Urban water crisis in Delhi: stakeholders responses and potential scenarios of evolution

An inadequate piped water supply from the public utility, characterized by intermittence and unreliability, and supplemented by private uncontrolled groundwater abstraction, is a common feature of most Indian cities as well as other developing cities in the world Given the high level of pollution of urban aquifers, the usual diagnosis consists in considering private groundwater abstraction as an undesirable consequence of the mismanagement of the public utility, one which is bound to disappear when proper reforms are implemented in order to extend the reach and enhance the level of service provided by the municipal water supply network. This paper proposes to question this conventional diagnosis with a case study of the capital city of India, Delhi. Based on this case study, the paper shows that the scenario of convergence towards universal access to potable water supply through a centralized public network is not the only long term scenario that can take place in developing cities similar to Delhi. Considering alternative scenarios, in which private coping systems play a role in shaping the long term technical trajectory of the urban water management system, allow the highlighting of certain important policy tools in achieving the sustainability of water management in developing cities.

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