More than 500 arrested after protests and clashes as India water crisis worsens

Millions of people are running out of usable water in the southern Indian city of Chennai, which is experiencing major droughts and a rapidly worsening water crisis.

At least 550 people were arrested Wednesday in the city of Coimbatore for protesting with empty water containers in front of the municipal government’s headquarters, accusing officials of negligence and mismanagement. Meanwhile, four reservoirs that supply Chennai, the state capital and India’s sixth largest city, have run nearly dry.

Lake Puzhal, the city’s largest, is the large body of water in the satellite image from Maxar below. On June 15, 2018, it was full of blue water.

One year later, the reservoir has been reduced to an almost completely dry lake bed.

The same is true further south in the smaller reservoir of Lake Chembarambakkam, where only the deepest parts of the lake bottom still hold water.

There was some respite for Chennai residents Thursday when the city received its first major rainfall of the year.

“The next two days will see light to moderate rainfall in the city. It will give relief for the intense heat that is there,” Dr. S. Balachandran, a senior official at the Indian Meteorological Department told CNN.

It was the first major rainfall since December, according to the Tamil Nadu Meteorological Department.

“Unfortunately this is forecast to be light to moderate rain and the reservoirs are almost dry. So, this won’t help in replenishment but will just give respite from the heat,” the department said. “The proper rain to fill up the reservoirs isn’t expected until November.”

Chennai recorded 29 millimeters of rainfall Thursday (1.14 inches) — the most the city has documented in the last six months combined.

With low groundwater levels and insufficient rainwater collection systems, the state government has resorted to trucking water directly into Chennai neighborhoods, where hundreds of thousands of residents wait in line for their meager allocation.

“I come here every night and early morning hours to collect (water) with my neighbor and my son,” said N Bhagyalakshmi, a Chennai resident. With her sons, she lugs about 20 pots of water home every morning.

The situation in Chennai reflects an ongoing nationwide crisis as a fatal heat wave sweeps across the country, and cities from Mumbai to Delhi face dwindling water supplies.

People have begun fighting over water, with minor clashes across Chennai. Trucks bringing water into cities have even been hijacked and drivers attacked, said Jyoti Sharma, founder and president of FORCE, an Indian NGO working on water conservation.

In response to the ongoing crisis in Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) opposition party