By Arti Manchanda Grover
Conversations these days with my five-year-old daughter around using water judiciously, such as not leaving the tap open while brushing and washing hands. Her very kid-like response is that she likes playing with water. But her statement causes me to ponder more deeply on the fact that we in the human race have played with and abused the availability of this precious resource so much so that we now have a huge water crisis staring us in the face.
About 100 million people across India are on the front lines of a nationwide water crisis. According to a 2018 report by Niti Aayog, twenty-one major cities are on the verge of running out of groundwater in the next year. Nationwide, 600 million people are facing acute water shortages, and 200,000 die each year from inadequate or unsafe water supplies.
Water, the most precious resource bestowed on us by nature, holds immense value in our lives. Since I joined Sehgal Foundation, an organization driven by a principle of “practice what we preach,” I have become more sensitive to water usage and conservation. A message I come across often is, “No matter how rich you are, you can’t live without water.” Since there is no substitute for water, what needs to be done to conserve this resource? A holistic view of water conservation examines the demand and the supply side of water management.
Rain, a pure form of water, must be harvested. Part of our work at Sehgal Foundation is with communities on several water interventions, including runoff water harvesting structures such as check dams, anicuts, gabion structures, as well as rejuvenating traditional water structures. On the demand side, agriculture is the biggest consumer of water, so water-saving agriculture techniques like drip irrigation, laser leveling, and bed making are promoted to use less water in irrigation. At the household level, flushing is the highest consumer of water, followed by washing, bathing, and use in other chores. Creating awareness and sensitization around the water saving topics are part of our daily conversations and remain on our minds. But I wonder if this is enough. What will it take to get this message to every household and every individual such that future generations can also make use of the resource.
Is media is a carrier of this information—which form of media? How and how much? A media that connects and is local, relevant, and accessible can transmit these messages on a regular basis to keep the topic in people’s minds. Mass media communication approaches with regular and consistent messaging helps. Community radios across India can serve as a feasible medium to support the newly launched Jal Shakti Abhiyan (water conservation). At Sehgal Foundation’s community radio station, Alfaz-e-Mewat, informative programs include water experts, community members who have taken initiatives to conserve water, water warriors (jal yoddhas). Quiz questions are aired on the radio that solicit opinions on water usage and water-saving practices. I have been heartened to see the work of many unsung water heroes who serve as an inspiration for others. Water harvesting must become a sustainable norm now and into the future. For change to happen, we have to start somewhere; from macro-level steps to efforts at the lowest level, and we must not lose hope.
Join us in a pledge to start with small steps—small is beautiful too!
[Arti Manchanda Grover is Communication program leader, S M Sehgal Foundation]