Making water flow in Bengaluru: planning for the resilience of water supply in a semi-arid city

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Hita Unnikrishnan, Seema Mundoli, Harini Nagendra



The south Indian city of Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) has a long history of human occupation. Today as one of the fastest growing cities in the world, Bengaluru is unusual in the fact that it is an old city, located at a distance from perennial sources of fresh water. While in the precolonial past, it depended upon an interconnected system of rainwater harvesting via lakes and wells, today it relies on water that is pumped from a river at a distance of over a hundred kilometres.

This paper traces the evolution of Bengaluru’s water supply infrastructure from the precolonial past into the present day. We posit that the shift of the city’s dependence on water from local to distant sources, with the advent of technology and the introduction of centralized piped water, has weakened local residents’ and policy makers’ awareness of the importance of conservation of local ecosystems. The resulting degradation and conversion of the city’s water bodies has reduced the resilience of Bengaluru to flooding and drought, especially affecting the poorest and most vulnerable of its residents. The disruption of the links between water and other forms of commons, including grazing lands, fishing areas and wooded groves, has further fragmented the once-organic connection between the city and its ecosystems, with widespread construction on wetlands leading to flooding and water scarcity in different seasons.  In an era of increasing climate change, cities in semi-arid environments such as Bengaluru will be hit by problems of water scarcity. We stress the need to develop an integrated perspective that considers the importance of local ecosystems as commons for increased urban resilience.


Lakes; wells; resilience; urban infrastructure

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