CSR and the Water Lifeline

Water management in our country needs a serious rethink. While too much or too little water always creates a problem, there are many themes to water – cleanliness, availability of nutrients, water tables, rainwater harvesting and management of water discharge – to name a few.

Even as towns and cities struggle to cope with either excess or no water the general reference is to avoidable tragedies with good planning and involvement of citizens, researchers, governments and NGOs. The action lies in the involvement of people in the plan. Making reports, web based portals and grand disaster management plans have not exactly yielded much.

Involving the citizen in any design of solutions is the need today. Whether it is understanding needs, information or implementation plans.

• There is dangerous depletion of water resources in our urban centers at the same time places one sees hi-rises with swimming pools inside and tankers standing outside.
• Bathroom fitting companies sell Jacuzzis that throw litres of water down the drain but there seems to be no conversation around water conservation or reuse of the waste water.
• Water purification companies that sell ROs give us clean drinking water. But the cleaning process does involve about two thirds of the water going down the drain. Could this be done better?
• Rainwater harvesting pits are few and far between
• Water logging during monsoons is now taken as almost a standard way of life.

The citizens water dashboard that helps us in managing water issues is clearly missing from our daily conversations. We have got to see water from a person’s perspective. The way the information needs to work should be realtime and not static.

Water flows. So should information about water.

A blueprint for a water dashboard could contain a 4 fold approach:

Informing:  A real time dashboard that makes information available to all concerned simultaneously rather than information getting filtered down in a linear fashion. This will also help in making ancillary data points available to the right people at the right time. This could constitute Ecological maintenance, Drinking and domestic water requirements, Farming and food production, Water bodies.

Engaging: Engage with experts around various aspects of water and highlight key areas of intervention.

Researching: The issue is not just around flood prevention or drought but a wider one. How do we utilize our water resources in the best possible manner? Where are the shortfalls? How can water usage be optimised?

Mapping: water resources that bring the data to life.

The task is both large and wide-ranging. Given the scale it will require several entities to come together. This provides an excellent opportunity for a public-private partnership in water management.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives around water could play a significant role in creating water information dashboards that benefit all of us. The companies Act 2013 mandates a 2% spending requirements for companies. Also, the mandatory spend areas have been identified. Companies wanting to support in the areas of water management and maintenance can spend in the areas of drinking water and environment.

A consortium of corporates and the government could come together in a collaborative arrangement. One such effort has been made by Pepsi in Latin America.

For similar such water initiatives in India, funding could principally come from corporates that will reap benefits in terms of greater brand awareness benefit to communities – both in near their plants as well as across the country.

Lets get together to solve the water problems at the source and create a water lifeline.

Article coauthored with Utkarsh Majmudar and originally published in Economic Times.