Water Crisis, Sustainability and Education

Vijay Paranjpye
Gomukh Environmental Trust for Sustainable Development

Our country gets about 4000 billion cubic metres of water from the sky. Only about one-fourth of this is actually usable, as the rest runs off into the sea and evaporates. This quantum remains more or less constant, though there are regional variations in actual natural availability depending on the local landforms and rock structures. Whatever we could do for impounding water has been done to a large extent - there are about 4500 large dams in our country and thousands of small water-holding structures.

Over the last century or so, India’s population has quadrupled. The average availability of usable water has correspondingly decreased from about 6000 cubic metre per capita per day to 1500 to 1800 cubic metre per capita per day.

The nature of consumption of water has also changed. A large proportion of the water demand until the 1980s was mostly for agriculture/domestic use. This was used without much treatment. In the 1990s as a consequence of mechanization and artificial supply for agriculture, the usage of water increased. Water was being used in industry as well, because it was made easily available.

By the end of the 20th century, the high levels of consumption and discharge had started leading to a double crisis. Though the per capita consumptive use remained more or less the same, the non-consumptive use, especially water used for agriculture, has increased due to changes in cropping patterns. Industrial discharge into water bodies has also increased.
Untreated waste-water causes a collateral contamination — when waste-water is discharged untreated into fresh-water bodies, it pollutes a much greater freshwater quantity. Not only is available water polluted, the livelihoods dependent on the water also suffer a great loss.

Challenge for Sustainability
The challenge for sustainability in the water sector relates to improving equity, adequacy and quality. Education has an important role in this. Management and wise use requires negotiations and new social contracts, all of which need knowledge and awareness among the stakeholders to be effective. Indeed, the role of education is to help various stakeholders understand why new management methods are needed, and then to arrive at the details of management and behaviour.

From the point of view of availability if by 2050, the population is stabilized; it is possible to manage demand by paying attention to efficient use and recycling. Using available and appropriate technology we can get a substantial reduction in collateral contamination.

There is a definite need for water use related education in the Agriculture sector, since agriculture demands high usage of water. As the Global Water Partnership advocates, agricultural techniques and crop varieties should yield ‘more crop per drop’. And there is need to minimize chemical use per hectare for eliminating direct and collateral contamination. As regards Industry, the quality of discharge is more the concern than the quantity of usage. If industry cleans up whatever water is used before discharge, then it may be allowed to use as much water as it needs.

The third category of stakeholders is the policy makers/ decision makers. Local governments and other regulatory agencies have a major role in keeping natural water systems free from development and discharge. By protecting these natural water systems, wholesome water can be made available to both people and ecosystems. Sanskriti Menon

Collateral contamination: enormous amounts of sewage and effluents are generated in cities every day. Not only is untreated water unusable, it is allowed to flow into rivers and lakes contaminating a much larger quantity of fresh water

Governance and Water Management
A ‘negotiated river-basin management’ approach is a useful anchor for the educational effort in the water sector. This means that all actors within a river basin should have information on the nature of use of water, including aspects of equity, quality, efficiency and sustainability of resource use. Once this knowledge is available, discussions and negotiations can happen on how to change for the better.

“The city does not think of water as a natural system. Water is thought of something coming from dams and pipes. Rainwater harvesting, ground water are not part of mainstream water management planning in a city. It’s a problem only when the city has acute shortage or is flooded with water. We have to conceive of an approach that helps build up a knowledge base about water as a natural system among urban citizens.” In Maharashtra, several different civil society groups have over several years been addressing water-related issues. These include technologists and implementers of ground-water and watershed management programmes such as AFARM and ACWADAM; those that have brought in concerns of equity such as the Left-based movements; and those that have brought in environmental and natural eco-systemic considerations into the debate, such as the Ecological Society and Gomukh. The state government agencies have played a critical role in being responsive to these influences and demands from civil society and professional agencies. Over the last three decades, water management thinking has transformed from a centralized piped water supply oriented approach to a decentralized, locally governed, augmentation of local sources approach. As it happens, the World Bank too has pushed for decentralization and cost recovery.

The existence of on-ground movements, especially among farmers, and technical inputs from civil society has ensured that equity and ‘resource literacy’ accompanied the move towards decentralization. The recently set up Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority is expected to follow the river-basin management approach. It will bring the various gram panchayats, municipalities and other regulators and actors onto a single platform for discussion and negotiation, and would have to operate within the logic of the natural river basin system.
The author heads the Gomukh Environmental Trust for Sustainable Development ('Durga' 92/2 Gangote Path, Opp. Kamala Nehru Park, Erandawane, Pune 411 004.
gomukh@vsnl.com, paranjpye@yahoo.co.uk

Rainwater harvesting: Need for integration into development planning and building codes. A model and panels at a water and sanitation education facility in Madhya Pradesh. In practice at Jawan village, Pune district

What’s a good way to learn about rivers and water management? Rishi Markandeya devised the jal parikrama to sensitize pilgrims towards the great mysteries of the universe, to perceive the evolution of all living creatures including man, to be aware of and have respect for the incredible power and beauty of nature. The journey traditionally takes three years, three months and three days to complete. During this time the pilgrims observe chastity and carry no provisions but eat off the land. Here are descriptions of learning journeys by two latter day pilgrims...

Narmada Parikrama
I have made the journey along the river banks of the Narmada from its source to its final exit at the sea three times. In a sense I would like to think upon these journeys as a "parikrama", the sacred ritual that has been followed from time immemorial by millions of people.

The parikrama in a modern day "Gypsy", while in no way can be compare with a genuine pilgrimage, was in a sense equally arduous and no less significant. My task was to evaluate the economic viability of the multi purpose projects that are going to dam this great river. The parikrama of course helped me form a network of people to share information and ideas. I was held spell-bound by the vast range of insights that the valley offered about its waters, its people, its fertile lands, its past and its future. These insights were inescapable, because more than any other river in the world, the Narmada is a great teacher.

Jal Dindi
The Jal Dindi is a unique water pilgrimage initiated in the year 2002. The main proponents of the Jal Dindi started out as kayaking enthusiasts in the rivers of Pune. The raw sewage, garbage, water hyacinth in the rivers quickly prompted them to take some serious action. At first, they made a lot of efforts to remove truck loads of hyacinth. Soon they realized that as long as untreated sewage is entering the river, the removal of hyacinth will be a never-ending task. The next step was to attempt eco-remediation of nallas carrying raw sewage into the rivers. This has been tried out with varying degrees of success in three locations in Pune.

In parallel, they felt the need for a larger group with a shared concern about the rivers. The river is never far from their mind. In 2002, Dr Vishwas Yevale, one of the core group members, was performing the last rites of his father in law at Tuljapur, where the Bhima and the Indrayani meet. He thought that people could come to this place, which is a place to get moksha, as a pilgrimage on the river itself. The idea for the Jal Dindi was born here. The Jal Dindi starts at Pune, and it takes 12 days of kayaking to reach Tuljapur. This pilgrimage reveals the beauty and the problems of the river courses. The transformative power of the pilgrimage has made the Jal Dindi into a people's movement over the years.
Vishwasanskriti Educational Initiatives has documented this initiative in the film Jal Dindi. The film, directed by Abhijit Tilak depicts the story of the Jal Dindi, from how it all started to its evolution as a people's movement.
Duration: 2 hours and 8 minutes
For more information contact:
Dr Vishwas Yevale, 3, White House Society,Airport Road, Yerawada, Pune 411006
E-mail: paradox@vsnl.com

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