Periurban waterscapes of Hyderabad

Parched periurban areas cry for attention (Image Source: IWP Flickr photos)
Parched periurban areas cry for attention (Image Source: IWP Flickr photos)

Hyderabad, envisioned as a high tech city, is growing rapidly. The city is gradually being transformed into high rise urban buildings that boast of uninterrupted supply of basic infrastructural services such as free or subsidised water supply, to attract private investments and generate further growth.

This has however led to severe water shortages. Groundwater tables in the city have dropped to precariously low levels and the pressure to meet the water needs of the city has now been transferred to periurban areas, informs this study from the chapter titled 'Digging deeper: Deep wells, borewells and water tankers in peri urban Hyderabad' in the book 'Water security, conflict and cooperation in periurban South Asia' edited by Vishal Narain and Dik Roth. 

Water to meet the needs of the city is now being sourced from nearby periurban areas outside its municipal boundaries. This has in turn brought about inequality in access to water for agriculture and other domestic uses in Hyderabad’s peri-urban areas affecting rural occupations. Many farmers have now turned away from agriculture and started selling water to private water tanker companies, who carry this water in large trucks and transport the groundwater to customers and industries nearby or in the city. Besides quantity, the quality of water in the city is also deteriorating at a rapid rate.

The study attempts to understand the mechanisms through which water gets transported from periurban to urban areas, the processes involved while ensuring access and its implications for water security in urban and periurban residents of the city. The study looks at the experiences of people living in neighbourhoods of Madhapur and Nanakramguda and those living in the urban built up areas of Cyberabad district that include locals and migrants and low to high income individuals and communities.

The study finds that:

Water becomes a splintered resource

Premium infrastructural spaces in Cyberabad receive twenty four hour undisturbed municipal water supply and while connections are available in other areas in the city, they are highly fragmented and disrupted. Households that do not receive municipal water supply through taps have to rely on water from tankers or bore wells. Even those who are connected to piped water supply receive water supply for only 1 to 2 hours every alternate day.

Conversations with people reveal that spaces which are occupied by “professionals” are often provided with premium access. On the other hand, spaces occupied by inhabitants from native villages or holding low-skilled jobs receive disrupted or inadequate water supply.

As a shop assistant confides, “What I’ve heard is that residential area[s], where VIPs (very important persons) used to stay, and in such areas, they get regular water [supply]. In the outskirts, village, low-class people, where they live, they experience water scarcity”1.

People negotiate spaces to get access to water

People living in these spaces of limited water access do not give up under these circumstances. Rather, they continue to work individually or collectively to find ways to secure their own water access and use. However, the ways in which they cope with water insecurity is influenced by their social and economic status, social relations, and their needs and desires.

While some inhabitants are able to get access to a more reliable, sustained and clean water source, others like those in the neighbourhoods of Madhapur use the limited municipal tap water for non-drinking purposes like bathing or household chores. For drinking water, many rely on bottled mineral water bought from shops in such cases.

The households that use tap water for drinking many a times use a reverse-osmosis (RO) filter to purify the water before drinking. For example, households in Madhapur do not consume water directly from the tap while many households in Nanakramguda use piped municipal tap water for both drinking as well as for other household uses. Only a few households boil water prior to consumption.

Women still continue to bear the brunt of water collection

Women in the households such as the wife or the daughter are often the ones bearing the physical and mental burden of water collection. Men, unless they live alone, are usually not involved in these duties. Women, particularly from the lower social classes have to work hard to provide for the family or pay for the education of children, while at the same time have to perform their water-related and other household duties.

While women bear the brunt of water collection duties, social class can further complicate gender-water relations. There are two situations where women are not responsible for such duties - if the household is located within a neighbourhood where there is an undisrupted and clean supply of water and if the household is located in an area with an interrupted water supply, but the woman of the house has other woman helpers who can perform the water collection duties.

Water access is thus intertwined with power relations in the city. Whether living in a “premium infrastructural space” with a constant clean water supply or a household with a helper, the ability for a household to pay provides them with the opportunity to access clean, safe and uninterrupted water supply and leaves the women of the household free from water collection duties.

However, the helper who assumes the water collection duties tends to be a female. Thus, class differences further get intertwined with gender water relations as can be seen in the case where the women in the house have a woman helper, on whom the water collection duties get transferred.

While people in the urban and peri urban areas of Hyderabad city attempt to cope with water scarcity by devising various means to secure water supply, only some are able to successfully negotiate their spaces while many others continue to remain water insecure.

As more and more cities in India expand and continue to devour surrounding rural areas, the newly developed peri urban areas increasingly suffer from haphazard development patterns and poor access to basic resources such as water and sanitation, besides disturbed livelihoods.

While periurban areas cry for attention, the urgent need is to acknowledge this gap at the policy level and act by devising sustainable solutions through better governance mechanisms and community participation.

1. Nathaniel Dylan Lim and Diganta Das (2022) 'Digging deeper: Deep wells, borewells and water tankers in peri urban Hyderabad' in the book 'Water security, conflict and cooperation in periurban South Asia' edited by Vishal Narain and Dik Roth. Published by Springer Nature. pp 97.

The book and all the chapters from this book published by Springer Nature are open access and can be found at this link