Interview with Veethahavya, from the Water Literacy Foundation

On the 20th of February, we met Veethahavya, from the Water Literacy Foundation, who discussed with us about the main water-related challenges for India, and the work done by his organisation to tackle them. 

What is the Water Literacy Foundation (WLF), in a few words? The WLF was founded in 2005 by Ayyappa Masagi, sometimes called the “Water doctor” or the “Water magician” of India! In his childhood, he faced acute water shortage as he had to walk for hours with his mother to fetch water from the nearest stream bed. Always keeping this in mind, Masagi started experimenting with rainwater harvesting and non-irrigation agricultural methods in the 1990’s.

The WLF aims to transform India into a water-efficient nation and works in various sectors: agricultural, residential, commercial, industrial and community sectors.

« Complete rain water harvesting is the solution to the water crisis in India »

There are 2 separate entities in our organization: the “Water Literacy Foundation” that is an NGO, and the “Rain Water Concept” that is a for-profit. Whereas the company works for industrial and commercial sectors and for urban organizations, the NGO mainly focuses on helping farmers, as they usually get less attention from investors and companies than poor people in urban areas.

At WLF, we consider that complete rain water harvesting is the solution to the water crisis in India, as it is the most sustainable option.

How do you harvest rain water? What type of infrastructures do you use? We do not have one specific method or infrastructure; we draft solutions adapted to each situation. We implement a lot of traditional methods, usually more resilient within one’s environment.

Do you think that access to water for domestic purposes is a major problem in India today? It will eventually become one indeed, as we are creating everywhere borewells and water tanks that use non-renewable sources of water. However, borewells appear to be necessary considering population density in some areas, so we are working on solutions allowing to recharge borewells with rain water.

This is also highlighted by other specialists, like Shashank Singh from the Barefoot College: « In India, groundwater accounts for over 80% of domestic water use in rural areas (…). The Central Groundwater Board of India projects that the reservoir of groundwater will dry up by 2025 in up to 15 states if the current rate of exploitation continues. » 

Access to water resources is strategic in India, and it sometimes leads to conflicts. The Cauvery River Basin, which flows from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu, is the cause of a major water conflict, as a dam built in the former retains water and limits water access to the latter.

Do you think it is one of the reasons why Tamil Nadu is more affected by droughts? Yes it is, but among many other reasons. We can also explain it by the fact that they produce rice, which is a very water-intensive crop while they used to produce millet. The prevalence of rice over millet is partly due to sociological aspects: rice is more socially valued among farmers as it is quite new, despite the fact that it has an impact on water scarcity (as it is more water-demanding) and food consumption (it is less nutritive).

What is the main water-related challenge for India?  Realizing that rain water is the main source of water.

What are the main government policies regarding water in India? The government only builds “water ATM” like borewells and water tanks, or massive installations like canals. But those solutions are short-term oriented and harmful in the long run! It is hard to convince politicians to opt for longer-term solutions…

« The solutions provided by the government are short-term oriented and harmful in the long run!  » 

« Under pressure from multilateral development banks, the Indian government has tended to look for solutions in markets and large-scale, costly infrastructure. Dams, diversion projects, and the controversial plan to interlink the major rivers have been widely criticized for displacing and impoverishing villagers, wreaking havoc on wildlife, and pushing India further into debt. » Shashank Singh, Barefoot College

Do you valorise innovation to tackle the water problem in India, or would rather go back to traditional methods? Traditional methods are the best, but we need to adapt them so they can fit in the modern world. For example, tree-based agriculture is a traditional technique that we are reintroducing. Rainfalls have become very erratic partly because of deforestation, as trees constitute rainfalls magnets. It is beneficial to plant some trees, but it is not profitable for farmers in the short term so it is hard to convince them. In order to encourage tree plantation, we therefore recommend that they plant 60% trees and 40% fruit trees, which enable them to get some revenues only after a few years. This is a fine balance to agree on a sensible ratio between restoring natural pattern and increasing direct revenues for farmers.