On World Water Day, meet three people from the city who are working to provide clean water for man and wildlife alike

For the needy

There is this look on the face of someone who badly needs a drink of water but cannot get it. It’s a look that breaks M. Ashfaq Rahman’s heart. He rushes to their aid — for he feels there’s nothing more gratifying than giving someone a drink of water. Ashfaq, who manufactures garments for advocates, carries bottles of water wherever he goes. He stocks some 40 bottles in his car and some 20 in his bike so that he is always ready to give water to anyone who is thirsty. He even pays for water at wedding feasts of the less-privileged and to thirsty police personnel on bandobust duty.

“In the 1980s, when I ran a juice shop on the premises of the High Court, there was extreme water shortage in the city. My business partner wouldn’t give customers water even if they asked for it. He would ask them to buy juice.” But Ashfaq offered water on the sly, even if it meant fetching buckets of water from far.

It has been five years since he started offering water to the needy. “People are much more grateful for water than a good meal,” he feels. The first person he helped was an old woman on the Marina Beach. “I was going for a walk when I saw her. She was badly in need of water. I bought her a bottle from a vendor on the beach,” he recalls. Ashfaq will never forget what she said. “She held my hand and said ‘nandri pa, nalla iru’ — thanks son, bless you.’”

For birds and animals

It’s summer time. Deep inside the forest, how do the inhabitants prepare themselves to beat the heat? Herpetologist Romulus Whitaker and Janaki Lenin’s Karadi Malai Camp, for instance, is so dry that monkeys reach for taps to quench their thirst. The wildlife in the camp, located on the edges of Vallam Reserve Forest, 50 km from the city, “hardly have water sources,” says Rom. The snakes, leopards, mongoose, porcupine, jungle cats and civet cats turn to the campsite for water.

When the forest was intact, there must have been perennial water sources, feels Rom. But failure of the monsoon and human intervention has forced the wildlife to look elsewhere for water. Rom and Janaki are hence creating a waterhole for the birds and animals of Karadi Malai in collaboration with the Gerry Martin Project. They have organised a three-day programme at the camp this month for those interested in participating in the process.

Water is the reason for most instances of man-animal conflict. “A good water source is definitely a problem for human beings and the wildlife of India,” says Rom. To encourage people to conserve water, Rom promotes rainwater harvesting in his locality and advises farmers to plant trees in every free space there is so that they help retain groundwater. “In the long run, this will create water sources,” he says. After all, “water is more precious than gold and diamonds.”

For the people

If Mother Nature could talk, imagine what she would say to us about the way we ill-treat her water bodies! She would probably shake her head and walk away in resignation, if not for people such as Arun Krishnamurthy of the Environmentalist Foundation of India. Arun has spent the last eight years of his life cleaning up water bodies across the country. He and his team are currently cleaning up the Perumbakkam marshland as you read this.

Arun calls for a people’s uprising to create a world where everyone has access to clean and safe drinking water. “Our approach is that we must all work together. Nothing will change unless and until people wake up.” Arun quotes from studies that indicate that people who live in the suburbs of Chennai are more prone to intestinal infection because of the arsenic and zinc content in the water they drink. “Nobody has understood water as an element,” feels the 26-year-old.

Arun and his team have been working towards changing “people’s mindset towards a better environment for all life forms.” He has often been appalled by the lack of responsibility shown by people towards water. “We waste so much water…we must remember that Nature’s resources are not just for us.”