Divyang Waghela, Head of the Tata Water Mission at the Tata Trusts, explains how collaborative institutions can enable communities to manage their own water resources
On World Water Day 2021, it’s interesting to see how the United Nations has taken up different themes each year. Over the last five years, the themes have covered critical aspects such as water for a sustainable world, water and energy, water and jobs, water – leaving no one behind, and water and climate change.
There is an increasing stridency and urgency in the themes, a reflection of the planet’s increasing levels of water crisis. And there is also a commonality in all these aspects that can be summed up in this year’s theme – ‘valuing water’.
In India, demand for water will be twice as much as supply in less than 10 years, ie by 2030. Clearly, if we are to secure the future supply of water for our citizens, the time to act on it is now.
The Tata Water Mission was launched in 2015 by Tata Trusts to address the critical need for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). ‘Water and sanitation for all’ is the UN SDG goal for 2030. That is the vision powering our work in building holistic solutions around WASH interventions in villages and communities.
Today, the Tata Water Mission has a direct presence in 15 Indian states that have been identified as having high-to-extremely-high water stress areas. Our programmes cover more than 5,400 villages and benefit around 3.9 million people through initiatives for safe drinking water, assured water sources, improved sanitation services and hygiene practices.
Our work involves identifying and implementing solutions that are geared towards local situations. Reviving and augmenting springs, rainwater harvesting, improved access to drinking water to underserved communities etc. are some of the initiatives. Technology solutions that address ground water contamination (such as arsenic and fluoride removal) have been deployed. We have also piloted IoT-based solutions in the field to enhance efficiency of the system to ensure sustainability.
The objective of the Tata Water Mission is to improve the quality of life in communities, which also covers water-related life impacts such as livelihoods, incidence of disease and health and hygiene issues. We have placed the community in the centre of our work. It is the community that ‘values water’ and works toward sustaining it.
As a resource centre, we design a solution that is best for the community and offer them a choice that they can afford, manage and sustain. The criteria – the solution should be technically feasible, economically viable and culturally acceptable.
A community-based approach
All our efforts are aimed at creating sustainable systems with community engagement, ie where the user of the water is also the manager of the water.
In India’s villages and rural areas, the locals have immense knowledge about their water resources. The intent is to build their capability and involve them in the interventions so that they are best equipped to sustainably save and manage water for their future, and become self-reliance for all their water needs.
There’s another reason why community engagement, specifically women, forms a big component of our interventions. Today, nearly 65% rural households don’t have access to water within their premises. The women and adolescent girls of the house have to fetch water for the family every day and this often involves walking long distances to a well and physically carrying water back.
This not only puts a huge burden on women, but also translates into a socio-economic cost for the rural family. It is important to reduce this drudgery. Engaging women in water management aspects brings greater level of rigour as women understand challenges in managing household water in day to day life.
Encouraging behaviour change
The Tata Water Mission aims to build in two key elements into our programmes. The first is establishing community institutions such as village water committees, paani samitis and water user groups. We support and train these institutions so that they become the process holder and the decision maker on water solutions that suit local circumstances.
The second element, and just as important if not more, is ensuring sustainability through systematic behaviour change in the community. It is important that individuals and the larger community become more aware of the importance of water for health and livelihoods. And that they work towards managing this common resource through a collective approach.
Partnering for scale
The Tata Trusts strongly believe that when you want to achieve scale, you need to build partnerships. Our role is filling critical gaps and value addition through technology innovation and approach innovation. For instance, we partner the government if they wish to replicate a successful intervention for large-scale and longer term impact. Our efforts are directed towards complementing government efforts to ensure enhanced service delivery to communities from mainstream government schemes.
We also work to bring like-minded people and organisations together, to create a platform for collective understanding, to deploy our resources in a common direction to leverage a wider impact, and to work with knowledge partners to create new actionable solutions.
To sum up, the Trusts leverage technology, community and partnerships to ensure that programmes in the field are sustainable and scalable.
As water becomes a scantier resource, the Trusts are open to new technologies and innovations to create positive impact on the ground. Going forward, the Tata Water Mission would look at the One Water concept in its intervention geographies. One Water addresses the reality that water uses may be varied, but water availability can be more efficiently managed through solutions that address the entire picture.
Our approach across our programmes will be to find holistic solutions in terms of drinking water, water for agriculture or industry, and common or ecological water, such as streams and rivers. The intent is to find the most effective, efficient and sustainable solutions to ensure that India’s vulnerable communities become self-reliant for their water needs.