Water as a human right | Water as commons
Water is a natural resource. As we work for the establishment of individual rights to drinking water and water for agriculture and livelihood, we also need to recognize the need to protect ecosystems and look towards reviving waterbodies and recharging groundwater resources. In order to uphold water commons, it is essential to realise that water belongs to all life on Earth, and water resources need to be preserved not just for future generations but for the future of all living things. The emerging concept of the “rights of rivers” needs to be understood within the dynamics of social and ecological justice. On the occasion of World Water Day, it’s imperative to reiterate that rivers, channels and streams have a right flow free, and all aquatic life have the right to survive in water bodies, as part of a water commons that is accessible to all humanity and all forms of life going beyond geo-political boundaries.
The current pattern of industrialisation has led to an overdrawing of water resources and a degradation of all water bodies. The destruction of forest, grassland and wetland commons has reduced water percolation, and drastically reducing ground water recharge. Modern agricultural practices rely increasingly on canal water and groundwater resources, marking a shift away from traditional rainwater harvesting practices that served farmers for centuries.
‘Depleting Water, Increasing Demand’ a recent ActionAid Association study undertaken on water commons in the arid regions of Gujarat and Rajasthan, revealed that across the study areas, historically and traditionally, rainwater harvesting remained a key source for water for people to fulfil their water-related needs. Study findings disclose that while the provision of both groundwater and canal water dependent water supply schemes in the villages have tremendously augmented the households’ access to water in the last two decades, there has also been a criminal over-exploitation of groundwater leading to aquifer depletion/drastic fall of water table and deterioration of water quality. This has naturally put adverse impact on groundwater dependent arid ecology and has also led to increased desertification. A positive finding of the study was that despite influx of modern water solutions, and though the use of traditional rainwater harvesting systems has dwindled, it has not disappeared altogether. Traditional rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge system can re-emerge as a sustainable water solution in this most water scarce zone.
There is a need for all of us to assess demands for water for various activities in our modern ways of life in domestic and commercial purposes, as we face serious challenges including decreasing per capita availability of water, deterioration in water quality, over-exploitation of groundwater leading to lowering its levels at an alarming rate, and an increasing frequency of natural disasters especially floods and droughts. Urgent steps for conservation and efficient use of water with active involvement of people have never been more crucial. One such mechanism for community participation, while establishing public accountability for efficient use of water, is water auditing.
Water audit as the first step to build a sustainable means water use and conservation
Water auditing is a method of assessing water availability vis-à-vis consumption needs of any given community, group or locality, with a view to reducing water usage and often saving unnecessary over-use of water. Water auditing is important because it is a useful mechanism for conserving water while enhancing public accountability, thereby helping ensure that water use and supply are balanced and the water needs are fulfilled. Water audits can be conducted at the village level, in semi-urban and urban locations as well as in educational institutions like schools and colleges. The process starts with the formation of an audit committee, comprising people from across social groups, including women. Besides, water audits can be carried out at the household-level. A household water audit involves doing an assessment of how much water is being used at home and how much of it can be saved and identifying simple ways of saving it.
Steps for a water audit
Conducting a water audit proves helpful as it involves gathering information – from primary and/or secondary sources – on water availability in the location or community being surveyed, the water needs there and data on water consumption. Usually, a team of local water volunteers is formed to conduct the audit at a given location. While collecting this data, seasonality is a critical point that’s factored in, given the fact that water consumption varies according to the seasons, i.e. it is higher in summers as compared to the colder months. As part of the water audit, maps depicting sources of water and water bodies in the said location are put together in order to assess water availability. Water needs of the local communities – household as well as livelihood-related needs – are thereafter assessed. This involves visiting the said communities and estimating the number of hours and rate of use of water, besides looking for leaks and possible ways to reduce water usage. The estimated water usage is then compared with actual water consumption data. This is followed by preparation of a set of recommended actions, together with a schedule for their implementation. These actions also known as water audit steps can be at the level of individuals, families, communities or even above that. These findings and recommendations are shared with all concerned stakeholders, including the local communities, people’s representatives, government officials, civil society members and the media.
The changing water patterns and climate change require us to “know”, “target” and “manage” water risks better. Given the scale of ongoing water challenges in arid regions, adaptive measures like those of going back to using traditional water-conserving techniques are once again gaining popularity. These measures that have stood the tests of time seem flexible to deal with the uncertainties of future trends. And community participation through sustainable knowledge dissemination and mechanisms such as water auditing would hugely contribute to policy formulation towards sustainable usage of water in the long haul.
This World Water Day, let us all resolve to do our bit towards conserving water and strengthening water security in the face of changing climate conditions, such that we are able to maintain the health of our planet’s ecosystems for our future generations.