Water Man of India Urges Disciplined Use of Water in Africa

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Fredrick Mugira
March 11, 2016

South Africa’s extreme drought has dried up water supplies for millions of people living in rural parts of the country. Some of the affected people live in Mpumalanga, a rural province in the eastern part of the country. In Mpumalanga, the drought has led to vanishing of water in Crocodile River, forcing water officials in Mbombela municipality – the main city of Mpumalanga – to start implementing water restriction to consumers targeting swimming pools and vehicle washing bays according to Linda Carol Zulu, the municipality’s general manager for water and sanitation.

Water suppliers in Mbombela municipality rely on the Crocodile River for water, but due to the drought – the worst in 30 years – river flows have plummeted this season.

Drying up of rivers, wells, springs and lakes in Africa is not new. Several lakes including Lake Chad, the formerly world’s 6th largest lake have had a rapid decline leading to water shortfall. In fact in Africa, one in three people endure water scarcity and this is being worsened by climate change.

Similarly, in Uganda, over 100 shallow wells, streams, rivers and lakes have dried up in the south western region in the last five years according to the region’s focal person for the national environment watchdog – NEMA, Jeconeous Musingwire. Eastern Africa countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania are suffering even worse problems.

But in some parts of India, things are a bit different. And this difference is a result of Dr. Rajendra Singh efforts.

The water conservationist and the 2015 Stockholm Water Prize winner, Dr Rajendra, has been recognized for his innovative water restoration efforts and steady attempts to improve water security in villages of India.

He shared his thoughts with Fredrick Mugira about replicating the same innovative water restoration efforts in Africa to improve water security in the continent’s villages. This was during the week-long knowledge exchange organised by the 2030 Water Resource Group (2030 WRG), a global public-private-civil society partnership based in Washington USA in collaboration with Stockholm International Water Institute and the Water and Sanitation Department of South Africa.

Dr. Rajendra Singh (L) chats with Fredrick Mugira (R) in Pretoria, South Africa
Dr. Rajendra Singh (L) chats with Fredrick Mugira (R) in Pretoria, South Africa

Dr. Rajendra was one of the water activists, professionals and authorities from India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Mexico, Mongolia, Peru, Tanzania and South Africa that took part in this knowledge exchange in Pretoria, South Africa last week.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

Question: Why should people care about Rivers in their communities?

Answer: The people should understand that if their river is not healthy, they also can’t live healthy. So the health of a river and the health of people are interlinked. So the people should try the rejuvenation of the river and they make it a clean river and they should safeguard the river land and the clean flow. This way they get clean water.

Question: Several rivers, lakes and wells in Africa are drying up as a result of climate change. What should be done to stop this?

Answer: You know what is very important is water conservation and harvesting and also making a decent use of water. If they can make a disciplined use of water so they can conserve and make a sustainable way of water management and a sustainable way of water resource management.
So if we can get success in Rajasthan, so that model can be replicated in Africa. The same model we can replicate. On one hand we start with realization of the community and on other hand, we get social corporate responsibility and also government intervention. So change is possible.

Question: Who should bear this responsibility?

Answer: The people and the government, and the private sector should all realize the responsibility of cleaning the river. You know the most important are the local people. The local community should realize the site selection of the work for the water harvesting, reduce corruption, and reduce the pollution, and reduce the wastage of the money and the wastage of resource. So it is very much necessary that the community takes the lead of that work.

Question: Will water-stressed communities in developing countries ever have enough water?

Answer: You know the rain water is enough for the world but we are not really managing it properly. If we can manage this water in a good way, we can create prosperity and peace. You know now, the scarcity of water and the flashfloods create tension within communities and that tension creates conflict and that conflict makes the situation of war. So now the third world war is coming if we are not doing the water conservation and water harvesting and disciplined use of water. So if we are really to have a prosperous and peaceful common future, we should start the community driven decentralized water management now. You know the one water, one planet slogan? The community should start this. The community role is very important. If the community starts that work, the government follows and the private sector also comes in.

Question: I understand you are organizing a river walk in Mumbai, India that is likely to attract over 10,000 people to walk for 5km alongside the four rivers of Mumbai. How will these rivers benefit from the walk?

Answer: The river walk is a practical involvement of all stakeholders of the river. So after this walk, we make GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) and the rejuvenation starts. (GPR is geophysical method that uses radar pulses to image the subsurface. It can be used in the detection of voids and incoherence in hydraulic defense structures such as river embankments and levee systems.)

Question: When will you walk for rivers in Africa?

Answer: I am very much interested in holding water walk in Africa but African communities should initiate this. I am coming. I can join and help in mobilization and organization and we can make a system for river rejuvenation. I can come.

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