Tackling Water Crisis Through Community Engagement

Prof (Dr) Shalini Verma ‘Lifoholic’


The climate crisis is a water crisis – we must act fast.

The extreme climate conditions and the broader implications of climate change pose significant threats to rural India’s sustainability and livelihoods. Addressing this crisis requires a multifaceted approach, emphasising water conservation, sustainable agricultural practices, and the creation of rural employment opportunities. Raising awareness and implementing focused policies on these fronts are crucial steps towards mitigating the impact of the water crisis and ensuring long-term sustainability for the region.

Maharashtra, for instance, is grappling with a severe water crisis as the water levels in dams across the state have plummeted to just 32.72% of their total storage capacity. Pune, one of Maharashtra’s major cities, is significantly impacted.

According to the Hindustan Times, its four crucial dams—Khadakwasla, Temghar, Panshet, and Varasgaon—currently hold only 10.31 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) of water, a stark decline from 12.91 TMC on the same day last year.

The primary cause of this alarming drop is this year’s insufficient rainfall.

As temperatures rise, the severity of water scarcity intensifies. Villages across the state are struggling to access water, leading to a surge in the demand for water tankers. The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has responded by increasing water tanker trips in merged villages where the water supply is inadequate. Consequently, a majority of villages in the Pune division now rely on tanker water supply. This trend is mirrored in other divisions such as Konkan, Nashik, and Amravati, where dependency on tanker water is becoming a norm. The current water storage levels in various state divisions paint a worrying picture:

  • Marathwada division: 19.36%
  • Pune division: 36.34%
  • Nagpur division: 48.84%
  • Amravati division: 49.62%
  • Nashik division: 38.17%
  • Konkan division: 50.50%

By prioritising these measures, Maharashtra can work towards alleviating the current water shortage and securing a more resilient future for its communities. 

Global Water Crisis

The demand for water has outpaced population growth, and global warming is expected to exacerbate this crisis. In 2022, 2.2 billion people lacked access to safe drinking water, while 3.5 billion lacked adequate sanitations. This dire situation results in millions of deaths annually from water-related diseases, including diarrhoea, typhoid, and cholera, and contributes to stunted development and malnutrition in children. Water scarcity disproportionately affects young girls and women, who often spend up to six hours daily fetching water in some parts of Africa. 

Importance of Access to Safe Water 

Improving access to safe water has wide-ranging benefits, impacting health, livelihoods, agriculture, education, and the environment. Several organisations are tackling water resource challenges through various initiatives, contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of universal access to water and sanitation by 2030. 

Shared Struggles: Water Crisis Across Continents 

Despite being separated by thousands of miles and speaking diverse languages, the people of Andhra Pradesh in India, Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, and Machakos County in Kenya, face a common challenge: securing clean and safe water.

GVK: Sustainable Farming in India 

In Andhra Pradesh, Grameena Vikas Kendram (GVK) is working with indigenous communities to improve livelihoods through sustainable agriculture. GVK promotes organic cotton, which requires less water and no chemical fertilisers or pesticides. They are also focusing on regenerative agriculture, which improves water management by enhancing soil’s water retention.

Since 2023, GVK has expanded its efforts to include drinking water, working with over 21,000 farmers to address water supply challenges. They are reactivating Village Water and Sanitation Committees to manage water resources effectively.

Hydroquo+: High-Tech Solutions in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, Hydroquo+ is using artificial intelligence and machine learning to address water issues. The Dhaka-based startup helps national agencies and organisations manage water resources by analysing data on water quality and distribution. Their automated system can test water quality in real-time and improve efficiency in water use and wastewater treatment. Hydroquo+ is also working with the Bangladesh Water Supply and Sewage Authority to enhance water management in Dhaka, benefiting over 20 million residents.

Kenya Connect: Education and Clean Water 

Kenya Connect is addressing the lack of access to clean water in rural Kenya by engaging with local communities to manage resources sustainably. Patrick Munguti, director of education and information technology at Kenya Connect, highlights the seasonal nature of water sources in the Mwala region.

