By Punya Srivastava
Without water, we perish. And yet our present systems operate from the notion that water is an unlimited resource. No wonder that a water crisis is looming world over, particularly in India. How can we as individuals manage water more responsibly; and are there any solutions to this crisis in indigenous practices, asks Punya Srivastava
“When the well is dry, we learn the value of water.”
– Benjamin Franklin
So true! One of the strongest memories of my early years in Delhi was of the chronic water shortage that would grip us during the scorching summers, and how we would carry buckets of water collected from Delhi Jal Board tankers to our second floor flat. My siblings and I would eagerly wait for our annual trips to my maternal grandparents’ house in Allahabad. Oh, what a treat it was to splash each other with mugs full of water during those balmy evenings. We kids would lavishly pour buckets full of water, pumped through a bore-well, on every square inch of the huge courtyard, preparing for our night’s sleep under the star-studded night sky. It is one of my favourite memories of the vacations spent in that beautiful town of Prayag, a witness to the holy fusion of the three most important rivers of north India. And yet today I wince at the way we wasted water with such gay abandon. Every time I read an announcement of water shortage in the newspaper, my guilt bubbles up to the surface, and chides me for having been so wasteful of such a precious resource.
Water is indeed precious because out of the total amount of water present on earth, only 2.5 per cent is fresh water, stored in glaciers and as ground water, and sustaining life on this planet. Humans have access to less than 0.08 per cent of all the Earth’s water. Yet over the next two decades, our use is estimated to increase by about 40 per cent. Apparently, it takes around 1000 litres of water to produce one litre of milk and around 1,600 litres to produce one kg of wheat bread. One kg of rice requires 3000 litres of water.
What are the problems?
India comes under the ‘water-stressed’ category, according to a 2011 report by the United Nations. Quite surprising for a land blessed with an abundance of perennial rivers crisscrossing throughout its terrain. But then as researchers point out, the increasing water scarcity in India is man-induced. Traditionally, India has been well endowed with large fresh water reserves, but the increasing population and overexploitation of surface and ground water over the past few decades has resulted in water scarcity in some regions. Moreover, India being an agro-based economy, around 89 per cent (as per a survey in 2006) of available water is consumed for agricultural purposes, while nine per cent and two per cent are consumed for domestic and industrial purposes respectively. Also, agro-based industries such as textiles, sugar and fertilisers are among the top producers of waste water. Inefficient irrigation also wastes water resources.
India’s water scarcity is due to many factors, with administrative mismanagement securing the top slot. Improper planning of urban infrastructure continues to add pressure on the surface water and groundwater depletion because of the high influx in the urban areas. Modernised techniques to source water, like hand pumps and bore-wells, have led to a rapid decline of groundwater. Poor sanitation planning, for example in Delhi, is the reason behind the present-day condition of the river Yamuna. Not only that, the waters of Yamuna are saturated with toxic industrial waste along with untreated water from sewage plants as well as from open drains.
Moreover, the increase in per capita income and standard of living in the past three decades has led to a water-intensive urban lifestyle in India. Domestic contribution to the total water consumption is projected to increase from five per cent in 2000 to 11 per cent by 2050. Also, per capita water consumption is expected to double from 89 litres per day in 2000 to 167 litres per day by 2050. Cities are facing severe water shortage. According to a Grail Research report in 2005, 65 per cent of households across seven major cities faced water deficiency with metros like Delhi and Chennai reaching out to distant rivers that are 250 km and 450 km away, respectively.
Perhaps more than anything else, it has been the separatist and fragmented modern approach that has sounded a death knell to water sources. Where earlier, India practised sustainable and cyclical water management, modern methods of using piped water, bore wells, motorised pumps rather than community wells, have placed unprecedented pressure on water supplies.
