Fresh look: Video Review

Changing Currents (six films, 26-minute each) produced by TVE International 2003 English

By Souparno Banerjee
Published: Tuesday 15 April 2003

Water resources doing down the (Credit: TVE International)Changing Currents (six films, 26-minute each) produced by TVE International 2003 English

Only one per cent of the world's water is fit for drinking. With global population brimming over at 6.2 billion and still rising, the pressure on freshwater from people, pollution and changing weather is intense. tve's series on 'freshwater challenges and solutions' is a curtain-raiser to the recently concluded 3rd World Water Forum in Japan (March 16-23, 2003). It is a telling comment on the state of the Earth's freshwater resources and the options that we have to sustainably manage them. The six films are thematic studies of preeminent water issues. Each one underscores the criticality of community management of the resource as the key solution to all our water woes.

The first film in the series, Land of the Rising Water, examines Japan's success in urban water management. Built on flood plains, most of Japan's megacities have taken recourse to high-tech civil engineering solutions to tackle floods and conserve the country's wetlands. The film points out that while such large-scale projects could be unviable for most developing nations, Japan also offers numerous low-cost, user-friendly community initiatives that could show the way. These initiatives -- such as Nobuo Tokunaga's small-scale rainwater harvesting systems -- draw from the nation's 400-year-old tradition of managing and harvesting water.

Community initiatives are also the highlights of two other films. Not a Dirty Word looks at the issue of access to safe water and basic sanitation, and its centrality to any kind of development process. In Pumping Pressure, South Africa and India provide case studies of the crisis of rapidly depleting water reserves and grassroots responses to it. From India's Sulabh International's acclaimed low-cost, self-financed sanitation facilities that have led to rehabilitation of scavengers, to the successful Orangi project in Pakistan that has used a grassroots movement to create a self-financed sanitation grid; from the dryland farming experiments of the women of Athol village near Johannesburg in South Africa to the use of check dams for rejuvenating groundwater sources in Gujarat -- the films document heart-warming stories of peoples' efforts to turn the tide.

Climate change and its impact on the availability of water is the subject of Tell Tale Signs. Devastating floods and droughts -- the film's tell tale signs of changing hydrological processes -- have become common in places such as Orissa and Mozambique. In Orissa, the neglect of traditional water management systems and the official policy of dependence on large-scale development schemes have compounded the problem, while in Mozambique, dams over the Zambezi are the culprits. The worst hit, in both cases, are the poorest of the poor. The film puts forth a strong case for communities and official agencies to work together to adapt to changing climate.

The next in the series, Plumbing the Rights 1, focuses on the issue of water as a common property and a right that is indistinguishable from the right to life. The film documents local communities from India and South Africa striving to maintain this right in the face of official opposition. In Rajasthan, where community efforts have revived traditional water harvesting structures called johads, villagers of Lava ka Baas are resisting the state government's move to destroy their johad. In South Africa, official curb on access to water for people who cannot pay for it is forcing communities take the water illegally.

The final film in the series, Boiling Point, takes this issue of conflict further on to the prospect of wars over water. The three flashpoints the film investigates -- the Okavango river system in Africa, the Rio Grande in North America and the West Bank in water-starved Middle East -- are veritable powder kegs. While the ecologically vibrant Okavango basin is witnessing a struggle between governments bent on using the river for economic gains and local population which fears that the move will destroy the delta, farmers across the borders in the us and Mexico are at loggerheads over the sharing of the waters of the Rio Grande. In West Bank, in the volatile Middle East, conflicts over water allocation between Israelis and Palestinians have taken on sinister political implications; the Israeli army has intervened to destroy age-old rainwater storage reservoirs of Palestinians and forced the hapless people out of their lands. The need of the hour, as hydrologist Peter Ashton points out in the film, is to 'balance' all concerns, but is anybody listening to this?

Six films. Six ways of looking at a problem which is colossal and complex. The World Water Forum concluded with a "solemn commitment towards facing global water challenges", and acknowledged that community-level public participation is fundamental to meeting these challenges. What remains to be seen is whether the world will walk the way it talks.

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