Urban demand for water in southern India has been increasing at an alarming rate at exactly the same time that, in peri-urban and rural areas, there has been a rapid increase in the intensification of agricultural water use as a result of increased irrigation and improved rainfed farming. The net result is that water resources are being overexploited throughout the region, but the rate of overexploitation appears to have been accelerated in areas that have also been exporting water to urban areas such as Chennai. Findings presented in this paper indicate clearly that the increases in Chennai's demand for water has contributed to a major reduction in the availability of water for domestic, agricultural and other uses in the two representative peri-urban villages that were the focus of detailed survey work.
A premise of the study was that high-levels of water transfer from villages to urban areas would lead to conflict. The findings indicated, however, that initial conflicts or resentment to water transfer was fairly short lived as people in the villages accepted the inevitability of this activity and perhaps their own powerlessness to stop it. Finally, the study indicated clearly that the strategy of buying water from farmers' wells to meet Chennai's water demand is unsustainable and, hence, fundamentally flawed. Chennai's demand for water continues to increase in part because of migration from the urban areas but there is no indication of a long-term sustainable strategy emerging for meeting this demand. Until this happens the outlook is rather bleak for the livelihoods of poorer and more disadvantaged social groups living in Chennai's urban and peri-urban areas and the ever more distant rural areas that are exporting water to Chennai.
Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS), Chennai, India, 20 pp.