Dr. Hema Krishnan, an NRI living in Ohio, reflects on the many water conservation efforts India has embraced to deal with its water crisis.
Despite having lived in the U.S. for 25 years, I am yet to come to terms with our callous disregard for water.
Whether it is the large shower heads, the ‘extra’ rinse cycle in the washing machine or even the exercise of maintaining our lawns that perfect shade of green, no one consumes more water per day in the world than the average American.
The average Indian uses less than 140 litres of water a day, with the lion’s share of thisbeing spent on agricultural activities. The average American, on the other hand, consumes 580 litres of water a day.
While several unique water conservation practices have been around in India for centuries, they are fast making a comeback given the country’s growing population, urban density, erratic monsoons and prevalent deforestation practices. Rainwater harvesting, Johad, drip irrigation, and repairing leaky faucets, have proven to be simple yet effective practices to preserve this precious resource.
Growing up in the big cities of India (Ahmedabad, New Delhi, and Chennai), my family and I experienced water shortage problems all the time. We used to eagerly wait for the monsoon rains; after the first downpour, when the rain would wash the rooftops clean, we would hold small buckets under the pipes of the roof to collect rain water. This water was then used in the toilet. The heavier the rain, the cleaner the rooftop would get; ensuring that the water we collected in our small buckets was good enough for bathing. Today, thanks to state government rules that enforce mandatory adoption of rainwater harvesting techniques (with more sophisticated techniques than holding buckets under the pipe!) the city of Chennai leads in the practice of this technique, followed closely by Bangalore.
Johad, another method of rainwater harvesting, has helped parched Rajasthan conserve water. India being a collectivist society has proved to be a great blessing as far as water conservation is concerned.
The collectivist approach encourages communities to come together to build ‘tankis’ or ‘khadins.’ These are simple mud barriers erected across slopes to arrest rain water.
The U.S. continues to remain behind the rest of the world in conservation efforts of any kind. Old habits like dumping plastic, metal and glass containers in regular trash bins instead of recycling bins persist because there is no penalty. According to the Environmental Protection Agency of the U.S., less than 35% of all households and less than 10% of all businesses in the country recycle, despite the billions of dollars spent on awareness campaigns. Water is wasted with impunity, especially in the Midwestern states of the U.S. where water is available in plenty. India does not have this luxury; hence the resurgence of ancient conservation practices.
Drip water irrigation and sprinklers have also made big strides in India in recent years.
Since agriculture takes up more than 80% of India’s total water usage and more than 500 million people depend on it for a living, the Government of India has laid increased emphasis on ‘More Crop, Per Drop.’
The use of drip-water irrigation in the fields of Haryana has translated into reduced water usage as well as a drop in the amount spent on fertilizers and electricity. The savings made on these key inputs have enabled famers to recover the installation costs of new systems in little time.
Leaky faucets seriously curtail water conservation efforts, a fact that Aadbid Surti knows well, as he goes door-to-door offering free plumbing services in the city of Mumbai to repair leaks and save water. While wet bathrooms are a common occurrence in apartments, offices and hotels, one cannot overlook the many benefits of a dry bathroom. Dry bathrooms go a long way towards conserving water, are hygienic and, most importantly, safer for the elderly who are likely to experience catastrophic falls in a wet bathroom.
To conclude, even though India appears to be embracing capitalist practices in many spheres, in conservation, dedicated individuals are working hard to combat water wastage. During my recent visit to Coimbatore, my parents proudly displayed their dry bathrooms in their senior citizens’ complex. Additionally, the President of the complex showed me the rainwater harvesting and the drip irrigation systems he had installed in the facilities. The splendid display of colors and the fragrance emanating from hundreds of flowering plants and trees in the garden, even amidst the dry summer heat, was breathtaking.
About the author: Dr. Hema A. Krishnan is a Professor of Strategy & Global Business with Williams College of Business, Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A.