Groundwater, self-supply and poor urban dwellers - A review with case studies of Bangalore and Lusaka by IIED

This paper by IIED explores the extent to which urban dwellers, and especially those living in low income areas, depend directly and indirectly on groundwater.

It investigates the difficulties they face and emphasizes the need for better integration of groundwater in the planning and management of urban water resources.

It is based on a review of literature, substantiated by two case studies of Bangalore, India, and Lusaka, Zambia, and discussions with experts. The conditions in Bangalore are fairly typical of cities in India and elsewhere which are underlain by low-yielding weathered crystalline bedrock.

The study presents the following main points and policy measures -

  • Self-supply, and the direct and indirect use of groundwater: The paper is concerned primarily with urban self-supply of water and the direct use of local wells by low-income households. There can be no exact division between the two categories. Indirect use of groundwater may be monitored and measured by the utility that provides it, but it is not always categorised in official water statistics.
  • Trends in urban groundwater use: The paper draws on aggregate statistics based on USAID’s Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) on sources of water used for drinking purposes. It is difficult to discern a general trend from the very varied patterns of urban direct dependence on groundwater; there is great variation between the surveyed countries. In principle, a reported increase in the use of groundwater could be a positive sign, reflecting projects and policies that are successfully expanding the number of wells, and thereby improving water access by poor people. There are, nevertheless, situations where increasing direct dependence on groundwater is a symptom of problems that need to be addressed.
  • Groundwater, the Millennium Development Goals and quality issues: The proxy indicators used by MDG to define ‘improved’ sources of water and sanitation is flawed, as even protected wells can yield non-potable water; indeed, where the groundwater is contaminated, an ‘improved’ well offers no real protection at all. Similarly, several latrine types, including some in the ‘improved’ sanitation categories, allow faecal matter to percolate out into the groundwater.
  • Sustainable groundwater development: Urban poor people’s direct dependence on groundwater remains, but this is not fully appreciated in planning and decision-making at strategic city level, or in the international debate on groundwater, water access, and poverty alleviation.
  • Climate change and groundwater: The lack of data about groundwater resources has implications for climate change research and policy-making. Climate change in areas affected by reduced (or periods of reduced) river flow may cause an increase in the use of groundwater, both direct and indirect. In this case it is already appropriate to take measures to enhance the recharge of local aquifers and to safeguard their quality.
  • Appreciate local hydrogeology: Local conditions must be understood, including an area’s hydrogeology, how its wells are monitored, along with government policies, institutional capacity, and interventions carried out by foreign aid programmes and NGOs. Any measures taken need to be contextualized; for instance, rainwater harvesting and other aquifer recharge-inducing steps may be pertinent in most city environments where large amounts of water are drawn from wells.

The lesson learnt is that local hydrogeological conditions, together with the cultural and political situation, influences the strategies of the poor for accessing water, and the strategies of city governments and utilities for providing it.

Download the paper here -

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