Nightmare at Noon*: Concluding the series
As I was fast-scanning the news headlines yesterday, a small item caught my eye. Writing in Rediff, Sanjay Jog noted
…(in view of the water shortage) Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has introduced a 15 per cent cut in supply, which is expected to be increased to 30 per cent.” He also mentioned “There is also talk of no supply once a week, but a decision on that will be (taken) after consultation with political parties.
About three weeks ago, when I first started seriously looking at the topic of “Water”, one of the things that immediately came to mind was the National Water Mission. As some of you would remember, the Water Mission was one of the five “Technology Missions” launched by ex-PM Rajiv Gandhi in 1986. Although it has been in existence for 23 years, its record has been patchy. It continues to focus on subsidies and a centralised, top-down model of development. As you can imagine, it has also suffered from the usual bureaucratic sloth, delay in distribution of funds, leakage and missed targets.
Clearly this is not enough. Not that India is short on ideas…
One such person with a lot of ideas around “Water” is Deep Joshi, executive director of “PRADAN” and recipient of the 2009 Magsaysay award. Water conservation and utilisation is one thing that is close to Sh Joshi’s heart. In a recent interview he mentioned how water management may be the key to removing rural poverty:
WSJ: What are the big ideas you have to remove poverty?
DJ: One of the best ways to remove poverty is to improve our management of rain-fed agriculture. Even the newly formulated employment guarantee program, NREGA, doesn’t make sensible use of resources. I find the act of digging wells has become so popular under NREGA but the truth is that how many wells can you dig, actually you have to harvest the rainwater.
…Yes. I have been passionate about rain-fed agriculture because I don’t believe agriculture is going to become an insignificant livelihood for people. It might be an insignificant contributor to the GDP but it still provides a living to 60% of the people and that is not going to change in a hurry. If you look carefully, a large population between 18-40 years have no skills, they aren’t even literate, so what are you going to do with them? Agriculture is going to remain an important part of the economy. And if two-thirds of the population is dependent on rain-fed agriculture (most of India gets 700 mm of rainfall every year), then this sector becomes even more important.
One of my gurus used to say, catch the water when it falls, where it falls
Image courtesy: Amit Dave, Reuters
Another kindred soul is Dr B P Agrawal, the energy and the brain behind “Aakash Ganga“. Rajasthan, home of the “Aakash Ganga” peoject receives a bare 45 days of rainfall every year. It also has the dubious distinction of suffering from 40 draughts in the last 50-odd years. Dr Agrawal has an interesting measure of water scarcity, when it comes to Rajasthan:
“What is the measure of water scarcity?” asks Agrawal, and then answers the question himself: “The number of bachelors in the village.” When water is scarce, women have to walk long distances to collect it; as a result, families from other villages are reluctant to marry their daughters into such communities.
But thanks to Dr Agrawal, things are looking up for some communities at least:
…At Raila village in Rajasthan, they still pray for rains. But their good luck has already arrived. This was where the first pilot for Aakash Ganga was implemented. The design of the network, filters, construction methodology, water quality monitoring, technology development and the cost and revenue models were worked out at the neighboring campus of the Birla Institute of Technology & Science (BITS) at Pilani. BITS attracted Agrawal because it was from here that he graduated in electrical engineering, before moving on to the University of South Florida to complete his Ph.D. in 1974. Agrawal, a resident of Fairfax (Virginia), has worked with companies such as Alcatel, Verizon, General Dynamics and Hughes Network Systems. He also has two startups to his credit.
Aakash Ganga’s model of public private partnership – and of involving the community – appears to be a success in this arid region of Rajasthan…but then Dr Agrawal was not really re-inventing the wheel:
Rajasthan had elaborate rainwater harvesting systems for several centuries. These systems were abandoned. BP (Agrawal) researched local folklore to learn the ancient levy system that maintained the rainwater harvesting systems. A modern version of the ancient levy system became the basis of Aakash Ganga’s economic model.
Unlike the detailed plans drawn in Delhi. Aakash Ganga surpassed its planned objectives and as Pradhan of the World Bank said, it demonstrated, “an alternative to the typically inefficient and poor performing public works projects”
And there have been very positive spin-offs:
“Reports from all three villages where Aakash Ganga was (first) implemented suggest that women have become economically more productive and girls have attended more classes as they now no longer have to spend a lot of time collecting water,” says Sadhu of IIHMR. “Almost all households with rainwater tanks have established kitchen gardens which in turn will improve household nutrition and health conditions.”
Hoever the challenges we face on “Water” are not merely at a policy level. As Rohini Nilekani of Arghyam says:
Per capita availability of fresh water continues to decline in the country. Many challenges remain…We need to deepen … informed public discourse on these issues..
And that is one thing that seems to be missing…more debate, more discussion, more coverage in the media and a more responsible attitude towards water.
We need more discussions on innovations around water; we need more debates on the consequences of water scarcity; we need a more responsible attitude towards water conservation. All of these will be needed to face the coming challenge for India on the water front. Sadly our “political parties” remain preoccupied with protests and street marches.
To end this series below are a few links, resources and factoids. Please read, share and help increase the awareness about this precious resource.
Resources and Links:
Tata’s new water purifier “Swachh” (that) does not require running water, power or boiling…(and can) provide a family of five drinking water for a year. The filter uses paddy husk ash as a matrix, bound with microscopic particles of silver to kill the bacteria that cause 80 percent of waterborne diseases, executives said. Paddy husk ash has long been known for its cleansing properties, and India produces about 20 million tonnes of it a year.
A Powerpoint presentation on National Water Grid for India.
Anupam Mishra’s talk on ancient water conservation techniques.
From The Economist:
India has 200 cubic metres per person of water storage, compared with 1,000 cubic metres in China.
Delhi…draws 220 litres per citizen, more than Paris. But half of it disappears from leaky pipes.
Previous Posts in this series:
Related Post: Now Thats What I call Music..sorry, *News*