NEW DELHI — Across India, people are awaiting summer monsoons for relief from severe water and power shortages in fast-swelling cities.
The annual tropical rains should hit the south in June and the baked northern plains in July.
Until then, residents of the southern city of Madras stay awake nights watching for a trickle from the tap, signaling the half-hour a day that the water supply is turned on without notice.
Villagers of Puddukottai, also in the south, recently held up a train to grab water stored for passengers.
In New Delhi, each resident is allotted 60 gallons of water a day, but thousands on the periphery make do with just a few buckets for washing, cooking and drinking.
"More than 320 trucks and tankers are supplying water to the dry areas of the city," said M. K. Bezbaruah, a senior municipal officer.
But not all of the water is safe to drink, said Dr. Richard Peck of the World Health Organization.
"Even wells have the possibility of contamination," said Dr. Richard Peck, a New Delhi-based expert with the WHO.
Near the eastern city of Calcutta, scientists have identified a new strain of cholera that has killed 700 people since April. Officials fear that the epidemic, spread by unsanitary conditions and dirty drinking water, will worsen.
"The situation is the worst in 30 years," said Anil Kumar Basu, a health officer for Calcutta. "During summer months, ponds and wells which do not dry up invariably become contaminated."
Summer temperatures soaring above 110 also sap power supplies.
The extra load of air conditioners and water pumps pushes consumption up by one-third, to more than 2,000 megawatts a day in New Delhi, officials say.
To conserve power, officials rotate power shutdowns throughout the city for several hours a day except in areas where top government officials live. Some foreign embassies keep generators on standby.
But what have been cyclical shortages alleviated by seasonal monsoons could grow more chronic as more people migrate to the cities.
New Delhi's population of 10 million grew by nearly a million in the last two years.
Officials in Bombay, the commercial capital on the west coast, say they will be able to meet only 70% of the water demand by the year 2000 unless new sources are found. Already, more than half of the city's 11 million people live in sprawling shantytowns and make do with just 10 to 20 gallons of water each day.