Water Asia 2000
Water empowers women


Urban floods: are they inevitable?
Small grants facility


Small efforts pay big dividends


Rebirth of rainwater in Texas
Ashram has ashtray for water also
The half-round PVC rainwater system


Tankas secure Dwarka's existence


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Vol. 2                                    No. 5                           October 2000

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Urban floods: are they inevitable?

Early this year, Andhra Pradesh was in the news for the drought that the state faced. The monsoon was below normal, and water scarcity loomed large over the state.

Lessons from Tokyo

The average yearly precipitation in Tokyo is about 1,400 mm. More than two billion cub.ic metres of rain falls in Tokyo every year, which is about the same quantity of water that is consumed annually. The city often experienced water shortages and floods, alternately, every few years.

Residents in Tokyo did not appreciate rainwater as a resource for a long time. They overlooked the rainwater that flowed into drains and considered that more dams were needed upstream when they ran short of city water supply. They have felt that rain falling in reservoir areas was a ‘must’ whereas rain falling in their communities was a ‘nuisance’.

Over the past few years, all this has however changed. The city has now gone in for water harvesting on a large scale. Sumida city, a part of Tokyo, has been actively promoting rainwater utilization policies with three aims: developing water resources in communities, restoring the regional natural water cycle, and securing water supply for emergencies. About 70 per cent of the facilities at Kokugikan (Sumo wrestling arena) today use only rainwater. Since 1982 the city has initiated rainwater utilization in its different facilities 776 and constructed Rojison, a simple rainwater utilization system, in many communities of the city hand in hand with its residents. The Sumida City ward's own office can boast of a rainwater utilisation system that covers half of the building’s water needs and saves 1.8 million (US $ 13,500 at present rates).

Following the example of Kokugikan, nearly 500 buildings in Tokyo, have introduced rainwater utilization systems. The number of houses adopting full-scale rainwater utilization systems is gradually increasing, too.

In August, the state was again in the news. For precisely the opposite reason. Hyderabad experienced heavy rainfall and the result? Unexpected and unprecedented urban flooding. While allegations flew thick and fast, the fact remains that this is another state that does not know how to manage water.

Urban flooding is not a novel experience. Increasingly, more and more cities and towns face waterlogged streets. And as years go by, even relatively small downpours are enough to clog up drains, fill up streets and disrupt life. Meanwhile, cities continue to face water scarcity and the water tanker business continues to grow. Hyderabad is just one example of bad water management practices. Concerned citizens and civil society have been campaigning for saving the lakes in Hyderabad. Citizens Against Pollution, an environmental action group based in Hyderabad puts the blame squarely on human mismanagement of water and the government. Years of siltation of tanks have reduced their water storage capacity. Encroachment of nalas, lakes and other waterbodies, choking of streams and stormwater drains have taken their toll. While hunting for scapegoats and blaming the central government and meteorological office, chief minister Chandrababu Naidu finally admitted that encroachments were responsible for the floods.

Rainwater harvesting offers a solution to deal with both urban water scarcity and urban flooding. If all residents and institutions install water harvesting structures it will go a long way in reducing urban floods

The Centre for Science and Environment prepared a dossier of news clippings on reports that appeared on urban floods in various urban areas across the country between April 1999 and July 2000. The compilation was alarming. Newspapers had reported floods in Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai. Such incidences in lesser known cities and towns probably go unreported because these are not covered by the national-level media. In Mumbai, unchecked construction of big buildings, loss of open spaces, and clogged drains were the cause. Environmentalists feel that with increased concretisation, the rain-holding capacity of the city has been reduced, putting a strain on the age-old stormwater drainage system.

Recurring urban floods: An indicator of human mismanagement of water

There is a need for urban areas to improve water management. Urban water harvesting offers a solution to deal with both, meeting water demand as well as reducing the intensity of urban flooding. In our office at CSE, we have done our bit. We have installed a rainwater harvesting system for groundwater recharge.

Even after a heavy downpour, hardly any rainwater leaves our premises. Cities like Tokyo have also resorted to rainwater harvesting to deal with the twin problems of water scarcity and urban floding (See Box: Lessons from Tokyo). Cities can and must obtain the water they consume on their own as far as possible. Rainwater falling in cities should not be wasted. Numerous rainwater collecting and storing structures should be built in cities themselves.

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Paying the price of human folly

If all residences and institutions follow suit and open areas have water harvesting structures installed, this would go a long way in reducing urban flooding. As well as recharging depleting groundwater aquifers.


Some persons and institutions working on water management in urban areas:

1. Shekhar Raghavan,
Centre for Policy Studies
D–15, Bayview Apartment
Kalakshetra Colony, Besant Nagar,
Chennai 600 090
Fax: 044–4901360
2. KL Vyas,
Save Lakes of Hyderabad,
Flat No. 112
Plot No. 5344
Sowney Apartments
Huda Complex,
Saroor Nagar
Hyderabad 500 035
Fax: 040–4043579
3. The Bombay Natural History Society,
Hornbill House
Shaheed Bhagat Singh Road
Mumbai–400 023

Small grants facility

The Small Grants Facility (SGF) for the water sector supports small initiatives in water resource management, drinking water supply and environmental sanitation in India. SGF was established under a agreement between the department of Economic Affairs (DEA), ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The SGF is supported by a core grant of $300,000 from environment programme under the UNDP’s country cooperation fund (CCF) (1997-2000) for India and other donors such as the Ford Foundation, the Department of International Development (UK), Canadian International development Agency (CIDA) have also contributed to this fund.

Pilot projects aimed at testing innovative approaches for replication in larger projects are funded under this facility. This means on culmination they should have the ability to draw in larger investments or influence government policy. Documentation of such experiments along with those that encourage sectoral development or policy debate are also considered for funding under the SGF.

Community based organisations (CBO), non-governmental organisations and resource institutions are eligible for the grants. SGF supports projects for a duration of up to one year with a maximum of $30,000 to each beneficiary.

Grant applications are first screened. Short listed organisations have to submit detailed proposals for a review. After a rigorous expert review, proposals are considered for approval. The final selection of a project is subject to the approval by the steering committee, headed by the joint secretary of the MoEF and consisting of representatives of ngos, government, UNDP and the WSP-SA.

In the financial year 2000, the SGF sub-committee sanctioned 8 projects. In 2001 the focus will be on funding high quality projects, utilisation of all remaining donor funds and finalising a new SGF implementation Agency.

For further information:

Arun Pandhi, SGF – Coordinator, 55 Lodhi Estate,
P.O Box 416, New Delhi–110 003, Tel: 011–4690488/9