High tech and mud
“There is hope,” says Rao, pointing out that India is well positioned because of its monsoon rains and the Himalayas
“However,” he cautions, “if we do not reduce water consumption by industry without lowering production, we are inviting trouble. Also, if we do not quickly find water-saving methods in agriculture without reducing yields, we will be in danger of scarcity. In short, we have to recycle water and stop the severe evaporative losses and pollution of water reservoirs.”
These goals are already being pursued. WaterAid is working in partnership with the Water Programme of the HSBC Bank to improve the supply of safe water in villages in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where pollution is especially high. Project workers test water quality and install filters to remove arsenic. Ramesh Yadav, the man with severe lesions on his hands, now fetches safe water from a well equipped with such a filter. Project coordinators such as Anand Singh even go to private households to conduct water quality tests.
In Uttar Pradesh, children can now be seen carrying safe water home in buckets. Together with its partner organization Shramik Bharti, WaterAid has repaired hand pumps in one community in the city of Kanpur. Still, it takes several hours for the community dwellers to collect a few buckets of water. The children often have to walk back and forth several times carrying their heavy buckets.
Through his Water Literacy Foundation and his company Rain Water Concepts, the “water warrior” Ayyappa Masagi is striving to restore the hydrological balance of the ecosystem by increasing “water literacy” and promoting efficient and sustainable water management practices. “If we can harness even just 30 or 40 percent of the available rainwater, we can uproot the water crisis that has been plaguing us,” he asserts. To implement his ideas, Indians are building rainwater harvesting systems. This includes digging pits in the earth to collect, filter, and store rainwater for immediate domestic use.
percent of the world’s population lives in India, but the country has only 4 percent of the world’s water resources
The “water warrior” Ayyappa Masagi teaches responsible water utilization
The overflow is directed to borewells in order to recharge the groundwater. In Masagi’sopinion, such seemingly simple solutions are more effective than megaprojects such as building huge dams and redirecting rivers. “We have had hundreds of success stories ranging from individual houses and apartments to farms and industrial companies—if they can have success, why can’t the rest of the country?” he asks.
The ambitious goal of this “water warrior” is to make India water-efficient between now and 2020. Although the country is still nowhere close to this goal, Masagi displays a “never say no” attitude as he promotes his vision.
Another such visionary is Rajendra Singh, who is known as the “Water Man of India.” In 2015 he was awarded the Stockholm Water Prize. He is working with villagers in the state of Rajasthan to build mud dams called johads—a traditional technique for collecting rainwater in artificial ponds. There are already more than 8,000 johads throughout the state, providing water to over 1,000 villages.
Another “water hero” working in Rajasthan is Amla Ruia, the “Water Mother of India.” She has transformed over 100 villages in the state by helping the villagers to install traditional water harvesting techniques and build check dams called khadins. Before her NGO, Aakar Charitable Trust, became active in the region, these villages were arid and dry. The check dams built by the villagers are small masonry structures buttressed by piles of earth. They are inexpensive to build and very effective, especially in hilly terrain.
In addition to this revival of ancient traditions, villagers are also using completely innovative methods, such as recycling “gray water.” Through his STEPS company, T. Raghavendra Rao has developed biological methods of treating wastewater that can be applied primarily in factories and middle-class apartment complexes. Wastewater can be reused after being purified by means of Rao’s nanooxidation technology, along with specially formulated bio-media carriers that remove bacteria. Other techniques help to remove contamination from bodies of water, using natural products and specific sound frequency generators that destroy algae and break up phytotoxins. “This non-chemical method improves water quality rapidly,” says Rao. “We also use other methods such as rapid flocculation and rapid oxidation.” Industrial effluents are treated with a combination of biological and chemical methods as well as oxidation.
In addition, there is always a strong focus on changing people’s attitude toward water. “Government agencies won’t accomplish anything if the public is not involved,” says Rao. “As long as people believe that water is free and available in unlimited amounts, nothing will change. Preserving and recycling water costs money, and the government must provide adequate funding. That’s the only way we will have a future.”