ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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From Intermittent to Continuous Water Supply

A Household-level Evaluation of Water System Reforms in Hubli–Dharwad

Employing a matched cohort research design, eight wards with intermittent water supply are compared to eight wards upgraded to continuous (24 x 7) supply in a demonstration project in Hubli–Dharwad, Karnataka, with respect to tap water quality, child health, water storage practices, and coping costs across socio-economic strata. Water consumption and waste in the intermittent zones, and the potential for scale-up of continuous supply to the entire city, are estimated. It was found that the 24 x 7 project improved water quality, did not improve overall child health, but did reduce serious waterborne illnesses in the lowest-income strata, reduced the costs of waiting, increased monthly water bills, and potentially reduced water security for some of the poorest households.

The authors are thankful for the feedback received from the two anonymous reviewers.

In March 2003, the World Bank came to the twin cities of Hubli–Dharwad, Karnataka, to discuss the much-needed reforms to its piped water network. The Hubli–Dharwad Municipal Corporation (HDMC) had been struggling to provide adequate water to its customers; 25% of the city’s households accessed water through public standpipes, while many accessed water through unauthorised connections. Non-payment of bills was common, and water was being supplied intermittently at intervals of between one and eight days, with a median frequency of five days. Shortly after this visit, the Karnataka Urban Water Sector Improvement Project (KUWASIP) was set up as a private–public partnership (ppp) to supply and manage water to three cities in Karnataka: Hubli–Dharwad, Belgaum, and Gulbarga. The new water supply was to be continuous and fully pressurised (“24×7 water”), and would be piloted in demonstration zones within these chosen cities with a view to scale it up over time. Continuous water supply (CWS or 24×7) is the international supply standard for urban water utilities; it is favoured by the World Bank for all but the most water-short urban areas (World Bank 2004), and it is also the urban service norm approved by the Government of India (Ahluwalia 2011).

Almost immediately, 24×7 water became controversial in India. Critics argued that capital cost recovery coupled with public standpipe closure would hurt the poor; that the current water availability in Hubli–Dharwad might not be sufficient to provide continuous supply to the rest of the city; and that the necessary infrastructure upgrades were too expensive to be justified by the stated benefits. In addition, 24×7 water projects were, and continue to be, launched as ppps, and water privatisation faces strong opposition from citizens and activists. Proponents expected that water quality would improve under 24×7 (mainly because pipes under continuous pressure leak clean water out whereas pipes that periodically are empty leak contaminated water in). They also argued that under intermittent water supply (IWS), households discarded any remaining stored water when new deliveries came, because “fresh” water was preferable to stored water, and that 24×7 regimes would prevent such waste. Furthermore, 24×7 would reduce household costs associated with IWS deliveries, such as waiting for, and then collecting, storing and treating water (collectively referred to as “coping costs”); utilities would also benefit from better managed water deliveries with less leakage and thus higher rates of cost recovery. On grounds of better water quality, (resulting in) better health, less water waste, reduced coping costs, and better cost recovery, the proponents argued that the capital and other associated investments were justified. Our research team attempted to evaluate these claims, primarily from the vantage point of households.

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Updated On : 18th Dec, 2018
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