Water every 10 days: The families on the front line of India's environmental crisis

India is facing the worst water crisis in its history, with 600 million people dealing with high to extreme water shortage. Many people need to rely on tankers to deliver their water.

New Delhi (CNN)Hundreds of empty plastic jugs wait in rows on the cracked, dry, dusty earth. Hovering expectantly nearby, the residents of Vasant Kunj slum in South Delhi, one of the city's largest and poorest, stand waiting for a government water tanker to arrive.

It's been 10 days.
Ten days since they last received a drop of water. For many families, their containers ran out days ago. They are thirsty and dirty.
    "It's very difficult to live like this," said Fatima Bibi, 30, who is in charge of organizing water for the slum. "Everything comes from this water. Everything. Drinking, cooking, cleaning, washing."
      Ten minutes away are Delhi's upscale shopping malls, where you can buy a pair of sneakers for $1,000. But in this part of the city, people live in tightly packed corrugated-iron huts. In the 40 C (104 F) heat, it feels like a furnace inside them.
      As the tanker rolls into the compound, shouts rise up from the crowd. Men and women sprint forward with green rubber pipes to feed the tanker's water into their containers.
      They are given 600 liters (158.5 gallons) per household -- barely enough to survive on until the next rations arrive.
        India is facing the worst water crisis in its history, with 600 million people dealing with high to extreme water shortages, according to a recent report by Niti Aayog, a policy think tank for the Indian government. An average of 200,000 Indian lives are lost every year due to inadequate supply or contamination of water.
        Twenty-one major Indian cities are estimated to run out of groundwater by 2020 -- just a year away. As India develops and grows to support its 1.3 billion people, those on the front lines of the crisis say it's only going to get worse.
        "We have too many people for too little water," said Jyoti Sharma, founder and president of FORCE, an Indian NGO working on water conservation and sanitation. "It's unfortunate that people don't see how frightening it really is."
        As arid countries like India get drier due to climate change, Sharma warned that water could soon become a global disparity issue.
        Fatima Bibi is in charge of water distribution for the Vasant Kunj slum.

        The problem

        Simply put, India's water sources are running out.
        India's main problem is that the country relies on groundwater for most of its water needs. Decades of digging bore holes -- pipes that are drilled into the earth to reach water -- in favor of traditional water harvesting systems has meant India is suffering from severe ground water depletion.
        "We are the largest groundwater user in the world," said Joydeep Gupta, South Asia editor at the Third Pole, a news website dedicated to environmental issues. "It's very bad, it's a state of very grave crisis."
        As India becomes more urbanized and millions more people move to cities, there's an increased demand for water. Cities must look further and further afield for water sources, which are pumped hundreds of kilometers through pipes.
        As many as 600 million people are living in areas of high to extreme water stress.
        One hundred million people, including those in the large cities of Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad, will soon be living in zero groundwater cities, according to the report.
        Added to this is that India is predominantly an agricultural country, with 80% of its water used to irrigate thirsty crops such as sugarcane and rice.
        "Policies like several states giving free electricity to farmers or giving financial support for groundwater extraction -- borewells and tube wells -- results in uncontrolled exploitation and wastage of resource," Suresh Rohilla, director of urban water management at the Centre for Science and Environment told CNN last year.