the black market. Privitization would ensure that water carriers would compete for services and therefore result in a reduction in prices, improved quality, and consequently better access and health to slum dwellers.

    Corruption and the lack of incentives to innovate and improve upon the existing process in publicly owned utilities often lead to an inefficient system. This inefficient system often includes poor services and lack of network access, especially in poor areas. Poor service is often a result of utility shortage and problematic networks, so consumers can often receive inconsistent and stop and go services. Moreover, utility networks are often only available in the city or suburban areas, so rural area consumers canÂ’t get any service. Unfortunately, rural consumers are often very poor and they are the ones who are most in need of improved utility services.

    Privatized companies usually have strong incentives to improve productivity, reduce cost, increase user base and increase revenue. These incentives would drive privatized utility companies to improve utility quality and services, fix trouble some networks, expand existing networks and acquire new users. For instance, itÂ’s usually difficult for non-performing public utility firms to get funding to renovate the existing poor network infrastructure, but private companies may able to obtain private financing if they can show positive cash flow generating projects.

    Kritic wrote: As much as I love the free markets/privatization, water isone resouorce, where i would draw the line.why? you ask..Two reasons – Bolivia and Bechtel

    The challenge is that: private companies usually donÂ’t have the luxury to default loans and they are punished for investing in negative cash flow projects. Therefore, privatized companies face strong pressure to generate positive cash flow and improve the bottom line. Expansion requires capital investment, yet additional capitals need to be paid off. Thus companies often increase utility rates and offload costs to consumers. In emerging markets, the consumers who most need basic utilities are often the poor people, so they cannot afford the cost increase. This sort of increase led to the water war in Bolivia. ArgentinaÂ’s strategy of awarding the privatization opportunity to the lowest user fee bidder has helped to reduce prices. Although the regulator authorized a 13.5% fee increase, the fee was only increased by around 1.4% after understanding the consumers’ purchasing power, especially those living in poverty. 1.4% fee increase was bearable; moreover, the fee increase went into expansion projects to other poor people. Hence, the general public was more inclined to accept the Argentine method.

  20. Pretty simple solution: Massive Family Planning to drastically cut down on the number of children that lower class Indians have, and educate the young women by getting them out of the home and away from entrenched superstitious and wrong Hindu beliefs(where they will most likely be pressured to marry and young and keep having children for no real reason but to placate the parents or husband) and exposing the total hypocrisy of the many so called Indian values (that really aren’t)that just mask the power imbalance between men and women…otherwise Indian society will never develop into a more open-minded and compassionate one. Just because this is what people have been doing for the past few hundred years doesn’t mean it’s okay now. Pretending the rivers are clean so you can purify yourself while in reality making them more filthy by your actions is not “Indian” by any means, just pure selfishness. The other societal problem is that most Indians thoroughly lack civic and social responsibility because of whatever reason (the highly personal religious beliefs of Hinduism, free-rider issues, lack of faith in one another, etc.)Indians need to stand up and reveal the hypocrisy that surrounds them everywhere and find a more just solution (and not wait for the government to do so). Family planning and education of women are the only solutions for this backwardness and pity from the Western world and media. Thank you.

  21. Most people already pay for water over and above what a fairly low municipal charge may or may not exist. So , people will pay more than the low municipal charge .

    The question is ; Can weel run privatization be profitable with a charge that is not significantly more than the (current municipal + cost of tanker) .

    Because of the means that water is obtained, many Indians think that water should be free or almost so.

  22. Clarification to Because of the means that water is obtained, many Indians think that water should be free or almost so.

    Because of the means they use to obtain water, many poor Indians are conditioned to think that water should be free or almost so.

  23. Family planning and education of women are the only solutions for this backwardness and pity from the Western world and media.

    Dude, that’s the closest thing to a magic-wand I have seen today! Well done.