Rejoice, we have a lower water footprint
Water footprint is the amount of freshwater consumed directly and indirectly by an individual. India’s water footprint is 980 cubic meters per capita per year (according to Hoekstra and Chapagain, 2008 report), considerably lower than the world average. Being a predominantly vegetarian nation helps the cause as 30 per cent of the total population consumes a plant-based diet. However, its increasing population collectively makes the country’s overall footprint 12 per cent of the world’s total.
Greed at play
Water scarcity has created quite a furore at the global level. There is no person on this planet that hasn’t been affected by it. We have seen so many initiatives and drives, funded by governments across the world, to sensitise people about the judicious use of water. But has it really made a difference? One can still see a criminal wastage of water everyday across every strata of society, starting from the administration itself. On my way to work I pass the water tanker station of the Delhi Jal Board where tankers are filled to cater to water scarce areas. Most times, they are filled so much higher than capacity, that gallons of water spill out within a few minutes of the tankers starting. Else a leaky tap at the back will leave a trail of freshwater on the road. How difficult is it to monitor the amount of water filled in the tanker, knowing that the moving vehicle will cause water to spill unnecessarily? Or how difficult is it to use a bucket instead of a hose-pipe to wash your car or your pavement? Or to report a broken pipe spewing water in a community park to the authorities? Both, the administration and we, the citizens, need to awaken from this apathy.
In our greed to embrace urbanisation, we have started losing touch with our ground realities. We have left behind our community wells and started pumping water into our houses, first with hand pumps and then with motor pumps, sucking out ground water, unmindful of the fact that we are depleting the ground water content without replenishing it. We have been behaving greedily, with no regard for the forthcoming generation and neither for other life forms on earth.
Water management at micro level
Water scarcity is not a problem of a few. It affects all of us; it affects the whole community. As John F Kennedy once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Can we not take over the responsibility of managing the way we use water? We can all practice water management – be it rain water harvesting, water conservation, or groundwater replenishment.
“Rain water harvesting is something that we all can do whether we live in rural or urban India,” says Farhad Contractor, Founder of Sambhaav Trust. “We have taken too much for granted for too long. And now, we are suffering from the dependency syndrome,” he says, adding, “We don’t respect ourselves, hence we don’t respect our ecology.” Farhad Contractor has been working on rejuvenation and revival of ecological systems along with the community for over 22 years. He works extensively in the Thar Desert as well as in several states in North and Central India. His work is his passion, a fact borne out by his considerable body of work. This includes working with around 600,000 people to rejuvenate and revive more than 9,000 structures such as tanks, ponds, lakes, and wells. He has also worked on reviving three rivers in Rajasthan. and worked to conserve and revive forests in various states of India. He is also involved in reviving and strengthening community-based and owned sustainable agricultural practices.
In order to offset the dependence on groundwater especially in urban areas, Farhad advocates developing ground models that ensure long-term sustainability. “Community effort will always be more sustainable than individual efforts. Also, when you work with others, the whole process stops being a burden, and becomes filled with love,” he says. According to him, one can collect around two lakh litres of water in a tank per rainfall if one installs a rain water harvesting system at the building rooftop. It only costs Rs 10,000 per house in an apartment system, which can be seen as a one-time investment. Alternatively, we can also prepare catchment areas for rainwater in the society compound. “This helps in recharging the groundwater level of the area which works for the greater good,” he says hopefully, adding, “Water management is not only about saving water. It is about living a better life, maintaining a beautiful and sustainable way of living.”
“Involving community is a must for it enables a sustainable process,” says Dr Yogesh Jadeja, adding, “We are in a crisis because communities are not in direct control of their water resources.” Dr Jadeja is the Director of Arid Communities and Technologies (ACT), an organisation that has been active in Bhuj and Kutch areas of Gujarat since 2004. “We at ACT try to leverage the potential of the community as a resource for water management. We focus on knowledge-based research and planning, institution building, capacity building at the rural level, documentation, and dissemination of information. This ensures an ongoing sustainable process while involving the local youth and guaranteeing a source of income to them.”
|Cattle troughs with water storage tank at Rampar vandh, Kutch|
Gazala Paul, Managing Trustee of Samerth Trust, talks about the significance of local leadership in bringing about a change at the micro level. Samerth works in Chattisgarh and the Kutch. “We work with panchayats to source and empower local leadership. A direct involvement of local representatives in policy making and planning strategies brings rigour to the process. With the help of local leadership, we were able to construct around 20 drinking water assets in 20 villages of the Rapar block of the Kutch district,” she shares. These drinking assets comprise revived ponds and lakes throughout the block.
