Modi’s catch-the-rain awareness campaign will help India conserve scarce water (World Water Day is on March 22)

Prime Minister Modi clearly laid out the importance of collective responsibility towards water conservation in February. He called for a 100-day campaign to clean up water bodies and prepare them for rainwater harvesting before the monsoon of 2021, writes Rajendra Shende for South Asia Monitor

Rajendra Shende Mar 22, 2021

Yes, there is water everywhere. We all know that 70 percent of the earth's surface is occupied by water. But for a glass of water a woman in rural India walks an average 173 km a year to fetch potable water, making her trek 25 km longer than what it was a decade back. In future, the trek by rural women for water is estimated to get even longer. 

Billions of people around the world are continuing to suffer from poor access to water and unable to follow good practices for sanitation and hygiene, according to the report by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Some 2.2 billion people around the world do not have safely managed drinking water services, 4.2 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation services, and 3 billion lack basic handwashing facilities. 

So, where is that water that is available ‘everywhere’?

The contradiction of water to be ‘everywhere’ and the majority of the people on the planet still struggling to fetch it is simply explained by the fact that 97 percent of the water on earth is contained in the oceans and is salty. It cannot be used for drinking, industry-use, and agriculture. The remaining three percent is fresh-water most of which (2.5 percent) is locked in glaciers, polar icecaps and hence not available. Only 0.5 percent of the earth’s water, including that contained in the atmosphere as moisture, is available for consumption by the human civilization that has been taking it from rivers, lakes, ponds, and underground sources.  

However, do not look down at oceans as ‘unhelpful storage of 500 million cubic metres of salt water’ (that is estimated storage quantity of water in oceans). Oceans are the ones that give us fresh water. Evaporation by the sun turns the water in oceans into moisture. That moisture is carried through the clouds which rain. The water from rain falls on the earth as freshwater or precipitation (snow). Part of that rain remains as moisture in the atmosphere and land. Thus, oceans are not only a source of freshwater but also a source of fish and salt among others. Most importantly, oceans serve as a significant sink for carbon dioxide. 

Approximately 500,000 cubic km of water falls as rain and precipitation each year; 400,000 cubic km of which falls over the oceans, and the rest 100,000 cubic km falls over land. That is about 100 trillion tons of water on land and 400 trillion tons of water over the oceans. Poetically it can be called as ‘affection of freshwater for the home from where it comes from’!

The history of the evolution of our planet says that the birth of flora and fauna started in the ocean, apart from being the only source of freshwater. The eco-service given by the oceans is one of the invaluable eco-services provided by nature for which nature does not give us an invoice the way we get for any services provided by the government and business. 

Potable water for all

As regards providing fresh - potable water for all - India has, over the years, been shifting goalposts. In 1949, two years after India got freedom, an environmental hygiene committee of the government recommended that safe drinking water should be supplied to 90 percent of the country's population within 40 years. Sixty-five years since, by 2014, that target remained a distant dream in most of rural India. And in most of the urban areas, the water remained a ‘rationed and government-controlled commodity.’ 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has prioritized ensuring India’s water security, as is evident from his announcement of an allocation of Rs. 3.35 lakh crore for the Jal Jeevan (water is life) Mission, one of the most socially inclusive programmes of his government’s second term. 

A key focus of the Jal Jeevan Mission is that piped water will be supplied to almost 16 crores (160 million) rural and peripheral households in India by 2024 – three years from now.  When the scheme was launched in 2019, when Jal Shakti (water power) ministry was established, only 3.01 (30 million) crore out of 19 crore (190 million) rural and peri-urban households had access to tap water.

Catch the rain campaign

Prime Minister Modi clearly laid out the importance of collective responsibility towards water conservation in February. He called for a 100-day campaign to clean up water bodies and prepare them for rainwater harvesting before the monsoon of 2021. A 'Catch-the-rain' campaign is being started by the Jal Shakti ministry. The basic mantra of this campaign is – ‘catch the rain, where it falls, when it falls.’

Simple math shows that 100 trillion tonnes of rain falling on the land if caught would be much more than sufficient for the needs of humans. India’s National Water Mission’s (NWM) campaign "Catch the Rain” is a signal to the states and stakeholders to create appropriate Rain Water Harvesting Structures (RWHS) suitable to the climatic conditions and sub-soil strata before monsoon. 

Modi motivates through modest methods. While intellectuals talk about water wars, Modi proposes water peace. When others worry about vaccine nationalism, Modi implements vaccine friendship. When leaders worry about the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Modi makes SDGs simple to implement. 

SDG 6 is on clean water and sanitation, SDG 14 is life below water. Both are directly related to water. Indirectly, SDG 11, sustainable cities and communities, and SDG 12, responsible production and consumption are indirectly related to water. The message is simple: Be the proud owner of your own water that falls on your roof.  

A tree is satisfied to catch the water that falls on its roots. Modi’s message is  to catch (and store) the water that falls on your roofs.

(The writer is Chairman TERRE Policy Centre and former Director UNEP. The views are personal.

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