India can show the world how water management can be reinvented

Lucknow: “Even as the United Nations has launched a global campaign called ‘Be the Change’, India is already showcasing real action on the ground. It is already holding up a picture of how big change is possible. And this is evident in the way states like Uttar Pradesh are tackling the challenge of providing sustainable and inclusive sanitation and water for all,” said Sunita Narain, director general of the Centre for Science and Environment, while speaking at a national workshop.

The two-day workshop from March 21 was jointly organized by CSE, the department of urban development of the government of Uttar Pradesh, and the Swachh Bharat Mission.

Speaking on the occasion, Arvind Kumar Sharma, minister of urban development, Uttar Pradesh, said: “Our deliberations and discussions are important because we are living today in a time of great crisis in terms of water – a crisis of availability and access, of quality, of lack of sanitation and proper wastewater management, and upsetting of the water cycle due to climate change.”

Uttar Pradesh chief secretary Durga Shankar Mishra, who addressed the workshop as well, said: “There is no ‘wastewater – we only have ‘used’ water. Reduce, reuse, and recycle should be the mantra of our life. We need to treat and reuse all water. Since 2014, India has remained committed and on course to a paradigm change in water and sanitation management – sanitation is a public movement in our country today.”

The other key speakers at the event were Kaushal Kishore, Union minister of state, ministry of housing and urban affairs; Amrit Abhijat, principal secretary, department of urban development, the government of Uttar Pradesh; Neha Sharma, state mission director-SBM, Government of Uttar Pradesh; Ranjan Kumar, state mission director-AMRUT, Government of Uttar Pradesh; Anil Dhingra, managing director, UP Jal Nigam (urban); Prasanta K Mohapatra, engineer-in-chief, Odisha Water Supply, and Sewerage Board; and Depinder Singh Kapur, programme director-water, CSE.

According to Subrata Chakraborty, senior programme manager-water, CSE, “Uttar Pradesh has been moving ahead towards its goal of promoting inclusive sanitation for all. A septage management policy is in place, 59 towns and cities have set up treatment systems, and with the support provided by the Centre for Science and Environment, the towns of Bijnor and Chunar now have fully functional fecal sludge and co-treatment systems in place.”

Speaking on the inaugural day of the workshop, Kaushal Kishore underlined the emphasis that the Central government has been giving to water and sanitation issues. Water harvesting, groundwater recharge, rejuvenation of water bodies, and the importance of the role played by sanitation workers were some of the key thrust areas that his ministry was focusing on, he said.

In her address on the second day of the workshop, Narain pointed out that India’s “experience has been invaluable in teaching the world how water management can be reinvented so that it is affordable and sustainable”. The ‘Indian way’, she said, puts water in the hands of communities and is focused on decentralized recharge and reuse.

“Making water everybody’s business is the only way ahead. This is the opportunity – in this decade, we can put all we have learned into practice and turn around the water story of India,” said Narain.

Narain pointed out that this was “even more important in today’s climate-risked world. We must scale up our work to invest in water systems and make them durable, not just to withstand another rain, but another deluge. We need to speed up our work because climate change will make sure that we have more rain but fewer rainy days. This means doing much more to capture the rain, when and where it falls so that groundwater is recharged.”

She added: “For a country like India, the issue of water is not about scarcity but about its careful use and about its equitable and distributed access. How we manage our water resources would determine if we remain poor or become rich; diseased or healthy. In other words, water is the determinant of our future. Water management strategies will need to be carefully designed so that they lead to distributed wealth generation.”