Chennai is a city that has withstood the rise and fall of empires, but it now faces a grave existential crisis as it runs dry due to a severe water shortage, leaving millions in the lurch.
This week, taps ran dry as water levels in its four major reservoirs fell to one-hundredth of what they were this time last year, caused by a devastating drought.
The crisis in India’s sixth-largest city — with a population bigger than Melbourne and Sydney combined — has pushed schools, hotels and commercial establishments to close, while hospitals have put off non-essential surgeries.
Millions of people are lining up at water trucks to fill containers of water in a crisis that’s hit urban and rural Indians alike, and usually only half leave with their pots filled.
In Asia, 3.4 billion people could be living in “water stressed areas” by 2050, according to a 2016 Asia Development Bank (ADB) report.
“Water shortage should be treated as a permanent ongoing issue,” said Thuy Trang Dang, an urban development and water specialist at the ADB’s Southeast Asia office.
Diets filled with more water-demanding meat and dairy products and general growth in consumption also mean “the issue will only become more pressing unless dealt with not as a one-time crisis but as a way of life”, she said.
Australia, the world’s driest inhabited continent, not immune
Climate Change is projected to reduce water supplies mostly in the southwestern, central and southeastern regions of the United States. Today 10 percent of counties are at high or extreme risk of water shortages, and in 2050 that proportion of at-risk counties will grow to 32 percent. Projections assume an increase in greenhouse gas emissions through 2050 and a slow decline after.