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Abysmal deficit of water, food waste recycle treatment 'impacting' Chennai life

By Simi Mehta* 

We are living in a state where the most basic needs like food and water are not assured to the people residing in the urban areas, which account for the biggest sources of food and water wastage. Socio-economic inequality in society which is pervasive in urban areas is one of the main reasons for this.
To highlight more on this, the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, organized a #WebPolicyTalk, The State of Cities – #CityConversations on Urban Water, Food and Waste Cycling and Socio-economic Equity.
Chaired by Dr Shyamala Mani, professor (retired), National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), New Delhi, and senior advisor, Centre for Environmental Health, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), Gurugram. she spoke about major problems with food and water accessibility in urban areas and how water is exploited and polluted by some communities in urban areas.
She enlisted the problems of waste management and the key issues and highlighted recent problems in the field of waste management like proper management of plastic and electronic devices. She highlighting problems from the Indian administrators’ perspective, and how it affects the lives of the people, said that some of the key issues of climate change are ignored at the implementation level.
The main speaker, Suhasini Ayer, co-founder of the Auroville Centre for Scientific Research, a planning and architectural design studio, started the talk with a case study of Chennai to discuss the issue of water and food waste recycling in urban India. Focusing on water and sewage situation in Chennai, she said that the projected sewage in the city is in deficit and the ability of the sewage treatment facility is abysmal compared to the level of waste.
Growth in the population of the city between 1997 and 2006 is one of the major reasons for it. Since the sewage capacity is the same as it was in 1997, it largely affects the city by degrading the water bodies in the city. This has affected the marshlands and the forests near the city, she added.
She reviewed policy decisions taken by the government of Tamil Nadu and highlighted the project Sponge Park of Chennai, stating, the issue associated with the degradation of water resources near the city is caused by dump lands, which leads to degradation of health and quality of life. The deprived sections have been deeply affected by it.
According to her, the huge labour population is coupled with lack of new formally established slums in Chennai. The transformation of Chennai’s area, where the marshlands and the greens have been occupied and changed into either residential or commercial use, has distorted the whole water cycle of the city.
She reviewed various projects concerning urban infrastructure and governance for Chennai in the past 25 years. She underlined how 40% of the storm water management projects, which also include rainwater management, lead to mixing of sewage and drainage water, wasting massive amounts of decent quality rainwater released in water bodies.
Talking about the distribution of sources of food items for Chennai which come from various nearby cities like Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Coimbatore, she said, one of the largest food wholesale markets near Chennai, Coimbatore, is a major hub for food waste, too. Food waste is not only affecting the shortage of food, but also the nutritional cycle of the people in the city.
Chennai accounts for one of the highest production of waste in the nation. While waste management budget is continually increasing, its management required attention, especially the dumps in various fields like Perungudi and Kondungaiyur.
She reviewed water harvesting and desalination activates in Chennai, unplanned development of which has led to the inaccessibility of public transport in the city. The vegetation of the city has reduced dramatically and there is increase in air pollution. At the same time, she talked about how lack of planning like during the flood of 2015 affected Chennai.
Participating in the debate, Dr Fawzia Tarannum, assistant professor, Department of Regional Water Studies, TERI School of Advanced Studies, New Delhi, said that lack of accountability and awareness is one of the central issues for urban planning. She talked about the importance of city dwellers and how they face most issues in a city, and basic problems in civic and water infrastructure, which she has dealt with as a researcher in various projects.
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*CEO, IMPRI

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