CHENNAI: Papitha Prabhu works as a cook in a high-rise residential building in Alwarpet. She has to be at work by 10 am. But, the Metro Water tanker arrives in her neighbourhood at the time when she has to be at work. Caught in a situation where it is water versus work, the former usually wins, making Papitha late for her job almost every day. What’s tougher? Her husband is a person with disability, and Papitha is the only person at home who can, and has to, fetch six to seven buckets of water every day.
“Last week, I was late to work by almost two hours because the water tanker which was supposed to come at 9 am arrived only at 11 am. I get reprimanded for coming late, but if I leave for work on time then we will not have water for the next two days,” says Papitha, who resides at the housing board tenement at Raja Muthiah Puram in RA Puram.
The city is going to be water-starved this summer and the severity of water shortage is going to be at an all-time high from next month. In such a situation, those living at housing board tenements are among the first ones to face the brunt and the last ones on the priority list to get water. Express visited three slums in Kotturpuram and RA Puram to find out how water shortage affects people’s lives, especially the
At Raja Muthiah Puram, where approximately 400 families or more live, a majority of women work as cooks, house-help, assistants at shops etc. Because of the erratic timings of Metro Water-run water tankers, most women either lose a day’s salary or go late to work and eventually lose their jobs. “In some households, there is one family member who stays at home to fetch water whenever the tanker arrives. But in other households, children go to school, and the husband and wife leave for work. So when they miss the tanker, they go to the water filling station or to nearby areas to fetch water in the evenings. It is a real struggle to keep your job and get water for the house at the same time,” says Dhanalakshmi K, who shifted from Kannagam in Taramani due to acute water shortage.
Fight for survival
Only one tanker supplies water to two or three streets inside the colony, and people from other streets cannot fill this water. So when a person from another street tries to fetch water from a neighbouring street, all hell breaks loose. “People are desperate for water. If someone cannot fetch water from the tanker in the morning because of their work timings, they cannot get water from a tanker in the next street. In such quarrels, even children who help their mother fetch water get hurt,” says Geetha
But the problem doesn’t end there. On the one hand, people scrounge for water and on the other, even if they manage to get enough water to last a day, it is of poor quality. Locals complain that food cooked from water received from the tanker gets spoilt within a few hours. “We get water from tankers on alternate days. But, I can’t use that water on the same day. We let the water sit in the drums for two days, remove sediments and then use it. Even then, when I boil milk with this water, it curdles. An oily yellow colour layer forms on the surface of the water. Many have developed rashes after bathing in this water,” says Malathi K, a resident.
Left high and dry
Problems described by people at RA Puram were echoed by those living in tenements at Chitra Nagar in Kotturpuram. The scenario is slightly different here. People use water from hand-pumps only and haven’t bought water from tankers for the last six years. But, a majority are solely dependent on water cans now as they don’t get water from hand-pumps anymore.“Nowadays the little water we get from hand-pumps comes only at midnight or wee hours. People who go for work early in the morning hardly get any sleep because they need to wake up and wait near the hand-pumps at 12 am or 3 am to get at least one bucket of water. Sometimes, schoolchildren lose their sleep to help their parents fetch water,” says Seniammal, a resident of Chitra Nagar since 1969.
Residents here have done all kinds of experiments to get even half a bucket of water, as the borewells have completely dried up. Nirmala M, another resident, says that many stick a plastic tube into the pump and blow into it to make water flow from the other side.
A daily problem
At Raja Muthiah Puram, where approximately 400 families or more live, a majority of women work as cooks, house-help, assistants at shops etc. Because of the erratic timings of Metro Water-run water tankers, most women either lose a day’s salary or go late to work and eventually lose their jobs.