The water warrior
Perhaps the most difficult exercise is to write about our founder director Anil Agarwal, especially when he is no more. Where does one start and where does one finish? How do you pay tribute to a person who devoted his life in fighting for equity and the poor?
One issue close to Aniljis heart was water. What angered him was the fact that India was well endowed with rain, and yet, increasingly, more and more people had to deal with water crisis. His answer was simple: catch the rain and harness the capacity of the community. Since the 1980s, under his direction, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) has been strongly advocating community-based water management. In the late 1980s when India went through one of the worst droughts, a 45 days fellowship sponsored by CSE to a journalist revealed that in Rajasthan, the villages who have been maintaining their traditional water harvesting system are not facing any drinking water scarcity, as compared to the ones who have not maintained it. These findings directed CSEs water campaign to actively popularise the revival of these systems, as they are relevant even today.
One of Aniljis attributes was his amazing capacity to take on every challenge, however daunting. He would identify the objective and then with surprising clarity and simplicity, chalk out the path to reach that objective — leaving everyone wondering but why did we not think of this, ourselves?
In case of water, the objective was clear - water should be everybodys business. Every person in India — a housewife, farmer, industrialist, urban dweller should be involved in. And to reach that objective, every step was clearly outlined. Books like Dying Wisdom: Rise and Fall of Indias Traditional Water Harvesting Systems and Making Water Everybodys Business: Practice and Policy of Water Harvesting, were published. A national network that provided a platform to water practioners was put in place.
Anilji also wrote a briefing paper on how drought-proofing was possible through rainwater harvesting which was widely circulated to politicians and thousands of people involved in water. No effort was spared to spread the message of this ‘new paradigm of water management.
Attempts were made to document every effort by communities, NGOs and the government in CSE publications.
Anilji often quoted Gandhiji and said, "In planning think of the last man."
This effort to make water available to every person in India has been initiated. But a lot
of ground has yet to be traversed. Water harvesting must be a national movement and to
achieve this will be only possible if we continue on the path that he set out for all of
us, within and outside the CSE family. Untiringly and unceasingly
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