To address this, Kenya Connect, in partnership with the FII Institute, has installed 10,000-litre water tanks and water-harvesting gutters in 63 public schools, providing drinking water for up to two months. They aim to install additional tanks to extend this supply and are also planning to drill a borehole for a school with special-needs students.

Community and Governmental Support 

Effective water management requires both community and governmental support. In Kenya, local laws such as the Kenya National Water Policy 2021 and the Water Act 2016 exist but often lack implementation.

Kenya Connect helps fill these gaps by avoiding duplication of governmental efforts. In India, local village councils (gram panchayats) play a crucial role in water management, ensuring community ownership and participation.

The Role of Youth and Innovation 

The involvement of youth and startup companies is vital for driving innovation and achieving sustainable water management. Encouraging students to learn about and teach water management fosters a sense of responsibility and innovation within communities.

As Zahin Razeen of Hydroquo+ points out, young people and startups hold the potential to lead breakthroughs in water management, aiming for sustainable water equity for all.

By supporting these diverse initiatives, communities worldwide are making strides towards securing clean and safe water for future generations.

Empowering Change: Community Engagement in Water Sustainability 

In the global fight for water sustainability, community engagement stands out as a beacon of hope and innovation. Across the world, initiatives that harness the collective action of local communities are proving that sustainable water management is not only possible but also achievable.

The Essence of Community Engagement 

Community engagement in water sustainability goes beyond mere consultation. It involves building partnerships where community members actively participate in planning, decision-making, and implementing water management strategies. This approach ensures projects are tailored to local needs and fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility among participants.

Success Stories from Around the Globe 

Innovative models of engagement are making a difference, from rainwater harvesting in arid regions to restoring traditional water systems in indigenous communities.

In India, participatory water budgeting has empowered villages to manage their water resources effectively, dramatically improving access to clean water and reducing conflicts over water use.

  • Jal Chaupal: It is an informal group of individuals, citizens, experts, practitioners, and academics work on, or interested in water issues. The platform will be used for free and fair exchange of knowledge, and common understanding for policy and action.

The creation of Jal Choupal-UP was supported by water experts from the World Bank Project on Rural Water Supply in the state, Uttar Pradesh (UP) Jal Nigam, Water and Sanitation Support Organisation, District WASH forums, and civil society organisations from the state like Eco Friends, Banvasi Sewa Ashram, and District Water Sanitation Managements.

The programme encourages local villagers to participate in water budgeting and planning, ensuring efficient use of water resources. Through regular meetings and discussions, the community collectively decides on water allocation, leading to improved water conservation and reduced conflicts over water use.

  • Pani Panchayat, Maharashtra: It is a grassroots movement in Maharashtra that empowers farmers to manage their water resources through participatory water budgeting. Pani Panchayat is the name first given to a movement by Mr. Vilasrao Salunke for motivating farmers of Naigaon village of the drought-prone Purandhar taluka of Maharashtra in 1974. The government’s inability to deal with the drought situation prompted him to take a 40-acre land on lease from the village temple trust and develop a recharge pond in the recharge area of the village, a dug well in the discharge zone and a lift irrigation system.

Farmers got impressed with the results demanding a scale up of the experiment leading to the setting up of Gram Gaurav Pratisthan (GGP) through which the work was expanded to encompass both groundwater and surface water management. By forming water user associations, the initiative has successfully promoted equitable water distribution, increased water-use efficiency, and enhanced agricultural productivity, benefiting thousands of farmers in the region.

  • Neeru-Chettu Programme, Andhra Pradesh: The Government of Andhra Pradesh has taken up Water Conservation Mission Neeru Chettu Sub-Mission under Primary Sector Mission with a vision to make the State a drought proof State and to eradicate the poverty and to reduce economic inequalities by better water conservation and sustainable management.

It aims to revive traditional water bodies and improve water conservation through community engagement. Neeru Chettu is interdepartmental convergence activity among water conserving departments viz., Irrigation, Rural Development, Ground water, Forest, APSAC and water utilizing departments viz., Agriculture, Horticulture, Fisheries, Animal Husbandry, RWS, Municipal Administration and Urban Development.

