27th WaterTalk - Summary report

Proceedings of the Twenty- Seventh (27th) Water Talk held on 18th June 2021

  • National Water Mission (NWM) has been organizing a seminar series-‘Water Talk’ -to promote dialogue and information sharing among participants on a variety of water-related topics. The ‘Water Talk’ is intended to create awareness, build capacities of stakeholders and encourage people to become active participants in the conservation and saving of water. NWM has so far organized 26‘Water-Talks’ on a range of topics dominating the water sector.
  • Twenty -Seventh(27th) Water Talk in this series was held on 18th June 2021 on a virtual platform due to outbreak  of  Covid-19 pandemic in the country. The talk that witnessed more than 650 participants was organized by NWM with the support of Water Digest, the official media partner for the webinar. The 27th  Water Talk aimed to celebrate ‘Women Water Champions’ from the grassroots of the country by giving them a platform to share their inspiring journeys. These determined water warriors have addressed the water crisis and transformed their villages through innovative water positive solutions. The six ‘women water champions’ from different regions and socio-economic background delivered Water Talks and engaged with the audience from across the world.
  • Shri Rattan Lal Kataria, Hon’ble Minister of State, Ministry of Jal Shakti graced the event as the Chief Guest in the special episode of ‘Water Talk’ series. Shri G. Asok Kumar, Additional Secretary and Mission Director, NWM and officials of NWM attended the webinar along with more than 650 participants. The webinar included participants from across the country from various spheres of life. The talk was also live-streamed through Facebook on 11 social media platforms of various organizations under DoWR, RD & GR. It was noted that there were over 5,000 total viewers in this e-water talk
  • Shri G. Asok Kumar, Additional Secretary & Mission Director, NWM welcomed the participants to the 27th Talk. He gave a brief overview of the ‘Water Talk’ initiative and mentioned how the switch from the physical to digital platform has amplified the reach of the talks both geographically & numerically with people participating  from  all across the world from countries like Australia, China, Nigeria. Gender-centric planning and implementation of policies, programmes and schemes are important to  promote  a  people- centric approach to sustainable water conservation and management. National Water Mission, DoWr, RD & GR, Ministry of Jal Shakti, is patent in its recognition of the role of gender in issue related to water and its governance with a direct strategy aiming at inclusion of women in water governance, within its revised mission document.
  • The objective of the event was to  commemorate these champions and hear them speak about their challenges, how  they  have overcome them and the insights they gained from their incredible journeys-as representatives of hundreds of such ground-level workers. While concluding his speech. Shri Kumar expressed gratitude to Hon’ble Minister for his support to all NWM initiatives and campaigns.
  • Chief guest for the event, Shri Rattan Lal Kataria, Hon’ble Minister of State, Ministry of Jal Shakti then addressed the audience with some motivational words for the Water Champions. He was extremely elated to be a part of the 27th Water Talk that promotes open discussion on water between citizens from different realms of life. Sharing of inspiring initiatives by water experts also gives an opportunity to youngsters and students to learn and replicate water conservation models, he added. Water is at the core of our existence and is required in every aspect of life. However, rapid urbanization, industrialization, accelerating development coupled with population has put the existing water resources under  stress.  Rural  women often bear the brunt of water crisis. According to a Swiss Bank study, women spend about 6 hours in domestic household  work  out  of which maximum time goes into arranging drinking water for families. This causes young girls to drop out of school in their early teens. Hence, it is the collective responsibility of all to ensure safe water for women and children living in villages. Hon’ble Minister applauded NWM for its efforts in acknowledging and honouring women champions for their contribution in making their villages  water secure.  He  further  wished  for  the  success  of  “JSA:  Catch  the  rain” initiative and urged everyone to participate in the campaign and ‘catch the rain’ where it falls, when it falls.
  • The first speaker was Ms. Renuka Kotabhkar hailing from Kotamba village in Wardha district in Maharashtra. Being a village Sarpanch, she was instrumental in implementing several schemes of central and state governments for availability of clean and safe drinking water. She introduced and promoted the construction of soak pits, dam repairing, construction of toilets and rainwater harvesting structures, river cleaning, wastewater management etc. in her village. Ms. Renuka, in her talk revealed that the drought in 2002 forced her to think in the direction of conserving water and making it accessible to all. Several activities were undertaken by her along with other members of the village through Gram Panchayat funds and local funds collection. The efforts have led to rise in water levels with women no longer needing to walk miles for  bringing water. She has also been encouraging everyone to practice rainwater harvesting in their homes.
  • The second speaker was Ms. Neetaben Patel from Dang district in Gujarat. She facilitated water conservation efforts by strengthening community-based institutions for water conservation and efficient water management. She mobilized other women to raise water issues with the Panchayats and was also herself involved in advocacy with Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and other stakeholders. Ms. Patel shared that her village fell in the hilly Chikli block area of the district that caused the water to flow in the drainage, leading to a drinking water crisis for both humans, birds and animals in the area. She got support from members of Agha Khan Rural Support programme and Hindustan Unilever Foundation. The government mobilised people especially women to work towards water conservaton and also collectively develop several water conservation models to implement in her area. The project was undertaken in two parts; working towards amplying access to safe and clean drinking water and generating awareness about water conservation amongst villagers through consistent training programmes. Women stakeholders were targeted and involved in their mission as they often bear the brunt of water shortage. A dedicated ‘Pani Samiti for women was set up in several villages that worked in coordination with the Panchayat for combating the water problems in the villages. As access to electricity was also an issue a couple of years ago, solar irrigation systems and other agricultural systems were developed. A top to bottom approach was undertaken with many group wells, check dams being repaired and construction of recharge structures took place for water conservation. Additionally, forest development work, soil treatment were also undertaken through public participation. These efforts showed improvement with rise in water levels in atleast 25 villages with women running their own drinking water schemes.
