Drinking Water Vulnerability

The Ganges Basin River system remains the main source of drinking water for half the population of India and Bangladesh and nearly the entire population of Nepal. In India, over 29 cities, 70 towns, and thousands of villages extend along the banks of the river depending on it for drinking water needs. Some of the most populous cities of India, including Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi, Patna, and Kolkata are present in banks of the river.

Delhi is the largest city in the basin with an estimated average water consumption of 240 liters per capita per day (lpcd), the highest in the country. Surface water contributes to over 86% of Delhi’s total drinking water. Drinking water is sourced from Yamuna river, Bhakra storage and Upper Ganga canal from the Tehri dam – all of which are climate sensitive. As of 2006, Delhi Jal Board supplied 650 MGD (million gallons per day) of water, while the water demand for 2005–06 was estimated to be 963 MGD. Currently, 24.67% of the households do not have access to piped water.

Changes in both supply and demand side, act and interact with each to influence the vulnerability of the city to the impacts of climate change on the Ganga basin. The changes in demand is largely due to two important factors, population growth and changes in standards of living.

Socio economic drivers could multiply demands for drinking water. The annual growth rate of population of Delhi during 1991-2001 is 3.85% and the decennial growth rate during 1991-2001 was 47.02% which is one of the highest in the country. Delhi is highly urbanized with 93.18% of its population living in urban areas as against the national average of 27.81 %. Migration has been a major driver in the population increase in the city with over 2.75 lakh migrants in 2006 alone.

Projection of total water demand in Delhi


Category of Demand

Water Demand in Million Liters per Day











Commercial & Institutional










Total Net Demand





Source: Delhi Jal board ECONOMIC SURVEY OF DELHI, 2005-2006

Water consumption has a direct functional relationship with standard of living. Delhi has seen a consistent decrease in poverty rates since 1951, which is further expected to go down in the next few decades. A substantial percentage of people are homeless and considerable populations do not have access to safe drinking water. One of the key objectives of the Delhi Master Plan 2021 1) is to extend these basic amenities to all populations of the city. 

Rising population density, growing urbanization, improvements in living standards, falling groundwater levels, industrialization and migration amongst other things could exacerbate already stressed water resources of the city. The impacts of climate change on the rainfall and glaciers could further aggravate the scarcity which could have serious implications on the city. Inter-linkages between different sectors would have a ripple effect on the entire economy.

1) National Capital Region Planning Board Regional Plan 2021 National Capital Region, Master plan for Delhi—with the perspective for the year 2021, Ministry of Urban Development, Delhi