Residents of Chennai, by all accounts, are miserable and anxious. The city’s main reservoirs are dry, depleted by the failure of successive monsoons to provide replenishing rains. The shortfall has crippled the piped distribution network, which is now meeting just half of typical demand through a mix of secondary sources: desalinated water, groundwater, and the impoundments from nearby stone quarries. Even that supply is far from adequate. Piped water reaches households once a week or less. Tanker trucks, an expensive alternative, dole out water by the bucketful to desperate crowds.
The country that pumps more groundwater than any other has reached a water supply and food safety reckoning that threatens to upend political and economic stability, and long-term public health.
In this special report, building on years of on-the-ground coverage, Circle of Blue reveals how a nation of 1.3 billion people, by failing to protect its water, is courting disease and economic hardship as well as social upheaval.
Hand in hand with the groundwater depletion and contamination, is a food supply “toxic time bomb” of global implications. When irrigation wells go dry, farmers turn to untreated wastewater that is laced with industrial chemicals and human sewage.
As one villager said, “The water moved from providing life to taking lives.”