Ripples that may last
The Hindu, May 25, 2012
[Note: The SANDRP report which is reviewed in the following article is
Community led solutions could be one of the many ways to stem the
current water crisis
John F. Kennedy once said, "Anyone who can solve the problem of water
will be worthy of two Nobel prizes – one for peace and one for science."
While they may not be aspiring for this prize, the country has several
activist-scholars whose combination of grassroots work with academic
research has increased their ability to offer cost-effective solutions
for water-related problems and crisis situations.
One such scholar-activist is Himanshu Thakkar, engineer and
environmentalist. He was earlier with the Narmada Bachao Andolan before
he initiated (with other colleagues) the South Asia Network on Dams,
Rivers and People (SANDRP). The network's voice is heard with increasing
respect on water-related issues as it takes a lot of care to suggest
only those solutions which minimise all costs (economic, social and
environmental), emphasise sustainability and promote community led
SANDRP's latest effort is a study titled 'Water Sector Options for India
in a Changing Climate' which includes case studies done by experienced
researchers. As any planning for water now will have to take into
account the new problems and stresses arising due to climate change, the
study is relevant today.
According to the study recent data reveals that the rainfall pattern in
India is changing significantly and a major reason for this changing
pattern is climate change. The frequency and magnitude of high rainfall
events is increasing while the number of rainy days is decreasing. This
raises the possibility of increased frequency and intensity of floods.
The onset of monsoon and the gap between rainfall events is becoming
These changes are likely to have a massive impact on all farmers,
particularly rain-fed farmers. Adaptation will be helped if we make
rainwater harvesting and groundwater change the top priority in our
water resources policy and programmes.
Groundwater is India's lifeline and to protect it a three-point strategy
is advocated. Firstly, ensure the sustenance of existing groundwater
recharge systems including local water systems and their catchments.
Secondly, give top priority to the creation of more such systems.
Thirdly, put in place a credible, legally enforceable, community led
regulation. At the same time, the government should promote greater
access of groundwater to the underprivileged, particularly the Dalit
The study also advocates organic farming as increased organic matter in
the soil will also increase water security for rain-fed farmers by
enhancing the moisture holding capacity of the soil. Water-saving,
high-yielding and low-input requiring practices like the System of Rice
Intensification (SRI) should be promoted. Water intensive crops and GM
crops should be discouraged.
A Right to Water Act should be enacted keeping in view ecological
protection, human rights protection and livelihood protection. The human
rights perspective is that clean water should be ensured for drinking
and domestic use as a right to all people without any discrimination. An
ecological perspective emphasises the protection of rivers, lakes, wet
lands and all water bodies. A livelihood perspective demands that water
should be available to support livelihoods. Existing water laws should
also be re-examined from these perspective, the study says.
There is a clear need to evaluate carefully the actual usefulness of
huge dams and canal networks that have been built as the available data
raises disturbing questions. Future emphasis should be on ensuring
better utilisation of existing infrastructure instead of rushing into
new gigantic projects of dubious merit and high costs. To ensure proper
functioning of reservoirs, each reservoir should have an operation
committee in which at least 50 per cent members should be from the local
communities. Freshwater flow all around the year should be ensured in
all rivers at levels which are adequate for social and ecological needs
including groundwater charge.
Overall, the merit of the study is that while highlighting the new
problems likely to be aggravated in the already stressful situation of
water crisis, it carefully avoids a panic response and lists a wide
range of highly desirable solutions which can help to solve the water
crisis without causing any social and ecological disruption.
The logo of SANDRP is a plant with three leaves which represent three
principles of sustainable water solutions - 'harvest rain', 'let rivers
flow' and 'no destructive projects'. The study seeks solutions based on
these three principles.
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