Daily urban water consumption
According to an estimate by Central Public Works Department (CPWD) for urban places, around 40 litres of water is used per capita per day, and another 25 litres in washing clothes. In total, around 137 litres of water is consumed per capita, per day. In reality, less than 85 litres per day is made available in most urban centres.
Going back to tradition
India has an indigenous heritage of environment protection. Our ancestors perfected the art of water harvesting and water conveyance systems specific to eco-regions and culture. From the rough terrain of Himalayas to the northern plains, from the arid areas of Rajasthan and Kutch to the fertile Deccan, there were a number of traditional water harvesting and conservation techniques that ensured optimum water supply to all.
Traditionally, water resources were planned and conserved for at least three years. The catchment areas of rain water were diverted to community ponds. Water storage structures were also constructed. People had a geological solution, then,” says Dr Jadeja. He implemented a watershed project in the Kutch region and encouraged a decentralised drinking water model. “I got to know that every rivulet has an aquifer (an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock or unconsolidated materials – gravel, sand, or silt – from which groundwater can be extracted) and since then, I have been using these aquifers for setting up a storage system for drinking water. I rediscovered and reinvented a traditional system which was lost,” he adds.
In 1985, degraded and barren land in the catchment areas of Arvari river and extended drought had forced people to migrate out of their villages in the Alwar district of Rajasthan. The river had disappeared in the 1940s. In 1997, with the construction of a traditional johad system (rainwater storage tanks indigenous to Rajasthan) the river was revived once again. This miracle was a collective effort of the community as well as Rajendra Singh’s Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS). Johads and dams are usually built on small tributaries uphill and they directly benefit the forests on the hill. In the Arvari project, the beneficiaries were not only the community but also other life forms, for the construction of johads not only revived the river but also the forest alongside it. 30 per cent of the construction cost was footed by the community, and the rest was obtained by support agencies through TBS. This also ensured involving of communities directly with monthly gram sabha meetings.
|A revived lake in Ramgarh region of Jaisalmer|
Ahar-pyne is a traditional floodwater harvesting system indigenous to south Bihar. With the help of this system, Magadh Jal Jamaat (MJJ), a network of progressive individuals in Gaya, has successfully revived over a dozen abandoned water sources. These pynes were a significant source of water that catered to the needs of Nalanda University and fed around 52 water bodies in the Magadh region in ancient India. However, modern development brought in hand pumps for pumping drinking water but the decline of the aquifer caused them to go defunct. The ahar-pyne embankments got dilapidated, pynes became conduits of waste water and ponds became the new dumping grounds for solid wastes. The water used for irrigation was also dug up, resulting in failed crops and large scale migration from Gaya. In 2006, MJJ revived the Saryutalaa band and later on the Jamune Dasain in Gaya city with the help of Army Service Corps, Gaya, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), police officials, professors, students, doctors and farmers. The revival of this pond set in motion a surge of constructive forces in the region and soon the effects witnessed the revival of ahar-pynes. Around 17 panchayats benefited from the revival of the 28-km long Chapardha pyne.
Know your water footprint
You can calculate your own water footprint by logging onto www.waterfootprint.org and clicking on http://www.waterfootprint.org/index.php?page=cal/Water Footprint Calculator. This calculator has been developed by the researchers at UNESCO-IHE based on the water requirements per unit of product as per one’s country of residence. According to the website, water footprint of a product is the volume of fresh water appropriated to produce the product, taking into account the volumes of water consumed and polluted in the different steps of the supply chain.
