Weathering water woes

S. Vishwanath   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Water, the invariable backdrop of Kerala life. Be it the rains that lash out two seasons every year, the placid backwaters, or the many rivers that straddle through this narrow stretch of land, water is central to the defining image of Kerala.

It thus comes through as a strange contradiction that at 25 litres a day, Kerala scores low, lower than even Rajasthan, in the per-capita availability of water. The answer to this paradox lies squarely in not knowing how to manage this most precious of our natural resource, properly.

S. Vishwanath is someone who has been campaigning for long for a change in the way we think, or do not, about water. Based out of Bangalore, Vishwanath, a civil engineer and urban planner by training has been working, writing and communicating on issues related to water conservation and water sanitation in urban areas. “Access to good quality water is strongly tied-in with public health, economic activity, and the quality of life,” says Vishwanath.

As our cities grow bearing the brunt of overpopulation, access to clean water is emerging as a new concern. The only way to deal with it, according to Vishwanath, is to harness water through its manifold sources, rain water, ground water, and even waste-water recycled. “A city like Thiruvananthapuram with nearly consistent monsoons has a lot of potential for rain water harvesting,” says Vishwanath, who has been successful in promoting water harvesting designs in several household and commercial complexes in Bangalore. Adding to this, Vishwanath and his team at the Rainwater Club, have commissioned a working model, minimalist in design, that converts urban rooftops to agricultural spaces where food, including paddy, could be grown, fed fully on recycled waste water.

Kerala has the highest well density in India and is a treasure if maintained well. But keeping this ground water and other local water resources usable and free of contamination is an allied challenge. This is where the sanitation systems come in. Sanitation, according to Vishwanath, is as much an urban problem as it is in rural areas.

“Dumping of raw sewage and waste water without treatment into local streams and rivers, disposal of solid waste into drains and canals all contaminate our ground and surface water reservoirs,” cautions Vishwanath.

A city like Thiruvananthapuram with nearly consistent monsoons has a lot of potential for rain water harvesting.

The sad plight of the Karamana river is a classic case of our callous negligence. As a reverse example, Vishwanath talks about Mahaweli Ganga, the river that cuts through the town of Kandy in Sri Lanka. “It’s an urban river. But there the water is pristine and pure. Strict laws and their enforcement combined with clever water management practices have made the Mahaweli the lifeline of Kandy”. Vishwanath wonders why this cannot be the case with the Karamana river.

Outside of legal ways and government enforcements, Vishwanath feels, long term change for the good can come only through dissemination of information and spreading awareness on water. “When we are water literate we will take individual actions to conserve and protect water resources. We will create community action to ensure its cleanliness and not allow greed to overcome sustainable use. We will create institutions and arm them with finances and accountability so that they too help in ensuring that available water resources are taken care of,” he says.

Vishwanath is the director of Biome solutions, an architectural firm that designs and build homes and institutions using earth as the primary construction material, inspired by the principles of Laurie Baker. He also works as an advisor to Arghyam, a public charitable foundation that has funded over 120 projects on water and sanitation all over India.

For information on Rainwater Club:

Vishwanath delivers a lecture on ‘Towards a sustainable city: Water’ today at University Women’s Association Hall, Jawahar Nagar, at 5 p.m. today.

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 3:28:14 PM |

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