Booming Economy, but No Water

"With all possible resources at hand, the city will still be facing a shortfall of water by over 50 percent in 2021," according to a report released by the government this week. In 2021, the government says, 22 million people will live in Delhi, requiring 1.5 billion gallons of water a day. The city will be able to provide at least 713 million gallons a day, 1 billion gallons a day at best.

The gap between supply and demand is the same amount of water that the city of Chicago consumes from Lake Michigan every day.

"There is good amount of supply to meet the demand. But currently there is a huge amount of mismanagement of the water in terms of leakage loss, which is accounting for 40 percent of the loss in water," R.V. Srinivasan, who studies urban water issues at New Delhi's Center for Science and Environment, told ABC News.

By some accounts, Delhi wastes more water than any other city in the world.

The mismanagement spreads to how the water is distributed. The rich have it comparatively easy, but the poor are starved.

"The poor people, they're spending more money — say, 200 to 300 rupees [$5-$7.50] per month to get the water," Srinivasan says. "At the same time the people in elite colonies where they are connected to the pipelines, they are spending 60 or 50 rupees [$1.25-$1.50]."

The problem is infrastructure. There are simply no pipes that reach much of the city. And the pipes that do exist are old.

Many of them are leaking, and almost as many are siphoned off by criminals who collect their own water and sell it to the highest bidders. Worse, many of the old pipes are situated next to sewage pipes. In some areas of the city, the water that comes out is brown.

Delhi produces 2.2 billion gallons of sewage every day, but only has the capacity to clean half that amount, according to the Center for Science and Environment.

Ultimately, all that sewage goes to the Yamuna river, which flows through the middle of New Delhi. And the river, Srinivasan says, "becomes a sewer drain," infecting dozens of major cities to the south that rely on it for their drinking water.

Varanasi: Are polluters of a holy river considered sinners?

Indians say they have four mothers: Mother India, mother cow, their own biological mothers, and mother Ganga.

Mother Ganga is the Ganges river, the single most important body of water in terms of the number of people it supports. More than 400 million people rely on the Ganges for water to drink, water to grow their crops, water to live.

And there is no river in the world that is considered more holy.

Every day some 60,000 people take a holy dip in its waters. At sunrise men waddle into the cold water in loincloths. Women hold their saris tightly against their chests as they submerge their heads repeatedly, almost violently, into the water.

Hindus cremate their dead in the water, thinking it can guarantee a direct trip to heaven. And each night, hundreds of people hold candles and sing songs on its banks, thanking mother Ganga for letting them live another day.

"It's the source of the spiritual life of this entire country," Art Boucher, an American who moved to India a decade ago to study transcendental meditation, told ABC News while walking along one of the main ghats, or steps, that lead to the water.

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