You can do it too
1. Invest in a rain water harvesting system for your building. It costs roughly around Rs 10,000 per family and is a modest investment for a green and bountiful future.
2. Open the tap to a trickle only instead of going full throttle. We do not need water running at a high speed for most of our daily chores unless we are filling a vessel.
3. Replace the flush tanks in the toilet with dual flush system. This saves upto 67 per cent of water.
4. If you have an old flush tank, then fill a 500 ml plastic soft drink bottle with sand, seal the cap tightly, and place it in the flush tank. This will ensure a lesser amount of water used in every flush while maintaining the pressure with which the flush works.
5. Keep a check on any leaky tap and faucet in your house. Get it mended immediately to prevent freshwater wastage.
6. Make a habit of taking a bucket bath instead of a shower. This measured approach reduces water usage by at least five to seven litres per bath.
7. Or else, install a low-flow shower head. It saves upto eight litres of water per minute.
8. Invest in a front loading washing. It uses 40 per cent less water, saving upto 100 litres per wash. Better still, wash your clothes manually
9. Wash your veggies, fruits, rice and lentils in a colander of water instead of using running water. This used water can be then used to water your potted plants.
10. For utensil washing, fix a foam tap or shower head on your kitchen tap since this activity needs water spread, not volume.
11. Designate a single water bottle or a tumbler for each member of the house for drinking water throughout the day. This will save the water used in washing the refill glasses.
12. Carry a water bottle whenever stepping out of your home. It’ll save you buying water from outside, not only reducing your water footprint, but also helping a little to curb the privatisation of water.
13. Use a sprinkler instead of a hose-pipe to water your lawns. It is a one-time investment that will save a huge amount of water.
S Chandra Shekar: doing his bit to save and store rain water
S Chandra Shekar: doing his bit to save and store rain waterS Chandra Shekar is a Bangalorean who gradually turned into a local hero for something as seemingly simple as keeping his traditional well in good condition. “From the start, we dug our own well and struck good water at a depth of 35 feet. This well water helped us for many years until the Water Department laid pipelines and supplied piped water to our area. Till then our only source of water was our well,” says the septuagenarian. Once piped water came, many other houses in the area abandoned their wells, and turned them into garbage pits. In 1993, Bangalore had a severe water shortage and with the growth of the city and the burgeoning population, the demand for water was enormous. At one time Bangalore had over 1,000 lakes and surface water bodies. But over the years, development and construction activities killed the lakes and dried them up. Catchment areas and supply routes were encroached upon, and no rainwater could reach the water bodies. “Sensing the forthcoming trouble, I made percolation pits near and around the well, ran pipes around the roof top and collected all the rooftop rainwater and directed them to the percolation pits. What a glorious sight it used to be when it rained and the percolation pits overflowed. As soon as the rain stopped, in just about 20 minutes the percolation pits, being columns of water like a test tube, fed the water to the ground. Next day one could see the feeding of water into the well. In 24 hours, the water level in the well used to rise by 10 feet. That is how I experimented and created the method to harvest rain water,” he shares.
Over the years, he improved the system and introduced a filter to clean the rain water. “I have now decommissioned the percolation pits from the system and have pipes from the filter taking the water directly to the well. During the monsoon season the well brims and glistens with water,” he adds. He also urged others to do the same and collect water in underground tanks if not a well. People from across the states visited him and Chandra Shekar, like a true hero, helped them implement rainwater harvesting systems in their houses. Gradually, old and defunct bore-wells, open wells and lakes came back to life.
