Typically today, we expect our Governments to ensure that our water and other basic needs are looked after. So Governments around the world run huge organisations with centralised control for procuring and storing grains, putting up nuclear power plants, managing water and energy systems and so on. And we, as individuals and local communities have forgotten to take charge of basic essentials for ourselves.
The water solutions that Governments have focussed on since the 19th century are mammoth projects likes dams and often ecologically sad ones like the interlinking of rivers project. Huge sewage treatment plants by big businesses looking for their own profits are also being talked about and in some cases have been launched. All of these are high carbon solutions and can be unpredictably dangerous - like the dams in the Himalayas that are now seen as contributing factors to the escalated seismic activity that led to devastating earth quakes in 2014.
But there is an alternative narrative that seems to have been erased from our collective memory. The large scale centralised water management systems are only 150 years old. There were some dams built between 1400BC and 1500 AD, but they were few are far betweeen. But largely, all over the world, communities took ownership and responsibility for their water needs, and hence took care of their water bodies.
India did not have a huge number of natural lakes and ponds. Those we see today are tanks and lakes that were created by people to harvest rain and preserve the water available in the region. In Karnataka alone, 38,000 lakes and tanks had been created, beautifully connected and networked to manage overflows with minimum wastage. Centralised control of water unfortunately led to many of such lakes to be neglected, converted for use by buildings and other infrastructure.
Today, climate change is making monsoons more erratic, bad agriculture policies are depleting ground water and our cities and industries are using and polluting water like there is no tomorrow. In such a scenario, water scarcity, water stress and water wars is what will surely follow in the years to come. Clearly, while big projects may be needed in some areas, the centralised mega scale management of water is not working today.
Localising part of the water - and many other solutions - seem to be an ecologically wise way forward. In this issue of Bhoomi we present stories from different parts of the country, where individuals and communities have decided to take charge of being water prudent. We begin with the tireless work of Shri Anupam Mishra, whose untimely demise we just got to know of. He was truly one of India’s foremost water heroes who worked to promote ancient water conservation methods.
It is deeply heartening to see the gradual revival of the water wisdom of the country - from the story of Rajendra Singh who helped revive 4000 Johads in Rajasthan to Piyush Manush who mobilised the people of Salem to bring back life to its polluted lakes in the name of Maariamman - the popular goddess of the region; also the arrival of new technologies that mimic Nature such as plant based sewage treatment plants to promoting new inventions like the nano spray tap that can reduce water consumption by 98%.
In multiple ways we create problems, find solutions for them which create yet other problems. When we have communities taking up local projects to solve their problems, working for their own wellbeing, we are moving towards real Swaraj, towards being anchored in ourselves with our feet firmly on the ground.
Will Governments wake up and actively promote local water solutions? Can we mobilise local communities as our solutions provider and also to campaign for our basic needs?