March 22nd is celebrated globally as World Water Day. Simply to bring focus on this life giving substance which has made planet earth inhabitable and which is at risk. The theme this year is Water and Sustainable Development, an all-encompassing one and perhaps relevant to governments and institutions one would believe but think again.
Water is one substance which touches our lives daily. As the slogan is coined it is everybody’s business. Without it there would be no health, no hygiene and no safe sanitation. There would be very little agriculture and no growth in the economy.
In the old days in many parts of India there was a concept called the ‘pyaoo’. This was a water point set up in summer by philanthropists to provide cool water to the thirsty. An edict of the Emperor Asoka in Dhauli, Orissa urges the populace to plant trees and dig wells, particularly on roads were a weary traveller could rest in the shade and quench his thirst. Though some of these water places continue to exist much has become commercial to the point that now you insert a coin and water is dispensed for drinking.
There are many things one can do to secure water starting from being conservative in use and not wasting it. A house owner incorporated a rainwater harvesting system. Storing part of the roof rainwater in a sump and recharging the rest through a small open well. Five years of rain has helped the water table in the local area and not only his bore-well but that of his neighbours are full.
Though one must do what one can for oneself, Thinking beyond the self is crucial. A Government aided school saw individual donations which enabled it to get two sets of toilets, one for boys and for girls. Another assistance provided rainwater harvesting systems to collect rooftop rainwater for both storage and recharge of an open well in the school premise. This enhanced water security and in a do-it-yourself spirit the boys and girls of the school actually worked to build the toilet themselves guided by their teacher.
In the spirit of community informal groups called Friends of Lakes are forming all over the city. They gather every Sunday adopt and clean up the local lake. They also work with authorities to ensure that the lake is preserved and maintained. Slow but important steps of thinking beyond the self. Working with institutions and pressuring them to provide water as a right to those who do not have access to it is also part of the caring.
Nature and bio-diversity should also become part of our thinking around water. While a revived lake will provide for flora and fauna, even a small bowl of water placed out in summer and replaced regularly so as to avoid mosquito breeding, will provide succour to birds in hot summer. The smaller insects such as bees will need just some damp sand and soil to draw their water sustenance.
Worldwide, our rivers, our lakes, our wells need help and World Water Day reminds us of our duties and possibilities. As the famous naturalist Dr. Jane Goodall said ‘Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, we will help. Only if we help will be saved “