BENGALURU: Bengaluru would be panting and puffing running a half marathon, going by its metabolism rate.
The Bengaluru Urban Metabolism Project (BUMP) was initiated six years ago, in 2011, to measure the city's ecological ‘fitness’. Does it effectively use the resources that are poured into it? Or does it gather flab around the waist and run on stick-thin legs? A quick look at their findings is not encouraging.
The joint project, by Stockholm Environment Institute, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, and the Indian Institute of Science, measures the city's fitness through its water-metabolism rate.
One of their key observations is that the city’s natural rainfall is 1,700 MLD of rainfall a day and yet it pipes in 1,400 MLD a day from Cauvery which is a 100 km away. That is, we have enough water coming into the city naturally but our/human use of it so inefficient – the water metabolism is so sluggish – that we need to supply an equal amount from another source. Sadly, we are the ‘flab’.
Researchers who are working on this project – Dr Vishal Mehta and Eric Kemp-Benedict, who are senior scientists with Stockholm Environment Institute; Dr Deepak Malghan, Assistant Professor with Centre for Public Policy at IIMB – are also trying to work out if the city’s ecology can accommodate its growing economy. Is the city harming itself while trying to retain its stride in the development race?
Yes, according to Deepak, who won the Dr VKRV Rao Award for his work on this. “It is evident for anybody who simply steps out, to understand that we have indeed harmed ecology,” he says. There is an optimal scale of economy that the city's ecology can manage. “(But) We haven't managed to stay within that,” he says.
The scientists want us to take a closer look at city's ‘water-metabolism’. They say that the city’s water levels are not determined just by natural resources it has at its disposal – not the number of lakes or rainfall it receives – but by people's use of them. This should guide its water-management policies.
He says that the greatest stumbling block is our perspective while shaping policies and solutions. “We have long looked at water metabolism as an engineering problem. It is a complex social, political, economic, not to mention biophysical problem,” he says.
Civic authorities most helpful
The civic authorities have been cooperative in the team's efforts. “We have had some very good success working with BWSSB (Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board) and other state institutions. For example, BWSSB provided much of the data that you see on the BUMP website,” he says. “The real hard question is that while there are really enlightened individuals within an institution such as the BWSSB, the problems are deeper and structural. For example, BWSSB currently does not have a single groundwater hydrologist on its staff though its activities contribute more to groundwater dynamics than the background ‘natural’ hydrological cycle.”
Deepak says that their greatest achievement has been making all-concerned see water management differently. “More than anything else, we have been able to create a broad understanding of why groundwater and surface water are not two isolated systems,” he says, adding, “even more importantly, I would like to believe that we have managed to drive home the point that water is not a technical engineering problem but complex coupled system.”
For example, how the piped-water network fails the outer reaches of the city and therefore the residents are forced to rely on borewells and tankers. But they don’t see piping or technical interventions are the answer. “Urban water is not about piping something from 100 kms away. There is a need to invest seriously in addressing structural questions – both social and biophysical,” he says.
At an individual level, he says, we must see balancing ecology with economy as an ethical question and not a technical one. “That will take us half way through,” says the academic.
“I will not put my money on Bengaluru actually being able to solve multitude of its ecological problems,” he says. “That’s to say I am not entirely optimistic that Bengaluru can actually get its act together but I remain hopeful. It’s in this sense that I would like to emphasize that one can remain hopeful without being optimistic and that’s really important for our troubled times.”