Rajendra Singh and the TBS have revolutionised the state of water in Rajasthan, India. They have done that by simple methods of low cost and low technology. This has led to their winning the Water ‘Nobel Prize’. The story starts like this, quoting wiki:
Alwar district, which once had a grain market, was at the time largely dry and barren, as years of deforestation and mining had led to a dwindling water table, minimal[clarification needed] rainfall followed by floods. Another reason was the slow abandoning of traditional water conservation techniques, like building check dams, or johad, instead villagers started relying on “modern” bore wells, which simply sucked the groundwater up. But consistent use meant that these bored wells had to be dug deeper and deeper within a few years, pushing underground water table further down each time, till they went dry in ecologically fragile Aravalis. At this point he met a village elder, Mangu Lal Meena, who argued “water was a bigger issue to address in rural Rajasthan than education”. He chided him to work with his hands rather than behaving like “educated” city folks who came, studied and then went back; later encouraged him to work on a johad, earthen check dams, which have been traditionally used to store rainwater and recharge groundwater, a technique which had been abandoned in previous decades. As a result, the area had no ground water since previous five years and was officially declared a “dark zone”. Though Rajendra wanted to learn the traditional techniques from local farmers about water conservation, his other city friends were reluctant to work manually and parted ways. Eventually with the help of a few local youths he started desilting the Gopalpura johad, lying neglected after years of disuse. When the monsoon arrived that year, the johad filled up and soon wells which had been dry for years had water. Villagers pitched in and in the next three years, it made it 15 feet deep.
The battle was not just against nature, but was also political. Their efforts were being thwarted by mining. But unlike Australia, there is some backbone in parts of India to fight for water against mining interests.
A legal battle ensued, they filed public interest petition in the Supreme Court, which in 1991 banned mining in the Aravallis. Then in May 1992, Ministry of Environment and Forests notification banned mining in the Aravalli hill system all together, and 470 mines operating within the Sariska sanctuary buffer area and periphery were closed. Gradually TBS built 115 earthen and concrete structures within the sanctuary and 600 other structures in the buffer and peripheral zones. The efforts soon paid off, by 1995 Aravri became a perennial river. The river was awarded the `International River Prize’…
There is a lot more to the story, but for now observe that it is working. Areas that were bereft are now green again.
So, how about it, Australia??! If villagers in India can do this, why can’t we? As well as using low tech small scale methods, for harvesting rainwater, we also have the advantage of being able to build desalinisation plants and pipe water inland. Australia has to make water a priority, and it has to be a priority for the land itself, not for mining or other interests that are damaging to the land, to water supply, to food supply, to the very idea of existence in this country.
But perhaps Mimmi Jain has the last word on that:
“How can we make this movement – the bringing back of resource ownership into the hands of the common man – global? In India it’s possible. Is it possible in the west? That’s a tricky question, because it’s a different kind of system altogether. You have privatisation of companies, lots of vested interests, lots of big corporations. It’s a really stuck system,” she said.
The Australian population has to take control of water. It has to incorporate it into the notion of ‘rights’ both for us and for the water systems themselves. Question is, do we have what it takes to do that?