17 June, 2024

Gather the Drops, Make a Wave

Imagine a future where every community thrives, nourished by clean and abundant water. This life-sustaining resource sustains our ecosystems, fuels our economy and forms the foundation of healthy communities. Ensuring water security is not just a necessity but also an opportunity to unlock a brighter future for all.

Siddharth Sharma, CEO, Tata Trusts
Siddharth Sharma, CEO, Tata Trusts

With a budget of $51 bn, Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) is working towards realising the vision of 'Har Ghar Jal', and laying the foundation for a sustainable, equitable water future. However, water security goes beyond mere access. It necessitates fostering a holistic ecosystem where access is not just granted but also perpetuated through continuous efforts. By putting communities at the heart of the change process, we can make a difference.

Climate change disrupts water resources, causing floods, droughts and rising sea levels. India confronts complex water challenges due to rapid population growth, diminishing groundwater reserves and inadequate infrastructure. These challenges manifest differently across regions, demanding tailored approaches.

Communities, especially those in rural India, serve as the first line of defence. Their intimate understanding of local dynamics and firsthand experience of challenges positions them as invaluable custodians of sustainable water management. Within these communities, seeds of change must be sown, nurturing a collective sense of stewardship over this vital resource. This underpins the 'One Water' approach, that aims to make rural communities self-reliant for their water needs.

Empowerment goes beyond providing them with tools and technologies. It’s about instilling a deep-rooted sense of responsibility that compels them to champion sustainable behaviours for the betterment of their own livelihoods and community.

The impact of this ripples through to the larger environment that sustains them. For instance, in the central and western Himalayan region, community-led initiatives are driving transformative change in the face of water scarcity. The Himmotthan Pariyojana and Northeast Initiative Development Agency's (NEIDA) integrated springshed management programme, led by local communities, have revitalised over 1,000 springs. This is a lifeline in a region where small springs provide 90% of its drinking water.

Notably, women have emerged as water managers, playing leadership roles. They decide and collect user fees that contribute towards operational maintenance of water supply systems. Similarly, Gujarat's Coastal Salinity Prevention Cell supports over 150 village-level water-user groups in developing models to prevent salinity ingress, promote water-use efficiency and enhance livelihood resilience by supporting sustainable agricultural practices.

At this critical juncture, where community ownership meets technology-driven solutions, lies the litmus test of sustained progress towards water security. Harnessing the potential of new and cost-effective technologies can accelerate progress towards safe drinking water, as exemplified by community-managed water kiosks to address the pressing issue of arsenic contamination of water at Nalabari in Assam, salinity-affected areas of coastal Andhra Pradesh, and microbiological contamination through low-cost tablet- based in-line chlorination systems in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.

Moreover, collaborative efforts with like-minded stakeholders, civil society organisations and government bodies are vital for effective water management, as seen in efforts to revitalise the streams and rivers of Gujarat and Maharashtra. These streams and rivers not only provide water for irrigation but also help farmers increase their income by cultivating additional crops.

While the disproportionate impact of water insecurity on vulnerable regions and populations can't be overlooked, empowered communities at the grassroots, armed with knowledge and resources, are our greatest assets in revitalising the quest to make India water-secure.

For optimisation, we must embrace a comprehensive approach that enhances water infrastructure, advocates for conservation techniques and prioritises rainwater harvesting. These foundational steps are essential for empowering communities to take ownership and ensure sustainable water management.

This article was first published on 15 June, 2024, in The Economic Times

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