Monday, January 24, 2011

Meeting India's growing water challenges

Arghyam has brought a new dynamism in water sector

Sopan Correspondent/ New Delhi

Water is the elixir of life. No one perhaps realizes it better than Arghyam, the Bangalore based charitable foundation setup with an endowment from Rohini Nilekani.

Working in the water and sanitation sector since 2005, as a funding agency Arghyam primarily works through partnerships with government, NGOs and institutions to understand and address issues of quantity, quality and access to domestic water in communities across the country.

For the organization, addressing issues of the poor and the vulnerable in accessing water for their basic daily needs is a priority and addressing these issues in a manner that is environmentally sustainable is important. Even as the organization has created a name for itself, Chairperson Rohini Nilekani says there is a long way to go and many structural and policy issues to be tackled before integrated management of urban water becomes a reality. "We believe there are moral and strategic imperatives to rethink municipal water in India. The current models are socially unjust, economically ineffective and ecologically unsound," says Nilekani. Referring to rural water, Nilekani says that there is again a "gap between the obligation of the local government to provide safe, predictable water to people and their capacity to do so, given the number of constraints. She says Arghyam hopes to be part of a deepening national discourse on urban water in days to come.

In 2009-10, more than five lakh people in 1000 villages were given access to water and sanitation with the efforts of the organisation. In addition more than 40 projects were supported by Arghyam in 18 states with an overall budget of Rs 11.03 crore.

Key principles which guide the efforts of Arghyam include recognition of water as a basic need and right, decentralization, community participation and ownership, an integrated approach to managing water from source to sink, managing water locally and effective use of technology.

Working through a combination of project grants to grass roots organizations, knowledge building and sharing through the India Water Portal, promoting new models of water science, technology and system design, participatory action research and advocacy, Arghyam now collaborates with a diverse range of actors across 18 States in India through 80 projects.

The key themes include water quality, ground water management, water security, sanitation, integrated water management, education, outreach and capacity building and also advocacy initiatives.

Realizing the role which the governments can play in the sector, Arghyam, since its inception has been actively participating in state government programmes for gap filling support and making strategic funding. Within a short period, these interventions matured and transformed from participation to partnership.

Sunita Nadhamuni, CEO, says that one of the challenges facing water sector today is to make a compelling case for participatory approaches and smaller, decentralized interventions so that they can be seen as viable options for towns and villages. "Weak local capacities for implementation and lagging sanitation performance continue to be a cause of concern," she points out. Nadhamuni says Arghyam is conscious of the looming challenges and is designing its activities in this context.

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