Ask him about the challenges he faced and he mentions overcoming people\’s apathy and inertia at the top. “Many people are aware of and are interested in rainwater harvesting, but very few implement the project. It does not cost much money. One has to spend only on piping, filter and a tank. Plumbing and labour charges are minimal. But still, there is a mental block when it comes to doing the job and implementing the idea. Piped water has spoilt mankind. The ease of getting water from a running tap and shower has made man lazy. The day when water is no more available is not far off. Then it is this harvested water that will save us,” he explains. He motivates people by doing all the plumbing work himself. “Every building has potential for rainwater harvesting. The solutions are simple and cost-effective. It is just that the people should do it now and at once. Catch the water where it falls and feed it to the ground or into a tank. Water is life. Where there is water, there is hope for humanity,” he adds.
Drip irrigation with a twist
Ramesh Parmar, a small farmer in Rotala village in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh, has devised a simple, inexpensive and effective way of drip irrigating crops. Drip irrigation, although an effective method, is quite a costly affair, more so for the poor farmers of MP. The idea of using saline bottles struck him when he attended a workshop conducted on innovative techniques of farming in 2012. While the experts there suggested using an earthen pot with a hole, Parmar thought it to be impractical and started thinking of an alternative to it. He then bought around 600 bottles for his 60 bigha land where he grew bitter gourds and papaya. He constructed a water tank with a tap, filled a bucket in the field using a plastic pipe, and manually filled the bottles.
The whole affair cost Parmar around Rs 2,000. This method of trickle irrigation involves slowly dripping water using emitters or drippers onto soil close to the roots of the plant. Frequent dripping helps maintain optimum soil moisture for plant growth. With Parmar’s innovative twist to this technique, it has become cost-effective and much more usable for farmers growing vegetables, flowers, and orchard and plantation crops.
Little things make a difference
“I laid a layer of mulch, which comprised dry leaves and wood chips, in my lawn, that I had collected plentifully while building my house,” says Anjali Ratnaker, painter and housemaker, Lucknow. This was a small but significant step taken by her to increase water retention in the soil, in turn reducing the amount needed to water the lawn.
Manorama Bannerji, an elderly housemaker from Delhi, uses earthen pots to water her small kitchen garden. She has devised an irrigation system with the help of some bamboo sticks and earthen pots to water her vegetables. “The idea struck me while offering water to a shivling in the local temple. I then bought a few earthen pots, carefully made holes in their bottoms and placed them in the garden with the help of some bamboo sticks. This process ensured controlled moisture to the soil, without getting it water logged or too dry,” she says. Though it is a bit painstaking to change the cracked pots from time to time, it does ensure saving a huge amount of water, along with a good yield of vegetables.
Meet Arun Krishnamurthy, who left his high paying Google job to found the Environmentalist Foundation of India that has restored around six lakes in the country till now. All of 27, Chennai-based Arun says, “Lake restoration is an important initiative because a clean and restored lake not only serves us humans, but is also home to many life forms.” Arun, along with his peers in EFI, plans to restore at least 20 lakes across the country in the next five years. “I left my corporate job because I realised life was not about materialistic gains. I found a connect with the work I am doing currently,” he shares.
Septuagenarian Aabid Surti is also an inspiring example of what each of us can do if we but wish to. Surti reaches out to societies near his house in Mumbai every Sunday with a plumber in tow and fixes leaky taps and faucets free of cost. He started this initiative in 2007. It has now developed into a fully fledged foundation called Drop Dead with his persistent efforts. A cartoonist and writer by profession, Surti saved around 4.14 lakh litres of water in the launch year of the campaign. Since then he has saved around a million litres of water with his one-man army and undaunted perseverance towards water conservation.
Did these people spend a huge amount of money to help the community? No. All they did is lead by example; showing ways of using water minimally. It was their determination that took them out of their comfort zone; it is the compassion in their hearts for this planet, for the lives around that motivates them to carry on. All we need is a compassionate heart to bring about a change. Let’s conserve water for the love of this planet, for the love of our environment, and for the love of life itself. As the pop band Blue’s lyrics go
‘One love… oh, I do believe
One love is all we need.’
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