Rain water harvesting!

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It is that time of the year where many places in the world receive rains due to the monsoons. In Kenya we have the short rain spells in November unlike the longer spells that we usually get in March- April. Despite all that talk of El Nino and the vagaries of climate, the rain gods are still really kind, otherwise the world would not survive. But where does all this rain water go? No prizes for guessing. Literally down the drain or into the seas! When will people in power wake up and start thinking about the future. Everywhere they seem to be in a hurry to settle old scores or indulge in making hay while the sun shines but precious little is done to plug the problems of the world.

Many cities in India received very heavy rainfall this year and one report stood out amidst all that usual statistics of waterlogged streets and fallen trees and telephone wires. One city received copious rain enough for an entire year’s water supply but alas it all went straight into the Bay of Bengal. Every place faces a drought as this is not an isolated case. When it rains, we are not wise to store it for the difficult days ahead. We waste this precious resource called water without which we cannot live on this earth.

How much water does this world use? To find out the exact figure, two engineers Arjen Hoekstra and Mesfin Mekonnen from the University of Twente in the Netherlands calculated the water footprint of the world’s countries as well as the per capita water consumption in different nations. They found that “overall, the world is using 9,087 billion cubic meters of water per year. China, India and the U.S. consumed the highest annual totals: 1,207 billion, 1,182 billion and 1,053 billion cubic meters, respectively, followed by Brazil at 482 billion. But the water consumed per person in these and other countries varies considerably, due primarily to higher living standards or widespread waste among consumers. The U.S. had the world’s highest per capita water footprint, at 2,842 cubic meters per annum.” Meat consumption accounts for 30 percent of the American figure, and sugar consumption is responsible for another 15 percent, Hoekstra says.

So it is an emerging crisis and we need to pull our socks quickly and do something about conserving water or we will be leaving a parched, dry earth to our children. This will be the result of our selfishness and utter contempt for others. Our ancients were never like this. If you read about the Native African legends or the Native American way of life we understand that they lived a life in harmony with the elements and were grateful for everything that Nature gave them and adjusted their life to its rhythm.

In India, our ancient texts and scriptures revered forests as they protected water catchments. Our ancestors believed that forests were mothers of rivers and therefore they worshipped the sources of these water bodies. Cutting down trees in the name of industrialization and urbanization is taking us nowhere. We need to start adopting water conservation methods in each and every household on an urgent basis. The oldest civilization, the Indus Valley Civilization boasted of advanced water conservation methods. One of the oldest water harvesting systems is found about 130 km from Pune along Naneghat in the Western Ghats. They thought of others too. A large number of tanks were cut in the rocks to provide drinking water to tradesmen who used to travel along this ancient trade route. Each fort in the area had its own water harvesting and storage system in the form of rock-cut cisterns, ponds, tanks and wells that are still in use today. A large number of forts like Raigad had tanks that supplied water. In rain starved Rajasthan houses were built in such a way they had rooftop rain harvesting systems. Rainwater from these rooftops was directed into underground tanks. This system can be seen even today in all the forts, palaces and houses of the region.

Rainwater harvesting helps in improving underground water tables as water seeps in gently, keeping the place moist. This is the need of the hour. Many governments have made it mandatory to install this system in all houses. Awareness should be created in our communities and when this is backed by strong laws, I am sure we can help save atleast a part of the water that would otherwise get lost.