Glimpses of books
Making water everybodys
business: practice and policy of water harvesting
edited by Anil Agarwal, Sunita Narain and Indira Khurana,
Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, 450 pp, Rs 890 (hard cover)
This book presents the efforts and successes of communities from India and other
countries in meeting their water demands through capturing rain. It informs about
tradition, practices, technologies and policies.
The water crisis India and the world over needs no introduction. What has increasingly
become obvious is that water is too serious a business to be left to governments alone.
The flaws in the current paradigm of meeting water demands through centralised
government-aided supply systems that depend heavily on secondary sources of water like
rivers and groundwater is increasingly becoming obvious. No longer can rain, the primary
source of water, nor the necessity of community involvement be ignored.
India had a long tradition of harvesting rains which Centre for Science and Environment
(CSE) 1997 publication Dying Wisdom: Rise, Fall and Potential of Indias Traditional
Water Harvesting Systems, documented. This book divided India into its various ecological
zones and then looked at the various systems that existed in these ecological zones. It
looked at the reasons for the decline of these systems.
Realising that there was a need to go beyond tradition and to look at the relevance of
these age-old traditions today, in 1998, CSE organised an international conference on
Potential of Water Harvesting: Technologies, Policies and Social Mobilisation. The book is
based on the over 90 papers that were presented at the conference. These papers included
traditional and practices from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Singapore,
Southeast Asia, Germany and Japan.
But the book goes beyond the conference. Water harvesting efforts had been made in
countries like Japan, China and Pakistan which were not covered in the conference. So
efforts were made to incorporate these. Quality issues, not addressed in the conference
were also included. Meanwhile, the monsoon of 1999-2000 had failed. State government of
Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat initiated crash community-based water
harvesting programmes. These programmes were monitored by CSE researchers and their
reports are also included. The Gujarat governments initiated a programme wherein
they planned to construct 2,500 check dams through peoples participation. The
response they got was astounding and resulted in the construction of over 10,000 check
The book describes about the innovations by people in their struggle to meet water
demands. Examples are diverse as are solutions, stretching from Ladakh in the north to
Kerala in the south and covering the desert, Deccan Plateau, Western Ghats, Eastern Ghats
and the coastal plains in between. It informs about how the river Arvari in Rajasthan
became alive due to the water that was trapped and allowed to percolate underground due to
water harvesting structures and how the village communities along the banks of the river
then formed a river parliament to manage it. It informs about how recharge structures in
Gujarat harvest more than their constructed capacity. It informs about the traditional
tanks in Bundelkhand, neglected and ignored, which still contribute to modern
water supply systems. It informs about the struggles and triumphs of civil society in
Udaipur and Hyderabad in saving their urban waterbodies.
water: villagers performing a puja at the village pond in Lapodiya, Rajasthan
But water harvesting is not meant for the rural areas alone. Urban areas the world over
are finding it useful to recharge groundwater, meet water demands and to reduce urban
flooding - the result of concretisation. Germany gives tax benefits to practitioners of
rainwater harvesting while Japan offers subsidies. In Singapore, a country with an area
less than Delhi and the highest population density in the world, roughly about 50 per cent
of the urban area is used as catchment. In Chennai a lot of the urban water harvesting ha
been directed towards keeping salinity intrusion into the groundwater at bay.
The book is not about water or water harvesting structures alone. Indeed, water
harvesting is more than just building structures. It is about rebuilding the relationship
that people have had with water. It involves building up of the social capital through a
process of social mobilisation of the people so that communities act together on the issue
of water. This community action then instills confidence within the community, empowering
them to act on other issues that are important. It is about solidarity, not conflict. It
is about eradicating poverty through rural ecological regeneration.
The most beautiful thing about any decentralised water management paradigm is that it
not only promotes mass action not mass production but production by the masses
but also a myriad of innovation. So if in Ladakh artifical glaciers are created to
ensure that water is available on time for agriculture, in Karnataka a network of farm
ponds improves the soil moisture regime.
The book has been dedicated to the all those who have strived to make Mahatma
Gandhis dream of gram swaraj come true.