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Sunita Narain: Value every raindrop

Water management is about society and its ability to build technologies to maximise the use of water and, more importantly, technologies to share water with all

Sunita Narain  |  New Delhi 

Sunita Narain

is Day. There is no doubt that will determine whether India becomes wealthy or remains poor. But the management of is not simply about building more dams or pipelines to take the to our cities and then more pipelines to flush the from our homes. The management of is about building a relationship between society and its water, so that we can understand the value of each and understand that unless we are prudent - indeed frugal - with our use of this precious resource, there will never be enough for all.

management is, then, about society and its ability to build technologies to maximise the use of and, more importantly, technologies to share with all. It is for this reason that we must re-learn the wisdom of the past. In the late 1990s, the Centre for Science and Environment published its book Dying Wisdom: Rise, Fall and Potential of India's Traditional Harvesting Systems, which documented the extraordinary wealth and ingenuity of the country's people living across different ecological systems to manage The systems ranged from ways of harvesting glacier in the cold deserts to delivering with precision over long distances through bamboo drip systems in the north-eastern hills.

The kundi of the hot desert of India incorporates the simplest of technologies for powerful impact. is harvested on an artificially created piece of land, which is sloped towards a well to store precious The maths is equally simple; as little as 100 millimetres of rainwater harvested over one hectare of land will collect one million litres of in this structure. On the other hand, in the other regions of the country, people harvested

In other words, people had learnt to live with an excess of and with its scarcity. And all the coping used the principle of rainwater harvesting in a country that gets for only 100 hours of the 8,760 hours in a year. They knew that all the of the year could come in just one cloudburst. The solution was to capture that and to use it to recharge reserves for the remaining year. The answer, ultimately, was to use the land for storing and channelling the - over or under the ground, catching where it falls and when it falls.

This tradition of yesterday has crucial relevance in today's and tomorrow's urban India. Today, our cities get their supply from further and further away - Delhi gets Ganga from the dam; Bangalore is building the project, pumping 100 kilometres to the city; Chennai's will travel 200 km from the Krishna river; Hyderabad from the Manjira, and so on. The point is that the urban-industrial sector's demand for is growing by leaps and bounds. But this sector does little to augment its resources - and does even less to conserve and minimise its use. Worse, because of the abysmal lack of and treatment facilities, it degrades scarce even further. Even so, its greed is not met. levels are declining precipitously in urban areas, since people bore deeper in search of the that municipalities cannot supply.

In this way, scarcity grows. But the real tragedy is that when it does not rain, a city cries for water, and when it does rain, it cries again because of floods.

In new India, the imperative is that cities must begin to value their rainfall endowment. This means implementing rainwater harvesting in each house and colony. But it also means learning again about the hundreds of tanks and ponds that built, indeed nourished, the city. Almost every city had a treasure of tanks, which provided it the important flood cushion and allowed it to recharge its reserves. But urban planners cannot see beyond land. So land for has never been valued or protected. Today, these bodies are a shame - encroached, full of sewage, garbage or just filled up and built over. The city forgot it needed It forgot its own lifeline.

But the real tragedy is that we have lost knowledge of how to value the

The profession of builders and architects has simply never been taught how to hold They have been trained to see as and to build systems to dispose it as fast as possible. Of course, given the sheer mess of urban India, even the storm drains have become a conduit for or are choked or, in many cases, are just never built. A whole generation of Indians will have to be retrained to understand once again. It is sad how quickly a society can forget its own wisdom.

management requires society to rebuild knowledge to live with nature. And this re-skilling will be possible only when knowledge seekers and innovators learn from each other. Build a new science and a new art - together. This is what we need to work on so that the next Day is not a dirge about the impending crisis but a celebration of the magic of the