Parched Empire

The Water Mafia in Booming Bangalore

Story by Mark Bergen

Photography by Nimish Jain

Published on Jan 7, 2013

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Thanks to the IT industry, the neighborhood of Whitefield, on the fringe of Bangalore, India, went from being a nearly rural community to a sprawling edge city in a mere two decades. But along with the gated apartments and office complexes came a dearth of one basic resource: water. In fact, Bangalore as a whole is one of the only megacities on the planet without a body of water running through it. To make up for the scarce supply, residents turn to tankers operated by private water companies — or, as they’re known colloquially, “water mafias.” You can see their colorful tanker trucks in rich and poor areas alike, though prices can reach up to 16 times that of public water. Meanwhile, the borewells that dot the urban landscape continue to dry up. Will local leaders find a way to avert an impending water crisis? Exploring the economics and environmental issues at stake, Bangalore-based writer Mark Bergen asks how to quench the thirst of the world’s 18th largest city.

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