Type the words ‘India + water crisis’ into a Google search and you get several pages worth of results – and many with regards to the recent crisis being faced by Chennai. Of course, Delhi, Gurgaon, and Faridabad get their own share.
In India, we often cite our varied and vast geography, as well as our demographics as the reasons that explain our unique challenge and the continued scarcity that we have been dealing with for decades. Just as often blamed are the leadership and institutions who have for years ignored long term strategic planning in this key area.
This next step may well be one of the key markers of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term if he chooses to really take it on and have ‘Nal se Jal’ be more than a political marketing slogan. In order to deal with the imminent disaster that water management represents, we have to build infrastructures as well as trust-based partnerships. A solutions-based approach and a united entity that is willing to take on the challenge is now a non-negotiable if we are to have a chance to overcome the water inefficiency that is today’s reality. Supply, demand and long-term strategic planning
In the west, there is much talk of water conservation awareness. This is not really an issue that most rural Indians need to be educated on – for those who do not have running water and who calculate water volumes in terms of buckets carried and kilometers walked, that is something that is easily understood and implemented.
However, we do need to educate urban populations and policymakers. In order to fully understand the issue, we do need to develop a detailed water map that is transparent and concise that will enable the political leadership to take sound policy initiatives.
According to this
Harvard Business Review article, the water industry has now embraced digital data in order to calculate pertinent facts. Forbes and the World Bank report that the economic cost from bursts and leaks in pipes is $14 billion worldwide. The same article refers to the water loss in the United States as being at 30 percent, but it is much higher, at 53 percent in places like New Delhi. Pure waste in a time of need.
The water map needs to provide visibility regarding infrastructure funding shortfalls, increasing water needs due to our consumption patterns, and the ability to forecast the diverse metrics of changes in rainfall and temperatures. Gathering and analysing economic data regarding financial losses due to man-hours spent looking for, gathering and transporting water need to be better known and communicated if they are to serve as additional incentives.
Having a clear vision will increase awareness of the necessity to build trust-based partnerships especially when the essential resource of water is being public-private partnerships (PPPs). Corruption and conflicts of interest, political and financial opacity and fear of increases in water costs are just some of the reasons that many PPPs fail to meet their promises.
Despite its many challenges, there are some advantages India does have: a by and large stable, democratic government and a constant and favourable financial growth. India has its own unique political, social and economic context so when I cite the following countries it is as sources of inspiration and not necessarily imitation.
This Mckinsey report details many strategies that Australia, Israel, and Singapore have all implemented in terms of water management. From desalination to start-up incubators to fully fledged ‘blue-tech’ firms, water innovation is essential.
There are lessons to be learned in observing how Australia manages the fluctuating river flow rates in the Murray-Darling basin or how Singapore is reclaiming water from public utilities under the brand name NeWater. Historically, Singapore had to import about 50 percent of its water from Malaysia and that figure has fallen to about 40 percent, despite the population more than doubling over the last 30 years. The government expects to be self-sufficient in water by 2061. Of course, this does not deny the incoherence of Singapore’s magnificent but entirely unnatural and water guzzling 'Botanical Gardens'.
Inspiration can be found closer to home through the work and vision of one man, Rajendra Singh. In 2015 he was awarded the
Stockholm Water Prize – the ‘Nobel of water’ in recognition of his work to revive the Johads of Rajasthan. Johads, traditional rainwater harvesting systems in existence since the 1300s, were deemed unsanitary by the British and therefore abolished during the colonisation.
In close cooperation with locals, he and his organisation the Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS) have revived rivers, made previously arid lands arable once again, and thus metamorphosed the local economies. The TBS has brought water to 700,000 habitats in 650 villages while allowing the villagers to take control of their water management in consensus-based decision making. Democracy at its best.
India needs to find the sweet spot between technical innovation, awareness, and reclaiming our traditional ways of water harvesting in order to no longer be beholden to other countries and large corporations alike.
It can be done. One man transformed 650 villages. Scaling this to a national level will take the will of a people and a government. Water security for India but also the world, in general, will need a political will that looks beyond the bipartisan disputes and plans long term and way beyond the five-year cycles.
Source Book: Un Million de Révolutions Tranquilles by Bénédicte Manier (A Million Peaceful Revolutions) Nandita Sood Perret is a communications consultant and leadership coach at CTD Cultural Insights, where she helps people and companies break through old patterns, to develop new perspectives and innovative solutions for collaboration and growth. Read Nandita Sood Perret's columns here.
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