  24. It’ll sound off-topic, and probably like another magic wand, but here goes…

    Water resource management, particularly drinking water, is very very complex. The heart of the problem is conservation and management, not distribution. Even with good water management programs, Delhi will still fall short of its water needs. Sorry, but that’s just a fact. Too many people drinking, not enough water being treated, most of the waste being pumped into the Yamuna. You can build more pipes and pumps, they can be owned privately or publicly, but that doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of Delhi’s water is from rainwater, which is incredibly seasonal.

    Combine this with the horrible state of wastewater treatment in Delhi, the very poor collection, treatment, and management of monsoon-season freshwater, and you get…well…the current situation, which is so dire that water theft is commonplace. And no one steals water unless it’s either profitable or necessary for their continued survival. In Delhi, you have both.

    The solution to that problem is to reduce to cost of water to below what makes it a good resource to steal. That means drive up supply, which mandates better management. Improved distribution will help, but only to a degree. Privatization will not help significantly, and may actually exacerbate the problem, since the profit motive is already hard at work in this particular resource market.

    Publicly-funded storm-water collection, treatment, and storage facilities, plus a very large urban greenspace program (sounds kind of out there, but actually ties in closely to runoff treatment), and some attempt at water usage education would all be steps in the right direction.

  25. Arun:

    Pretty simple solution: Massive Family Planning to drastically cut down on the number of children that lower class Indians have, and educate the young women by getting them out of the home and away from entrenched superstitious and wrong Hindu beliefs(where they will most likely be pressured to marry and young and keep having children for no real reason but to placate the parents or husband) and exposing the total hypocrisy of the many so called Indian values (that really aren’t)that just mask the power imbalance between men and women…otherwise Indian society will never develop into a more open-minded and compassionate one. Just because this is what people have been doing for the past few hundred years doesn’t mean it’s okay now. Pretending the rivers are clean so you can purify yourself while in reality making them more filthy by your actions is not “Indian” by any means, just pure selfishness. The other societal problem is that most Indians thoroughly lack civic and social responsibility because of whatever reason (the highly personal religious beliefs of Hinduism, free-rider issues, lack of faith in one another, etc.)Indians need to stand up and reveal the hypocrisy that surrounds them everywhere and find a more just solution (and not wait for the government to do so). Family planning and education of women are the only solutions for this backwardness and pity from the Western world and media. Thank you.

    Well, that was…constructive. In the interests of fair play, I went through your comment and italicized salient points. So let’s see. Your idea of a solution is to kill the kiddies and make Indians better people, huh?

    Yeaaaahhh…good luck with that, guy.

  26. One solution would be to back out of the World Bank brokered water sharing deal with Pakistan. And, why not. Heck, if Manmohan Singh, the alleged Prime Minister of India can’t allow the “hot pursuit” thing, when Indian citizens are blown to high heavens. The least he can do is turn of the spigot. A couple of bad harvests across the border, a little (increased) unrest…..could do wonders in curbing violence in India. And, India could end up killing two birds with one stone.

    p.s. Sunita Narain has done the impossible. i.e, she got the notoriously slow, indian judiciary to intervene and order some much needed environmental reforms.

  27. p.s. Sunita Narain has done the impossible. i.e, she got the notoriously slow, indian judiciary to intervene and order some much needed environmental reforms.

    Kritic, I have seen a couple of her press conferences in India when she had brought up the whole cola issue. Her intentions may be good but she did seem a bit too media savvy and slick. Tony Snow would have been put to shame.

    Career aspirations in national politics perhaps Ms Narain? I wouldn’t be surprised.

  28. Intervention and improvements always help, but a larger question is whether the existing water resource of Delhi can ever support its burgeoning population. Urban metros all over the world are becoming bigger and bigger. That is a “Naisbitt megatrend.” But the infrastructure and natural resources of most urban centers will never measure up to the demands of a growing population. I am not up on the Delhi water problem, per se, but isn’t Delhi a naturally water-scarce city to begin with?

