In the past 10 years, Delhi and its suburban National Capital Region registered a population growth of 21% and 55%, respectively, making Delhi-NCR the world’s second largest urban agglomeration after Tokyo.
Delhi and its suburbs pack in 21 million people today. In 2025, says the UN State of The World’s Cities report, the number will grow to 28.6 million - more than the combined projected population of Australia and New Zealand.
For a city already gasping for space, this is no happy news.
Our consumption has already overshot supply. Delhi’s demand for power is increasing by 10% every year. The city needs 3,874 million litres of water every day and faces a daily deficit of 718 million litres.
Four years back, Delhi generated 6,500 tonnes (1,625 truckloads) of garbage every day. The load will touch the10,000-tonne mark this year.
Suburban NCR towns could have offloaded some of Delhi’s pressure. But they have problems of their own.
With the highest number of high-rises after Mumbai and Bangalore, Gurgaon lives on groundwater, extracting three times of what is naturally replenished and - warns the Central Groundwater Authority - may go dry by 2017.
Back-up electricity bills run into five digits across NCR townships because there is no power.
Gated communities suffer routine sewer backflow because solid waste management systems are either insufficient or non-existent.
Even with the country’s most extensive road network, Delhi does not have enough space for its traffic. A study by UrbanEmissions.info shows that Delhi’s cars are no faster than pedestrians for 20% of their running time.
The Victoria Transport Institute concluded that half of the increased roadway capacity is consumed by added traffic in just five years.
This is true for all critical infrastructure sectors. Even as we keep adding capacity, demand will continue to grow. Since physical resources are finite, we have look for sustainable solutions and we have to look within. This may be a tough call politically but Delhi’s choices are limited.
Many cities across the world rose to these challenges of growth early and have left behind successful legacies. Singapore introduced the world’s first road pricing initiative, controlling entry into its central business district, way back in 1975.
In India, Chennai made rainwater harvesting compulsory for every building in 2002 and saw a 50% rise in groundwater levels in just five years.
The ideas of energy-efficiency, renewables, waste-recycling, rainwater-harvesting or equitable distribution are no longer environmental fads. These are real solutions, perhaps the only solutions that can keep our mega city going.
Today, we present an overview of the key challenges facing Delhi and how the city can overcome each.
Over the next four weeks, we will examine if and how our city can meet its growing water and power demands, unclog its choking roads and manage its piling waste.
We expect the readers to write back and also follow this discussion on Facebook and Twitter. Delhi’s future affects each of us. Lend your voice to secure it.
Tomorrow: Delhi saw an exponential increase in population after the 1970s, which has put stress on the earlier “ample” water supply.
Tomorrow, we take stock of how rising population and rapid urbanisation has spelled doom for its precious reserve – ground water.
Delhi’s future affects each one of us. Lend your voice to secure it. Readers can join the discussion HERE