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Water supplies returning in New Delhi after protest damage

Published 23/02/2016

Residents crowd around a tanker delivering drinking water at a slum in New Delhi (AP)
Residents crowd around a tanker delivering drinking water at a slum in New Delhi (AP)

Engineers are working to restore New Delhi's full water supply after protesters damaged a key canal in a neighbouring state and disrupted supplies over the weekend.

Some supplies resumed to northern and central parts of the city, and could reach western neighbourhoods by Tuesday evening, said water minister Kapil Mishra.

Seventy water tankers have been sent to western areas where taps have been dry for up to two days.

The destruction of the Munak canal link by protesters in the state of Haryana highlights the extreme water vulnerability faced by the Indian capital's 18 million residents.

The canal, which channels water from north Indian rivers, accounts for about 60% of the city's water supply. Another 25% comes from groundwater, while the polluted Yamuna River supplies about 12%.

Even when the Munak canal flow is unimpeded, the overall supply is not enough to meet New Delhi's needs, and shortages are common during dry seasons.

The situation is especially bad for the most marginal communities living in slums or riverside shanties, where many rely on sewage-tainted river water, leaks from broken pipes or deliveries by municipal water trucks.

Others in New Delhi draw heavily from the ground, leading the city's aquifer levels to decline by 13ft in the last decade, according to the Central Ground Water Board.

When protesters from the underprivileged Jat community breached the canal wall on Saturday, they effectively cut off about two-thirds of New Delhi's water. The Jats, traditionally a farming community in India's ancient system of caste hierarchy, were demanding quotas in government jobs and educational institutions.

Clashes between the protesters and government forces left 12 people dead before Jat leaders agreed on Monday to end the demonstrations while negotiating with officials, and the army took control of the canal.

Authorities in New Delhi had issued warnings over the weekend of impending water shortages, advising residents to use the resource sparingly and cancelling all school classes on Monday.

But while some residents were filling buckets and bottles in case the situation worsened, others, including many wealthier households that rely on groundwater, were shielded from the crisis.

Delhi water board authorities are working with experts in the army and Haryana state to repair the damage done by the protesters, said Mr Mishra. Of the city's three water treatment plants, one is working at full capacity, while the other two have resumed limited operations.

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