Pani Ke Power?

 

Is there some sort of nonnegotiable power in water? Absolutely. Without it, life does not and can not exist.  Actually, it is not power until put in the hands of humans, who then use it as power.

            Water has become quite the commodity, even providing a booming new business to the economy. The sale of packaged “spring” water, “natural” water, “mountain” water, is very profitable. There is now even packaged flavored water. But where is this water coming from? And who is drinking this water? And what about the rest of the population, where do they get their water?

            My name is Sweta, and I have just started working with Shikshantar. My first day here, I was introduced to one of its newest project: Rainwater Harvesting. It was also the first time I was exposed to the extent of the water crisis in India, and around the world.

 The idea of rainwater harvesting is to take rainwater that falls onto roofs and put it back into the ground, tanks, or tube wells. In many cities, ground water is taken out when water from lakes and rivers dries up, but then it is never replaced. The problem is, the rate at which the water is being recharged is much slower than the rate at which we consume water.  For every two or three buckets we take out barely one gets back into the ground. “Rain is the ultimate source that feeds all these secondary sources (rivers, lakes, groundwater) and (people) remain ignorant of its value.” (Centre for Science and Environment www.cseindia.org ).  Even with rainfall, it is difficult for the water to get back into the ground. The fact is, water is not getting back into the ground, because there is no ground left. It has been covered with cement, tar, houses, buildings, parking lots, or all of the above. That means that water stays above ground creating fantastic swimming pools (what we call puddles). So there is no chance of natural absorption either.

 

Inspired by P.C. Jain, a prominent doctor living in Udaipur, Shikshantar has put forth a conscience effort to address this issue.  We are working with local families and businesses to install water pipes from their rooftops, into their tanks or underground wells, so that water can be collected, not wasted. This allows the water to be directly used, as well as recharging the groundwater and refilling empty tanks. 

 

The system has been installed in several homes all over Udaipur over the past month, by a core team made up of Gopal, Kaushel, Vinod, and Panna Lal. These four have only learned about plumbing, pipes and rain water harvesting in the past month as well.

            This fact amazed me. When I went on site with them, they seemed to know as much as any plumber or engineer, or at least someone who might have been doing the work for several months, not just one. The application of practical knowledge is very evident. It made me feel like this was very possible for anybody, something that I think is very important. When people feel daunted by new things, they tend not to get involved, but when the task seems to be fairly simple, their involvement level rises. The simplicity of rainwater harvesting has made the water crisis much more approachable as a whole.

            I asked Gopal and Kaushel about their own thoughts and experiences with this issue. Even though neither of them has had the misfortune to experience water shortage first hand, they have grown up seeing up others without water. Gopal commented, “We know that people waste water in America and other places, but I don’t really care about how they use their water. They have the kind of water to waste, then let them waste it, it’s not our problem. We’re not telling them how to live.”

            He added, “But when people waste water here in Udaipur, it makes me really angry. They know that there is a shortage of water, they can see it with their neighbors, but they still waste. There is no value for water.”

            Koshel had very strong feelings about the water problem as well. “Why are we dependent on others for water? We depend on the government to give us water every third day, but no one thinks that we can get water for ourselves, why? Don’t we have arms and legs of our own?”  As their passion for this topic heated up, Gopal declared, “It’s not just about saving water… We want to create an understanding and answer questions.”

            When I asked them how they wanted to create this understanding, as far as trying to get mass appeal or doing it with each individual, they were very clear. “Groups don’t understand. If you are talking to an individual, you can explain the process, answer any questions they might have.  Really have a conversation. Then if they are interested, they will tell others and the information will get passed on anyway.”

            We started talking about the people’s reactions to installing the pipes. Although most people reacted positively, the ones who showed the least interest were the academics or professionals. “What they did was an equation… a math problem where they put the amount of tankards they could fill with this system and how much they would spend on the pipes versus the amount of money they were spending on just buying more tankards. They were deciding the value of water using numbers.”  Kaushel also explained that some people did not want to install the pipes, because when the water went underground, there was no way to tell who would get to use the water. “The water could go to my neighbor, not to me.  So why should I collect it from my rooftop?”  This kind of selfish reaction very much upset Kaushel. 

            In order to spread more awareness and create conversation, Shikshantar has been trying to show films on water conservation and harvesting in different types of venues. There have been three screenings that I have attended, one at in a local neighborhood, one at a girl’s school and one at MGM institute where they teach computer skills and English to young adults. The reactions were all so different. In the neighborhood, mostly young children came and the few adults that did come, did not seem interested. It struck me that these were the people who were not getting water for two or three days on end, and they were the ones who didn’t seem to care.

At the girl’s school, I could tell that this kind of thought and process of thinking had not been introduced before.  Although teachers tell them pollution is happening and it is bad, they don’t learn much else. It was great to see them interested in talking to us and getting to think about things in a new way. Many of them were already doing things to help save water, and didn’t make the connections between what they were doing to the bigger picture. We told them that it was a great first step, but now, what else can we do to save and conserve water?  I also brought up the fact that in all five of the biographies in the video were about village people conserving water in different ways. Not a single person was from a city. I found that very interesting and asked the girls what they thought about that. Why are only the people in villages trying to find new ways to save water, when people in cities consume the most water?

The screening at MGM turned out to be the most frustrating.  I had thought here the conversation would be more informed.  The adults were middle-class, educated people who kept trying to argue that the government had control over the water situation, and that they would fix the problem. They seemed like human answering machines. After every question we asked, beep, the answer would be, “What can we do? The government has all the power, and they will do something about the problem.”  I kept trying to get them to see that the government was not doing (and would not do) anything.  And even if it ever did, everyone would be dying of thirst by then.

            In parts of Rajasthan and in other cities/states in India, laws have mandated that every building needs to have water harvesting pipes installed. Especially when new buildings are constructed, architects have to make sure that the blue prints include such pipes. But how many buildings actually have these systems? And why is it that people need a law to enforce the idea of saving water? That’s the part that makes me wonder about the state of our reality. The fact that we need laws to tell us not to pollute our land, or be wasteful of our water, or to help our neighbor. Is this what we are learning?  

            Some of the families who have received our help in installing the pipes spoke to me as well about how having the pipes were affecting them now. One family, the Walias were taking their harvested water and putting it back into their groundwater tank. Mr. Walia commented, “We wanted to give back what we had taken. It only seems right… we only take water, but no one is putting it back.”

            Another family, the Mehtas also had pipes installed. When I asked Mr. Mehta why he had the system he claimed, “I am an educated person. Why wouldn’t I install the pipes? I realize the good they do.” I thought this was an odd remark. Aren’t most people in cities “educated people” and isn’t most wastage happening in cities with these people?

            In order to combat this problem, rain water harvesting has started happening in cities. In Udaipur, Shikshantar has now helped install over 10 systems in various homes and businesses. People are aware that water shortage is a problem – everyone from the school girls, to family friends, to older people, to just people on the street, comment on it. The problem is now that people know, what are they going to do? The gap lies between the knowledge and action. So maybe if we take the equation and replace power and money with awareness and action, there might be a chance of having water for years to come, for everyone.