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Native genius, not science, gets them water

THE HAGUE, MARCH 23: Guess what a global conference on critical issue like water can do at best? Have Ministers of States talking, the World Bank officials seeing through their intelligent glasses, the protestors disrupting the meetings or at best produce a vision document for the future. That is all. The second World Water Forum at the Hague did just that. But with a strong aberration.

Towards the end the swelling waters of six-day-long grand opera costing about 7 million US dollar trickled down to something what the policy-makers may find outrageously shocking. It is neither the World Bank, nor the governments, not even the huge dams but the people who are spinning success stories around the world.

In a struggle for survival right from parched lands in Rajasthan and north Gujarat in India to once-in-forty-days water supply in the Taiz city in Yemen, it is merely the people's initiative which is keeping life going in most water-starved regions of the world. And this too without any special contribution from the latest discoveries in science. On the contrary, by using the traditional knowledge base.

All the success stories showcased at the Hague in various forums have traced their way back to the people where the local citizens have assured their survival through private enterprise.

And interestingly, some of the brightest sparks in this have come from the Indian side. Far away from protests, statements and pomp, social workers Anna Hazare and Rajendra Singh made the most sounding presentations on the community-based watershed development projects that have actually been achieved by only people's participation.

``Enough is said while little is done through such conferences,'' said Hazare as he stood confident before the world explaining how the people of Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra realised all by themselves a transformation from dire straits to prosperity.

Twenty years ago the village showed all traits of abject poverty. It practically had no trees, the topsoil had blown off, there was no agriculture and people were jobless. Hazare started his movement concentrating on trapping every drop of rain.

So the villagers built check dams and tanks. To conserve soil they planted trees. The result: from 80 acres of irrigated area two decades ago, Ralegan Siddhi has a massive area of 1300 acres under irrigation. The migration for jobs has stopped and the per capita income has increased ten times from Rs 225 to 2250 in this span of time. No World Bank funding, no-government grants - only people's enterprise.

Rajendra Singh of the Tarun Bharat Sangh worked on the similar lines to bring back the life the dead river -- Arvari -- in Rajasthan long after it had vanished from the face of the earth due overdrawing of ground water. Singh's only capital was the villagers who were fighting the harsh realities of nature and were willing to give life a second chance.

The age-old traditional method of rain-water harvesting provided the easiest solution to people's miseries as after almost a decade of water conservation, the dead river came back to life. Starting with Kishori village in Alwar district, the lifeline has now extended to 750 villages in the state.

``It's completely people's intiative. We did not wait for the World Bank, government or non-government agencies to come to us to lend help. We were the sufferers and we found a solution to our own problem,'' says a confident Singh.

In a Forum where issues related to water often found mention of millions and billions of dollars in terms of grants and the subsidies, tales such as those of Ralegan Siddhi and Arvari river stunned the world community. So much so that the top echeleons of the World Bank present on the occasion looked lost when they talked about their own set of funding programmes for better water management.

Even the water experts from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) at Colombo acknowledged the fact that the traditional water harvesting techniques used for recharging rivers and ground water aqiufers are the best workable remedy for the depleting groundwater levels, especially in places like north Gujarat.

``Science does not have to be very high tech. The traditional knowledge base of the people is more than capable of solving the serious water crisis which countries like India may encounter in coming days,' said Dr Tushar Shah of IWMI.

``Hence none of the success stories from around the world which have been presented at the Forum show any contribution by government or any other international agency. It is essentially the people who have to get involved in the process of water management,'' he added.

So when the world's who's who on water policy, funding and management said cheers and sported learned smiles at the concluding ceremony of the Forum, Anna Hazare, Rajendra Singh and the fellows of their tribe around the world packed their bags and set out for the fields back home. ``Its there we will save water and not at the meetings,'' Anna Hazare rounded it off.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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