Water, Sanitation and Economic Growth in Indian Cities

In India’s fast-growing Madhya Pradesh State, sanitation and sewerage initiatives, along with refurbishments to aging water treatment plants, are making way for urban development.


By the numbers

5.6 million
people to receive access to treated water supply (projected)
1.6 million
people to receive access to sewerage and sanitation (projected)
60%
reduction in the volume of wastewater discharged to storm drains (projected)
1.1 million
people to receive flood protection (projected)

Source: Report and Recommendation to the President 2008.


Watch: Clean Water for the City of Lakes

Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh—Girija Sharma, 67, says life in Vijaynagar Colony, in the heart of Bhopal in India’s Madhya Pradesh State, is vastly better since the arrival of reliable water supply.  Before the ADB-supported Urban Water Supply and Environment Improvement Project helped improve water supply in Bhopal, there was an acute shortage of water as well as an erratic supply. Now that water is available on a regular basis, Girija can better plan her housework and is often done by 10 a.m., she says, giving her more time to spend with her children and grandchildren.

Before the construction of the municipal water-supply system at Vijaynagar, the community relied on water from privately dug tube wells. Fortunately, in 2003, ADB lent the Government of India $200 million, followed by an additional loan of $71 million in 2008, to increase water supply and improve sanitation in Madhya Pradesh’s urban centers.

The Sharmas lives changed when the Vijaynagar Reservoir, financed by the project, became operational in 2009, supplying 1 million liters of water per day to residents.

Beyond convenience, water brings growth

In 2003, rapid population growth was expected in the cities of Bhopal, Gwalior, Indore, Jabalpur, in Madhya Pradesh. That has proven true. In 2001, 4.67 million lived in the four cities. By 2011, according to Census of India data, the population in the four cities had increased to 5.86 million. Such urban growth often presents opportunities, including new jobs and higher incomes. 

However, in urban Madhya Pradesh, poor water and sanitation had long held back economic growth. A decade ago, water was available for only a few hours a day in the wet season and for less than an hour every other day during the dry season. Over half the amount of water  from the distribution centers leaked from pipes or was stolen through illegal connections before reaching consumers, exacerbating shortages and increasing the cost of supplying water. Meanwhile, raw sewage was dumped in gutters and septic tanks, with the overflow draining into lakes, rivers, streets, and drainage channels. Open areas were littered with garbage. The situation was a threat to public health and  deterrent to investments.

Improvements to municipal water and sanitation services were urgent if these urban centers were to fulfill their potential as trade and commerce hubs and tourist destinations.

“The project not only strengthened water supply, sewerage and sanitation, storm water drainage, and solid waste management in the four cities in Madhya Pradesh, it also strengthened institutions and piloted community initiatives to improve slums and empower women,” says Hun Kim, Country Director of India Resident Mission of ADB.

The project has improved access to water for 5.3 million people, improved sewerage and sanitation for 0.5 million people, and improved solid-waste management for 4.7 million people, addressing bottlenecks in basic services in Madhya Pradesh’s fast growing cities, and improving lives for people like the Sharmas.

Preserving Natural Beauty

The Bhopal Municipal Corporation received $12.7 million of the ADB loan to rehabilitate pumping stations to improve water supply.

The project has rehabilitated six 30- to 40-year-old pumping stations at Bhopal’s Upper Lake—a local tourism spot known for its scenic beauty, bird life, and boating facilities— and financed the installation of 1,900 water meters that use billing systems based on actual consumption for domestic and industrial users. Today 6 million gallons of water are pumped each day from Upper Lake compared to 3.5 million gallons in 2000.

“Property values in the colony (neighborhood) have risen exponentially with the increase in water supply.”

—H.C. Sharma, 70, retired government employee and resident of Vijaynagar Colony in Bhopal

“The Upper Lake is the pride of Bhopal, and supplies clean water to inhabitants of Bhopal,” says Shri Babu Lal Gaur, Minister for Urban Development, Government of Madhya Pradesh.

“As a result, the lake is free from pollution and the quality of drinking water and the environment have improved,” says Gaur.

Protecting the quality of Upper Lake, the project has financed the laying of approximately 125 kilometers (km) of sewage network at a total cost of $17 million, he says. Nearly 13,500 houses have been connected to the network, and about 8.5 million liters of sewage is diverted from the Upper Lake daily, benefitting the residents of the Upper Lake region. 

The six pumping stations around Upper Lake pump water to seven new water treatment plants in Bhopal, which also get water from other sources. These treatment plants provide 31.5 million gallons of clean drinking water a day—double the water supply available in 2000—to Bhopal residents.

Improved land values

The steady supply of water has brought financial gains for landowners too. “Property values in the colony (neighborhood) have risen exponentially with the increase in water supply,” says H.C. Sharma, 70, a retired government employee and Girija’s husband.

“Now, there is no risk from pollutants and the drinking water has become safe for our family. Our lives are healthier and happier.”   

—Soheb Bhai, 34, service worker and resident of the Khanugaon neighborhood of Bhopal

Abdul Majid Khan, 42, a property agent, has observed similar benefits in Bhopal’s predominantly middle-class neighborhood of Khanugaon. “Land values have risen because of better sanitation, and more people are buying property in the area.”

Khan lives in Khanugaon, which borders Upper Lake, and has observed the benefits of the project firsthand. In the past, he says, sewage flowed through the main street, exposing his family to infections. Since the neighborhood’s houses were connected to the Khanugaon plant, he says, “there is no seepage into the lake; there is less  foul odor, and fewer mosquitoes.”

Service worker Soheb Bhai, 34, owns a newly constructed three-storey house in Khanugaon. Clean water in the neighborhood has been a boon for his family. “Now, there is no risk from pollutants and the drinking water has become safe for our family,” he says. “Our lives are healthier and happier.”