With three more months left for the monsoons to break, India is witnessing its worst water scarcity in over a decade. According to the Central Water Commission (CWC), India’s 91 major reservoirs cumulatively contain 157.8 billion cubic metre (BCM) of water, whereas the capacity of the reservoirs is 250 BCM. This means that water levels at Indian reservoirs are only 71 per cent of last year. The CWC data also points out that the maximum water is in India’s eastern and central regions – 44 per cent and 36 per cent, respectively. The South, West, and North are 20 per cent, 26 per cent and 27 per cent, respectively.
Evidently, there’s conflict and violence over water use whether it’s for agriculture, domestic, or industrial use. A testimony for this is city of Latur, Maharashtra, where people are getting water only once in three weeks. People are waiting for more than eight hours a day, foregoing their daily wages. The situation worsened leading to the jurisdiction stepping in and invoking Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code relating to unlawful assembly. Until May 31, no more than five people will be allowed to gather near a storage tank.
Amidst this dry scenario, here are three of India’s water warriors who have been fighting water shortage; encouraging communities to conserve water utilising unique, traditional ways; and spreading awareness:
Rajendra Singh – ‘The Water Man of India’
In 2015, he was awarded the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize for his innovative water conservation in India’s most arid state, Rajasthan. In his citation, he said,
today’s water problems cannot be solved by science and technology alone. They are instead human problems of governance, policy, leadership, and social resilience.
Born in 1959, Rajendra Singh originally studied Ayurvedic medicine and surgery, with an aim to set up health clinics in the state. But, the villagers were in need of water first, and healthcare later. So, he changed tracks. He mobilised the villagers and revived the ancient tradition of building johads (traditional earthen dams) a concept that dates back to thousands of years, but got lost during the British Raj. After nearly two decades of relentless effort, Rajendra Singh with the communities’ support was able to construct 8, 600 johads, which brought water back to over a 1, 000 villages across the state.
Today, he runs a non-profit, Tarun Bharat Sangh, promoting community-driven decentralised management of natural resources in Rajasthan. He has also been awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2001 and in 2008, The Guardian named him one of “50 people who could save the planet.”
Ayyappa Masagi – ‘Water Warrior’
Born to a family of poor farmers in North Karnataka’s Gadag District, Ayyappa is a first-generation learner, who completed his Mechanical Engineering and served 23 years in L&T. But Ayyappa had different dreams – to apply science for rural development. This led him to purchase six acres of land in his district, which became a learning field for him. His ambition was to show the world that crops can be grown even with little rainfall. But, thanks to India’s drought and severe flood situations – both unpredictable – he faced many hurdles, which led him to think about rainwater conservation.
His failure led him to more research, which today, has helped over 100, 000 farmer families fight droughts using simple techniques.
According to his pit-based system, eight pits per acre of farmland are constructed, which are permanent structures (made of mud, sand, soil, boulders) and partially mixed with gravel and sand. Once rainwater trickles through the gravel and sand, it saturates the soil and the water bubbles back up as natural springs. The advantages of this method are numerous – minimal contamination, and the water cannot escape due to evaporation, which means the entire land is always charged with water.
Today, Ayyappa has successfully undertaken thousands of conservation projects across India and has created over 600 lakes in the country. Through this, over 70 billion litres of rainwater have been harvested. Ayyappa is the Founder of Bengaluru-based Water Literacy Foundation, which is working towards making India, a water-efficient country by 2020.
At the age of 80, Aabid is fixing leaks across households in Mumbai every Sunday morning to conserve water. He founded Drop Dead Foundation, which he runs single-handedly. Yes, he’s the only employee who takes along a plumber with him, to search for and fix leaking taps everywhere, for free!
Born and brought up on the pavements of Mumbai, Aabid has witnessed the violence that lack of water can lead to. But that’s not what inspired him. It was an article he read that threw light on the scarcity of water. So, in 2007, when he won Rs 100, 000 under the Hindi Sahitya Sanstha Award, he decided to kick off his water conservation efforts. In just one year (February 2007 – February 2008), he visited 1, 666 houses in Mumbai, fixed 414 leaking taps, and saved an estimated 414, 000 litres of water! One can imagine what the impact must be today.
Recently, the Maharashtra government issued specific instructions to urban municipal bodies to stop water supply to organisers of rain dances and swimming pools during Holi. The Central government is toying with many ideas such as promoting drip irrigation and sprinkler irrigation in agriculture. Yes, everything is debatable at the moment. But, it’s heartening to see how different players right from the government to the common man are attempting to mitigate the water crisis.
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80-year-old Aabid Surti has helped save 10 million litres of water