  29. Yeah, Floridian, it’s just never going to be enough. Delhi’s rate of growth will most assuredly outstrip its local supplies of water and electricity even if all things come together. In a healthy city with strong support infrastructure, that just means prices go up and surrounding locales (sometimes not so local) make their money exporting surplus.

    One solution would be to back out of the World Bank brokered water sharing deal with Pakistan. And, why not. Heck, if Manmohan Singh, the alleged Prime Minister of India can’t allow the “hot pursuit” thing, when Indian citizens are blown to high heavens.

    Ah ha. Because India has a…right…to the water? ahem Puh-lease do not run with a can opener when in the “Worms” aisle, thank you.

    Ethically, the upstream party is obligated to maintain a watershed as much as the downstream party. The upstream party cannot divert an entire river for its own uses, either, because that would be…let’s say it together, class…wrong. That’s it. Let’s not step back 50 years just because some militants decide to blow up some people on some trains. The two issues aren’t related, and should stay that way. The Indus Rivers treaty has been around a long time, and has on occasion even provided a forum for Pakistan and India to find common ground for resolving issues, or at least cooperating at a functional level. So don’t let’s start, huh?

  30. Ethically, the upstream party is obligated to maintain a watershed as much as the downstream party. The upstream party cannot divert an entire river for its own uses, either, because that would be…let’s say it together, class…wrong. That’s it. Let’s not step back 50 years just because some militants decide to blow up some people on some trains. The two issues aren’t related, and should stay that way. The Indus Rivers treaty has been around a long time, and has on occasion even provided a forum for Pakistan and India to find common ground for resolving issues, or at least cooperating at a functional level. So don’t let’s start, huh?

    Excuse me but I need to retch after reading this mindless drivel.

    Since when did ethics become relevant to this debate? I guess the murder of innocent civilians in Mumbai was “ethical” or the repeated butcherings in J&K are ethical? And I wonder if the “functional cooperation” is indeed functional. So let’s all just engage in high-brow academic debates about ethics 10,000 from miles away while we sip our lattes.

  31. Re: Comment 28.

    I am not sure I understand your “fair play comment”…throwing money at the situation is not a solution (these water management ideas are not self-sustaining in the long run; just extra-legal solutions that bypass the municipality; would you call for these types of ideas in a Western environment?) you’re just not acknowledging the real problems…the “Mother Theresa” way really doesn’t work…time to face the reality…the solution to most of India’s problems starts in the home…culture matters…otherwise you’re wasting your money and time…I’d rather have a solution to all this takes 100 years than one that takes 10 years but is just superficial…and please don’t think that a fellow Indian being critical of Indian culture is somehow treasonous…if you make the problem simple enough, you’ll have a solution that’s simple. Thank you.

  32. Arun, Good points in your post. At the root of the infrastructure issues and a lot of the societal problems is the unbridled population growth. Nothing can help India’s cities until this is brought under control.

  33. Brahmins don’t pollute the waters by using them for their pujas. They withdraw water from the rivers and take the water home in a lota to utilize for worship purposes.

  34. I am not sure I understand your “fair play comment”…throwing money at the situation is not a solution (these water management ideas are not self-sustaining in the long run; just extra-legal solutions that bypass the municipality; would you call for these types of ideas in a Western environment?) you’re just not acknowledging the real problems…the “Mother Theresa” way really doesn’t work…time to face the reality…the solution to most of India’s problems starts in the home…culture matters…otherwise you’re wasting your money and time…I’d rather have a solution to all this takes 100 years than one that takes 10 years but is just superficial…and please don’t think that a fellow Indian being critical of Indian culture is somehow treasonous…if you make the problem simple enough, you’ll have a solution that’s simple. Thank you.

    Fair play: pointing out phrases you use that are incredibly prejudicial and emotionally laden. And also total bullshit.

