That sounds preposterous but substitute water for air and that's the situation today in the Indian capital, Delhi, home to nearly 20 million, most of them poor and vulnerable.
The politicians, civil servants and corporate lobbyists who live in substantial houses and apartments in central Delhi pay very little to get limitless supplies of piped water – whether for their bathrooms, kitchens or to wash the car, dog, or spray a manicured lawn. They can do all that for as little as $10-$15 a month.
But step into one of the slum areas in the inner city, or a giant disorganized housing estate on the outskirts and there is a daily struggle to get and pay for very limited supplies of water, which is delivered by tanker rather than pipe. And the price is soaring as supplies are fast depleting.
India’s water crisis is far from even-handed – the elite in Delhi and most other parts of the country remain unaffected while the poor scramble for supplies every day. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official residence and those of his cabinet are in central Delhi, as are those of most lawmakers.
That may help to explain why it took until this week for Modi to call for a massive water conservation program, the first big initiative by the government despite years of warnings about dry reservoirs and depleted water tables, policy makers and water industry experts said.Where there's short supply there's crime.
Delhi’s main government district and the army cantonment areas get about 375 liters of water per person per day but residents of Sangam Vihar on average receive only 40 liters for each resident per day. The water comes from boreholes and tankers under the jurisdiction of the Delhi water board, run by the city government.
But residents say some of the boreholes have been taken over by private operators associated with criminal gangs and local politicians. These gangs also have a major role in providing private tankers, which are all illegal, making people liable to price gouging.
And all this when temperatures, and demand, are soaring. Delhi was the second driest it has been in 26 years in June, and recorded its highest ever temperature for the month at 48 degrees Celsius on June 10.
Monsoon rains reached the capital on Thursday, more than a week later than usual, with only a light drizzle.
Most private tanker operators in Delhi either illegally pump out fast depleting ground water or steal the water from government supplies, various government studies show.
In Delhi, nearly half of the supply from the Delhi water board either gets stolen with the connivance of lowly officials or simply seeps out via leaky pipes, several studies show.