Aakash Ganga: Saving Water for a Rainy Day
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
The Ganga (or Ganges) is one of India’s mightiest rivers, flowing from the Himalayas in Uttarakhand to the Sunderbans in West Bengal. It is nowhere near the arid northern state of Rajasthan. It is equally remote from Guiyang Municipality in the People’s Republic of China. But Aakash Ganga – a rainwater harvesting project that literally means “river from the skies” — is making a mark in both places.
In Rajasthan, the project — backed by the World Bank — has already been implemented in six villages. A letter of intent has now been signed with the state government for its extension to 70 villages, to provide water security to 200,000 people. “Water is the most serious crisis of Independent India,” says B.P. Agrawal, the president of Sustainable Innovations (SI) and the moving spirit behind the project. In 2007, he founded SI as a non-profit corporation “to harness innovations for making safe drinking water available to rural villages and for delivery of healthcare to vulnerable populations”. (SI has won another World Bank award for its Arogya Ghar — whole health clinic — program.)
“A plethora of initiatives (water harvesting, water conservation, soil conservation, etc) exists across India, and many of them are very successful,” says S. Vishwanath a civil engineer and urban and regional planner, who runs Rainwater Club, a website dedicated to rainwater harvesting. “One needs to look at these initiatives not only technically but also in terms of water literacy and empowerment. It is about people’s understanding of water and how they go ahead to manage it.”
Rohini Nilekani, chairperson of Arghyam, a charitable foundation working in the water sector, notes: “We need a multi-pronged strategy to ensure safe, sustainable water for all and for key economic activities. Conservation is an important part of this strategy, as is demand management. There are many and diverse models of conservation and demand management across the country, especially in the drier regions in Western Gujarat and Rajasthan.”