    Next: yes, I totally and wholeheartedly endorse these actions in the West. In fact, a great many western municipalities do this kind of thing already. Their water troubles are not nearly so serious. Stop with the “You’re just an Uncle Ram” act. It’s nutty.

    I don’t see what Mother Theresa had to do with water management. I’m fairly certain she didn’t really have an approach to this particular problem. Sure, I can acknowledge that the true heart of India’s problems are population-related. Got any ideas? Death camps? Forced sterilization? Eat the children? Anything? No? Okay then. On to discussing how to stem a water crisis.

    No one said “throw money at the problem,” either. I said that the main problem here is environmental conservation, and water-management-related. Or do you think that private companies will somehow materialize water from thin air? Or that pumping stations, better distribution and the like will be free? Or even profitable?

    And DesiDawg:

    At the root of the infrastructure issues and a lot of the societal problems is the unbridled population growth. Nothing can help India’s cities until this is brought under control.

    Aha. So…first the people go, then the solutions will follow. Once we do away with all the pesky Indians, Delhi will be a great place.

    Come on. We all know about India’s population problem. It’s not new, and moaning about it hasn’t accomplished anything in the last 50 years. Time to start figuring out how to actually deal with problems, one at a time.

  35. DD: Retch away. Just be sure to clean up after yourself, and try not to do it in the Yamuna, hmm?

    The two issues (Delhi’s water and bombings in Mumbai) simply aren’t related. India and Pakistan happen to have quite a bit of shared natural resources, what with being geographic neighbors and all. Using those environmental resources as weapons in political battles is fucking stupid, and will lead to even worse degradation of what is already a horribly damaged set of ecologies.

    Ecology, by the way, is something that this “latte sipping” brown understands well. And ethics is very much at the heart of most environmental debates. So feel free to pooh-pooh it.

  36. Sorry DesiDawg and Arun. The population problem is economic, not cultural. Many well thought out programs have been instituted since the 60′s based on your reasoning and they failed, ie. Rockefeller Institute as highlighted in Mahmood Mamdani’s book The Myth of Population Control: Family, Caste, and Class in an Indian Village.

    There’s a reason why enormous stresses are placed on urban infrastructure in the Third World and, again, its economic reasons- globalized agriculture, drastic changes in rural land tenure agreements, prospect of higher wages in urban areas, the development of slums and urban sprawl, etc. I recommend reading Mike Davis’ essay entitled Planet of the Slums in NLR if you can access it or a review of his book (same title) adapted from that essay.

    Simply put, when you are poor, children are a valuable investment model. This cultural/Malthusian argument of population growth is defunct at all levels of policy work because it is simply what Mamdani called it- a myth.

  37. NVM, Maybe I wasn’t making myself clear. In the absence of employement in the rural areas, there will continue to be uncontrolled migration to the metros. No amount of investment in infrastructure can keep pace with this rapid migration. I read somewhere that 400 people come to Mumbai each day. The secret behind China’s shiny, new, orderly cities is as much investment in infrastructure as it is the system of “Hukous”-permits which citizens need before they can come live in these cities. I don’t condone the use of these permits however, there has to be BOTH some sort of control on population growth and creation of dispersed opportunities across the entire country.

    Salil M, Sorry but you are behaving like a typical armchair strategist-you are not trying to understand the problem and offer purely academic solutions. The question of ecological damage is irrelevant to the situation. We need to stop the low intensity war first and then we can worry about the damn environment. Heck we can both plant a seedling. Ok?

  38. Salil M, Sorry but you are behaving like a typical armchair strategist-you are not trying to understand the problem and offer purely academic solutions. The question of ecological damage is irrelevant to the situation. We need to stop the low intensity war first and then we can worry about the damn environment. Heck we can both plant a seedling. Ok?

    I think most of what I recommended was quite concrete and non-academic. But you’re actually very wrong when you say “We need to stop the low intensity war first and then we can worry about the damn environment.” Far fewer people are affected by the “low intensity war” (sorry, it’s not a war, guy) than are affected by environmental concerns. Again, this is totally off-topic.

