We The Change: We need to invest in our future by protecting and conserving our water bodies

Water scarcity and drought plagues more than 42 percent of India’. With climate change, there is a high variability in rainfall leading to some areas getting flooded while others face drought like conditions or have to deal with polluted water. We are also aware of the toxic white foam that forms on the Yamuna river and Bangalore's lakes catching fire. This demand for this resource will continue to spike with our rocketing population. We need to foresee this scarcity and manage our resources through investments in proper storage, sustainable distribution and consumption. Conservation of freshwater resources must be our top priority.

Revival of water bodies, like any other sustainable conservation plan, cannot happen in isolation.

The “water issue” is not limited to just one state or region. Restoring river banks by creating concrete banks may lead to more flooding due to the loss of natural banks, and the water quality also degrades. Moreover, consumption of water is higher than its treatability potential and not all domestic water consumed is being treated. According to pollution control board studies, 78 percent of water remains untreated in India.

Streams get a lot of pollution load when banks are reconstructed with concrete, and it reduces water percolating into the soil. This leads to a loss of green cover and ultimately, loss of biodiversity. When banks are concretised it reduces the space available for water to flow, many a time causing flooding. To prevent this, native plants can be planted on the banks. Maintaining the natural habitat and not converting it into a concrete habitat is key to conserving water bodies, whether it is a small stream or even a river. Greener habitats will also reduce heat in cities and make the air cleaner.

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974, implemented by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, and its many revisions over the years catering to the management and regulation of water bodies. However, it overlooks many factors and issues that are rising today. With a growing population and changing climate, it is essential to consider new innovative solutions. There is a gap in monitoring the distribution of water in different sectors. To attain an optimal value of ecosystem services, ecological infrastructure is key. But in developing countries such as ours, social infrastructure is also crucial because of the lack of awareness, sanitation and health facilities. Improved sanitation facilities and sewage treatment must be emphasized to create a sustainable habitat for humans as well as aquatic flora and fauna. It should also be remembered that every water body is inter-connected and it is important to maintain these linkages while doing stream restoration.

Revival of water bodies, like any other sustainable conservation plan, cannot happen in isolation. It is also important to understand that one solution may not fit all the water bodies. The approach will need to vary from one water body to another, depending on the purpose, ecological services, livelihood and socio-cultural practices.

Urban water streams have specific restoration objectives associated with many processes and stakeholders. It must include community participation and sensitization towards the stream to subsequently support long-term environmental goals. Participation by communities makes them realise the importance of the water body, and many case studies have proven that this increases their sense of responsibility as they invest time and effort. It makes them more aware and concerned citizens. Young people are increasingly concerned about a future of climate change repercussions, and they are voicing their concerns and opinions. There is a willingness to come forward and work with government bodies and decision-makers to bring more action within their communities. This should be leveraged by listening to them and taking action on their ideas.

It is evident that if we conserve the habitat, diversity is sure to return and prosper. Each step towards this matters, as local actions are what lead to global solutions. The work might seem difficult, or even overwhelming; but when our home is at stake, everything else should take a backseat. This planet is our home, and our empathy should guide us in preserving it.

Join the We The Change movement by logging on to the website: www.wethechangenow.com & share your climate action story using #WeTheChangeNOW

The author is a PhD Student at ATREE, Bangalore and is affiliated with the UNEP - Plastic Tide Turner Campaign.

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