Large crowds waiting in front of water trucks, small wells with people around trying to get a share, and parched lands. If these are the visuals populating your news feed in recent times, then you know that we are amidst our biggest water crisis. These images are not a portrayal of a possible grim future, but a stark representation of the reality we face today. Every drop of water is precious.  

At the 6th edition of the Nature inFocus Festival, Astral Pipes and Nature inFocus launched the “Save Every Drop” campaign to create awareness about this ongoing crisis, and encourage necessary action to address it. A panel discussion on “The past, present, and future of water in cities,” kicked off the campaign at the festival. The panel – consisting of environmental activist, Leo F Saldanha; ecologist and professor of sustainability, Harini Nagendra and award-winning documentary filmmaker, Jonathan Clay – talked about where we are continuing to go wrong, and how a change of monumental proportions is the need of the hour.

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The panelists (left to right) – ecologist and professor of sustainability, Harini Nagendra; environmental activist, Leo F Saldanha and award-winning documentary filmmaker, Jonathan Clay

One of the biggest reasons for our present scenario is unplanned development, the panelists pointed out right off the bat. Harini Nagendra said that while the impacts of climate change on a global level are a cause for concern, we also need to consider human implications at a local level. “In Chennai, for example, 80% of the wetlands are lost. In Bangalore, most of the lakes have disappeared, and even the channels connecting them no longer exist. We have witnessed floods in multiple cities, the result of planning that is short-sighted,” she added. 

Leo F Saldanha explained that apart from destroying wetland systems, we have over-exploited rivers and rediverted them, damaging ecosystems like the Western Ghats. He also added that this, in turn, leads to an energy problem, which often gets left out of the discussion. “When you try to lift water over the mountains and bring it down to the valley, and lift it again because the cities are above sea level – the energy demands are a perpetual problem to sustain,” he said.

A disturbing outcome of the crisis is that its brunt is faced by people who are least prepared to deal with it. “Equity demands that those who are the most vulnerable must be provided, and those who have the resources to manage should plan ahead. But in this case we find the opposite. The poor plan their way around the water problem, and the rich don't have to. We have inverted the whole rationale,” said Saldanha.

So where do we find solutions for this crisis? In our past and in our future. The Harappan irrigation system, said Saldanha, is an example we can emulate to utilise rainwater and surface run-off. Nagendra added that instead of putting policies in place to prevent congestion of cities, an alternative to consider would be stimulating rural development and focusing on rural economy.

But what about the future? “Half of the cities that we will be living in, in the future, haven’t been built yet. So we need to think very carefully not just about our existing cities, but also about how we create them,” said Jonathan Clay. Clay suggested working with nature to come up with more efficient solutions. As a part of his Our Planet series for Netflix, Clay played a short clip on Sponge Cities – a concept developed in China where permeable material is used to create eco-friendly terraces and parks. By allocating spaces within cities that will flood during the monsoons and serve as green patches during the dry seasons, rain water is utilised effectively. The video clip shared that this concept has transformed about 250 cities in China. 

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Kairav Engineer, Vice President - Business Development, Astral Poly Technik Limited, talks about how the company has always attempted to make a difference for key water issues.

At the end of the discussion, Kairav Engineer, Vice President – Business Development, Astral Poly Technik Limited, talked about how his company has always attempted to make a difference for key issues. Contributing to both water and wildlife conservation, Astral Pipes has funded the purchase and installation of solar pumps in Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka and Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh. Wild animals in these reserves are provided with drinking water, as a result. Additionally, the company has completed the electrification process in the living quarters of the forest guards and has donated vehicles to the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, to support them in their field work.

Engineer said that just as the panelists emphasised, it is often the poor who have to make major changes based on the availability of water. Through the Save Every Drop campaign, Astral Pipes aims to not just highlight the issue at hand but also share positive stories to encourage action, he shared.

Save Every Drop is a year-long initiative that will recognise individuals and organisations providing innovative solutions to address the water crisis. At the festival, an announcement was made for photographers interested in shedding light on citizen-driven initiatives. Astral Pipes will also announce a contest inviting ideas for conservation projects. The best idea will be recognised and funded by Astral Pipes at the end of the campaign.