Villagers actively participate in desilting tanks, constructing check dams, and planting trees to enhance groundwater recharge. This collaborative effort has led to increased water availability for irrigation and drinking purposes, fostering sustainable water management practices.

On the other hand, we have some very good examples from across different countries worldwide.

  • WaterAid, Ethiopia: It focuses on empowering local communities to manage their water resources through participatory planning and implementation. By involving community members in constructing and maintaining water supply systems, the initiative has significantly improved access to clean water and sanitation, reducing water-related diseases and enhancing overall health and well-being.
  • Rainwater Harvesting in Cape Town, South Africa: In response to severe drought conditions, Cape Town implemented a city-wide rainwater harvesting initiative. Residents were encouraged to install rainwater tanks and participate in water-saving practices. This community-driven approach not only alleviated the immediate water crisis but also fostered a culture of water conservation and sustainable resource management.
  • Indigenous Water Management, Australia: Indigenous communities in Australia have long practiced traditional water management techniques that promote sustainability and resilience. Projects that restore and integrate these practices, such as the use of natural springs and waterholes, have proven effective in maintaining water quality and availability. These initiatives highlight the importance of indigenous knowledge in addressing modern water challenges and ensuring long-term sustainability.

The Role of NGOs and Technology

Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) play a crucial role in facilitating community engagement, providing the tools, knowledge, and support needed to drive change. Meanwhile, technology offers new ways to engage communities, from mobile apps that track water usage and quality to platforms that allow communities to share successes and challenges.

  • Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP): The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) in India works extensively to promote sustainable water management practices in rural areas. By engaging local communities in water conservation projects, AKRSP provides training and resources for efficient water use. Additionally, they utilise mobile apps to monitor water usage and quality, enabling real-time data collection and community involvement in decision-making processes.
  • Gram Vikas: It is an NGO in Odisha that focuses on providing water and sanitation solutions to rural communities. They empower villagers by involving them in the construction and maintenance of water supply systems. Gram Vikas also uses digital platforms to educate communities about water conservation techniques and to facilitate the sharing of success stories and challenges among different villages.
  • Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP): It engages in Maharashtra women in rural areas to lead water management initiatives. By providing training and resources, SSP helps women to implement water-saving practices and technologies. They also use mobile applications to track water usage, ensuring transparency and accountability in community-led water projects.
  • org: It is a global NGO that works to provide access to safe water and sanitation through innovative financing solutions. They collaborate with local communities to develop sustainable water systems and use technology to enhance their impact. Water.org’s mobile apps and digital platforms enable communities to track water quality and usage, share best practices, and access microloans for water-related projects.
  • Charity: Water: It is an international NGO dedicated to bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries. They leverage technology by installing remote sensors on water projects to monitor functionality and maintenance needs. This data is accessible to both the organisation and the community, ensuring transparency and engagement in maintaining water infrastructure.
  • International Rainwater Harvesting Alliance (IRHA): It works globally to promote rainwater harvesting as a sustainable water solution. IRHA collaborates with local NGOs and communities to implement rainwater harvesting systems, providing technical support and training. They also use online platforms to share knowledge, successes, and challenges, fostering a global network of engaged communities dedicated to sustainable water management.

Successful community engagement in water sustainability relies on several key strategies such as:

  • Inclusivity: Ensuring all community members, especially marginalised groups, have a voice in the process.
  • Education and Awareness: Building knowledge about water issues and sustainable practices.
  • Collaboration: Partnering with local governments, NGOs, and other stakeholders.
  • Sustainability: Planning for the long-term maintenance and success of water projects.

The journey towards water sustainability is a collective one. By prioritising community engagement, we can unlock the potential of local knowledge and action, paving the way for a future where clean, accessible water is a reality for all.

Author may be reached at : impactleadership@lifoholicshalini.com

Follow her on: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drshaliniverma/



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