Emphasizing that water is everybody’s business, government representatives and experts underscored the criticality of sustainable water use and the imperative need for technological innovations for its effective management at the Water Sustainability Awards (WSA) hosted on the eve of World Water Day in New Delhi on Tuesday (21.03.2023).
Observing that vital strategies were needed to combat the challenges faced by the water sector, Debashree Mukherjee, special secretary, ministry of Jal Shakti, said, “We need a big strategy on storage of water - both on the surface and under our feet. How do we improve storage and have it when, we need it and where we need it.”
Touching upon the issue of water equity, she noted the resource has to reach the poorest and most marginalized sections of society. “We need to work with the States and communities to understand equity issues,” Mukherjee said at the WSA, initiated by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Water Association (IWA), and endorsed by the ministry of Jal Shakti.
Mukherjee also emphasized the need to manage the existing storage mechanisms better, “There is an estimation that we will lose 50 billion cubic meters of storage to sedimentation by 2050 if we do not manage our reservoirs better if we don’t manage our catchments better.”
Noting that water use efficiency in agriculture remains a challenge, she highlighted the need for innovations to address the issue and importantly facilitate their move from labs to land. Realizing the circular economy of water is another challenge that requires new strategies, she said. “It is worthwhile to have treated water recharge existing water bodies and ensure water is treated to a standard so that the recharge of existing water bodies does not contaminate groundwater. We also have to look at ways to compensate municipal bodies for treating water to maintain ecosystems.”
Observing that the real crisis in the water sector is of management, Bharat Lal, director general, National Centre for Good Governance, and former mission director, Jal Jeevan Mission, noted that scientific and innovative technological interventions are needed to minimize water wastage and enhance water security. “Sustainable use of water involves technological innovations. Measurement and monitoring of water, its supply, and recovery, is key,” said Lal adding that availability and access to sensor-based testing of water quality is a much-needed innovation.
The WSA recognizes the individual and collective efforts being made to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on water, and the Water Champion awards were given to Sadhguru helming the Isha Foundation and the NAAM Foundation headed by Nana Patekar and Makarand Anaspure. Sadhguru was given the Water Champion award for his ecological initiatives, such as Project GreenHands, Rally for Rivers, and Cauvery Calling, which address the urgent need to grow the green cover, revitalize Indian rivers, and restore soil health. The NAAM Foundation was given the Water Champion award for institutions for its solutions aimed at water management in the drought-affected regions of Maharashtra.
Underscoring the critical role access to water plays in a woman’s life, Kiran Bedi, founder and mentor, Navjyoti Foundation and former lieutenant governor, Puducherry, said, “Without water, there is neither sanitation nor food for her. It affects her mobility when she has to go and pick up water, and she might probably hold back her daughter from going to school to fetch water. Water is essential for the transformative quality of life in India.”
Citing the effort in Puducherry where the 86km stretch of the canal which splits the Union Territory into two distinct areas was desilted, Bedi said the model could be adopted anywhere. “It is a collaborative model [involving] the government, the community, and the corporate world, whichever corporate is a water guzzler can adopt the nearby canal, pay for it directly and get it cleaned,” she said taking part in a discussion on ‘Accelerating the Change - Need to achieve Sustainable Development Goal on Water Women in Water Leadership’ ahead of the award ceremony.
Contextualizing the issue of water security, Archana Varma, mission director, National Water Mission, pointed out, “We have only 1126 billion cubic meters of utilizable water for the country, while our demand is estimated to be 1180 billion cubic meters. However, we will improve the supply side, unless we reduce the demand side, we can never think of a water-secure future.”
Anitha Sharma, counselor, Urban Development, Royal Danish Embassy, highlighted the need to value and manage water, “It is about finding the good practices that existed, then promote it, and co-create.”
Rema Mohan, chief executive officer, NSE Foundation, underscored the criticality of community involvement and ownership in sustaining efforts aimed at reviving water structures. Moderating the discussion, Vikram Chandra, founder, Editorji Technologies, noted that those who understand the problems related to water the most and are the most motivated to find a solution are women.
In his welcome address, SK Sarkar, distinguished fellow, TERI, observed that at the halfway point to the 2030 time frame for the SDGs, water access and sanitation remain two areas where India has made strides forward. “Areas such as water use efficiency, water treatment, integrated water management, restoring water ecosystem require more work,” he added.
A policy brief on ‘Air to Water’ technology - offering the potential to achieve Water for All, and a compendium on WSA, was released at the event. Memorandum of Understanding was signed between TERI and Deendayal Port Authority to work on water conservation and achieving water neutrality. The MoU, was signed by Vibha Dhawan, director general, TERI, and V Raveendra Reddy, chief engineer, Deendayal Port Authority. In an intervention to create awareness of water conservation, the comic book Chacha Chaudhari aur Har Ghar Jal: Humara Haq was released by TERI and Diamond Toons.
The WSA, was instituted to encourage the efforts made to reduce water footprint among stakeholders through the adoption of ‘water neutrality' approaches.
The WSA evaluates excellence in new ideas, approaches, processes, products, services, technologies, and other innovations in the water sector, which can tangibly address the SDGs. Winners in the multiple categories are UltraTech Cement (Category: Water for All); Network 18 (Category: Sanitation for All); Bharat Petroleum Corporation, Kochi (Category: Wastewater Treatment & Safe Reuse); NTPC Tamil Nadu Energy Company and Jhajjar Power (Category: Excellence in Water Use Efficiency - Industrial Sector); Sarvottham Organics (Category: Excellence in Water Use Efficiency - Agricultural Sector); Lupin Human Welfare and Research Foundation (Excellence in Participatory Water Management); Self-Reliant Initiatives through Joint Action (SRIJAN) (Category: Protect and Restore Community Water Resources); Royal Danish Embassy in New Delhi (Category: Promoting Water Cooperation); Solidaridad Regional Expertise Centre (Category: Innovation in Water Technology).