Water is wealth

Excerpts from the Statement of Shared Concern by the participants of the CSE conference on Potential of Water Harvesting: Traditions, Policies and Social Mobilisation (New Delhi, October 3-5, 1998) voiced the new paradigm for water management

 
Published: Sunday 15 April 2001

Water is wealth

india 's ancient tradition of community-based water harvesting is declining and being replaced by the role of the state in water management. This is promoting a wasteful and profligate consumption pattern in the country. Not only surface water, even groundwater resources are also being overexploited and polluted. Therefore, it has become necessary to revive community and household management of water. The people themselves must play a more active role, as the state is not being able to succeed. This has to be done both in towns and villages because a growing number of towns are also facing the problems of water mismanagement.

It is only by mobilising people as well as enacting legislations that promote water harvesting can these aims be met. To mobilise people, it is important to promote research that is people-oriented and not just technology-oriented. Research on extending and improving local systems through techniques like rooftop water harvesting, storage of local runoff and recharging of groundwater aquifers in a framework of integrated land-water development is the need of the hour.

This does not mean that we believe that the state has no role to play in water management or there is no role for centralised water supply systems. We have to urgently restore a balance between the role of the state and the individual. There is a need to give more importance to harnessing water locally to achieve this balance.

Fortunately, some efforts are bearing fruit, thanks to some state governments and non-government organisations (ngo s). A survey of developments, in both India and abroad, shows that numerous projects have been undertaken to promote local water harvesting both in urban and rural areas. There have been outstanding efforts in South Asia, Japan and Germany. Water harvesting is proving to be a technology fit for arid regions, poor nations and rich and prosperous ones as well. Even certain state governments like Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have begun to encourage rainwater harvesting and have been inspired to undertake watershed management on an integrated basis by rural communities. Water harvesting should be combined with village ecosystem management as it can start a chain of highly synergistic and substantial ecological and economic changes, giving rise to the adage that water is wealth.

But a variety of measures need to be undertaken to promote rainwater harvesting in urban areas where it can help to increase water supply, recharge groundwater and reduce storm water runoff. While several measures like creating a new building code and imposing fiscal incentives have been set up by governments such as in Chennai, India, Sumida City, Japan and in Bonn, Germany, a lot more programmes still need to be undertaken.

At the same time, there is potential for a huge mass movement on water harvesting. Households and individuals can increasingly get involved in managing their water supply to increase community self-reliance. ngo s and individuals can easily take up the work of increasing awareness, educating people and mobilising local action, thus paving the way for increased food and livelihood security. Therefore, a national campaign on water literacy is required to spread the message that water is a very precious natural resource. This investment in a literacy campaign is vital to ensure people's participation without which several crore rupees can be spent on projects without adequate results. Also, there is a need to increase the awareness and understanding of the officials dealing with rural and urban development on a nationwide basis to strengthen the water harvesting component of these programmes. In rural areas, water pricing should be left to user committees and Panchayati Raj institutions to decide and implement. Several states have legal provisions that prevent rural and urban communities from undertaking water harvesting activities. There is a need to replace these with laws that promote water harvesting and clearly think about the institutional mechanisms needed to promote water harvesting at all levels of Indian society.

Given the welcome emphasis on local institutions following the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Indian Constitution, it is important to educate village and urban leaders also about the importance of these programmes. Water harvesting should be a compulsory subject in schools and for engineers and town planners. National awards should be instituted for persons and communities to recognise outstanding work. The government should also be prepared to provide free access to water-related information available.

The state should also provide the necessary technical and financial assistance to communities and households. Priority regions should be identified to undertake such programmes. They should ideally be areas that have a high intensity of land degradation and low productivity of rainfed agriculture.

For urban areas, development bylaws have to be suitably formulated or modified and the masterplans of urban areas should clearly demarcate the catchment areas and leave them undisturbed. All building plans should provide for water harvesting and builders and planners should be given clear technical guidelines. Strong laws should be promulgated for the protection of waterbodies.

A clear strategy is needed to promote the judicious use of water, encourage use of treated wastewater and promote a national-level network to push for water harvesting.

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