    This might only serve to enhance my reputation with you as an “arm-chair academic,” but I used to work for the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics. I can dig up several studies if you’d like that directly link economic development to good conservation strategies, and not just in the obvious “higher valuation of recreational areas” way people might think. Simply put, having a healthy environment makes having a healthy economy far far far easier. And creating economic incentives for environmental management is something India routinely ignores.

    I’d recommend for anyone who wants a slightly-dry-but-plain-English report, to start here to understand the latter.

    It works for the US. It will work with minor adaptations for India, should anyone develop the political will to see it through.

    I personally think that the EE approach is a teeny bit dangerous at times because it places so much emphasis on valuation, though it’s far far far far far better than doing nothing and saying things like, “oh, terrorism is far worse, we need to deal with that, then we’ll get around to the pesky environment.” As if undoing environmental damage is so easy that all you need to do is plant a few trees, and hey presto! New environment.

  39. Quizman,

    Brilliant comment. I was aware that the expert opinion on water privatization was in favor of a limited form of privatization. This has been an interesting discussion for me in clarifying some of the issues behind it. Thanks all.

    Coming back to the case of Delhi : there are differences between this particular case and the other examples cited. I doubt that Atlanta, Quebec or Stockton, CA had/have quite the sort of crisis that Delhi has today. In the case of Bolivia, the “water wars” started in Cochabamba because of the agricultural problems introduced for the farmers. Farmers who had not paid for water use for generations were suddenly asked to pay.

    This is not to undercut the experience of other countries in this extremely complicated and vital issue, and it is certainly not to pooh-pooh anyone’s opinions. Sainath recommended the water activist Maude Barlow’s book “Blue Gold” the other day. Just passin’ it on for folks who want to get an activist’s view of things. (Here is an interview with Maude Barlow from Mother Jones.)

    Salil, Improved distribution will help, but only to a degree. Privatization will not help significantly, and may actually exacerbate the problem, since the profit motive is already hard at work in this particular resource market. It seems to me that the profit motive is working in a bizarre fashion. Due to significant market imperfections, there is an industry that has sprung up that ought not to be there to this extent in the first place. Driving around trucks full of water is a very cost-inefficient way to distribute water.

    I can tell you that the water problem in Indian citis has to be seen to be believed. I am not surprised there are people even quitting jobs to be able to get some water. A limited privatization of urban areas of Delhi might not solve the problem for everyone, and of course, not the problem of over-population in India or the problem of the rural poor moving to the cities. It is not intended to solve larger macro-economic problems. It will only solve the problem of water supply and of conservation in Delhi for those who are able to pay for it (and property taxes and such in these areas, which will no doubt appreciate in price, could be used to make it progressive). Note Quizman’s comments on the Argentine model. The Berkeley paper linked to earlier noted that ‘child mortality fell 5 to 7 percent in areas that privatized their water services overall; and that effect was largest in the poorest area’. Water privatization does not have to be regressive.

  40. …But aren’t we ignoring the specifics of the situation in Delhi here?…

    Dammit. Why do people run to bolivia,france, and what not when talking about water privitisation. Lessons from there may or may not apply to India. why bring generic arguments capital cost, it will not server poor people yada yada. Why don’t we actually look at what is happening in delhis’ case.

    Public Eye on Public Services There lies all the nuance you need to understand the crap that is going on.

  41. Well, I feel vindicated.

    The problem’s being acknowledged here in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, it’s being treated as…wait for it, wait for it…a WATER POLICY ISSUE. What a concept! It turns out that water scarcity is a resource management situation after all.

    Not an excuse for a war. Not a call to take up arms.

    Bizarrely, in the American scenario, no one’s suggesting we sterilize people in Georgia, New Mexico, or California. No one’s touting privatized water supplies, either. Instead, there are suggestions that if you live in a desert, act like you live in a desert.

    How strange.