  • The next water champion and speaker was Ms. Vasantha from village Sigur in Mudumalai tiger reserve area in Tamil Nadu. The main issue in her area was that of poor water quality. Ms. Vasantha was trained in conducting regular water quality testing and monitoring. She consistently engaged with the community to disseminate awareness on water quality and related health issues. She started conducting ‘E-coli’ tests to determine various issues related to drinking water. Alongside, she also started educating people about how water pollution, sanitation & toilet-use are linked with health issues such as vomitting, dysentery and other illnesses. Water pollution of rivers in upstream was impacting the quality of water flowing into the downstream villages, causing illness among habitants. Ms. Vasantha is also a part of the Pani Samiti through which awareness was generated about various issues realted to water. She regularly writes articles and uses the medium of community radio to dissimenate authentic information about water related issues. Ms. Vasantha explained that the water quality in her village is so poor that sometimes despite boiling, a thin white layer is formed on top of the water. Food often gets spoilt when cooked using this water. Further, their issues only worsen in summers with no water in borewells and the issue of salty water in a difficult landscape to manage. Despite understanding the superstisious beliefs of the locals, she tried to disseminate scientific knowledge around water and encouraged them to dig water from wet zones, filter and drink. She is awaiting results of  tracer samples collected and sent by her to Coimbatore with the help of the field team.
  • The next water champion who delivered the talk was Ms. Babita Liroliya from village Nayapura in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh. She led water quality testing in her village and trained women in her Self Help Group. Her work increased awareness related to clean drinking water and influenced farmers to adopt strip-cropping. She believes that if a woman isn’t safe, an entire family isn’t safe and hence she targeted women stakeholders by educating them about the importance of water quality. She showed that water that was brought from miles away unfit for drinking through water quality testing. Everyone including the Panchayat was impressed by her knowledge and joined hands with her to work for water. She has also been encouraging  people to conserve water by reusing wastewater and other significant methods. She wishes to inspire more people in her village and wants to ensure that everyone has access to water 12 months a year.
  • Ms. Bhurki  Bai, the next water champion  hailed  from  Village Alsigarh in Udaipur district of Rajasthan. Ms. Bhurki Bai mobilized other women to join Self Help Group and contributed to watershed, afforestation and livelihood activities in her village. Her efforts led to the abundant availability of drinking water and water for crops. Describing her journey, she revealed that women were forced to walk about 2 miles atleast 2 times a day to fetch drinking water which was of low quality making people often sick after consuming. Lack of water led to low agricultural produce thereby adversely impacting the income of farmers as well. Ms. Bhruki Bai, though uneducated, was a very driven and motivated  individual,  who brought together different families to discuss the dominating issues in the village. She along with other women approached the Sarpanch to work on improving the water crisis in the village. Seeing her leadership skills, she was made the leader  of  SHG  she  was connected to. She used this opportunity to work towards watershed management, agriculture, horticulture and other activities connected to livelihoods. It was realized that the lack of water was negatively impacting the agricultural produce in the region. She  along  with other women created social pressure to get an NOC for constructing recharge structures in the village. Fortunately, her village received good rainfall which helped elevate groundwater levels thereby increasing agricultural productivity and incomes. The increase in water levels also benefitted cattle, improved irrigation to 100 Biga. Women who once were forced to walk far away could now fetch water from just at a distance of half a kilometer. Besides, she also installed 20 handpumps in the village and  connected  20  poor families with Pradhanmantri Awaas Yojana. She is a champion of women rights and campaigned for girls’ right to education.
  • The last speaker was  Ms.  Ramandeep Kaur  from  Palia  Kalan village in UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri district. Ms. Ramandeep played an instrumental role in setting up women’s group for water management and leadership in her village. She led the water management group in implementing citizen science approach for advocating water governance. Her efforts gave local women a voice in decision making and built women leadership. Ms. Ramandeep is a representative of Oxfam and led many initiaves in her villages to generate awareness about water contamination and water crisis in general. Her aim was to start dialogue on the subject of water and how water- related issues were impacting the lives of people in her village. For this purpose, she set up a Water Management Committee in her village with 10-15 members on board. She specifically used ‘ citizen science’ to develop water knowledge and solutions to water problems faced. She possessed a machine that test the quality of water reading its temperature  and PH  levels. Using the machine, she marked the readings of  water found  in an area and repeated the process following 10-15 days for recording changes if any. Water testing within a gap of 10-15 days showed the negative impact of industrial flow from nearby sites. She along with other motivated women started conducting regular tests and consolidated reports based on the results. This issue was brought to the notice of the Panchayat and a huge water  was  installed  to ensure access to clean water to the village. A drastic improvement in water contamination (iron and  arsenic  problem), skin  diseases, other illnesses and overall health was witnessed.  This  led  to decrease expenditure and increase in savings of  people  in  the village. Impressed by the success story of Alsigarh  village,  many other neighboring villages adopted this model and set up a Water Management Committee in their villages.
  • The talk was followed by a session of questions and answers wherein members from the audience were invited to discuss their queries with the speaker. The webinar saw some interesting and unique questions from people across the country.