Burglars Bring Out Dirty Laundry

Originally, published in HaasWeek, the newspaper of the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley on May 5, 1997.


In the last two weeks, i have been the victim of two burglaries. This is not about my wallet, but about incidents that took place at my home in Oakland. Not break-ins, but things wandering off my doorstep.

The first time, the miscreant took off with a bag in the middle of the night. Imagine their shock at finding out that the bag contained 78 soiled diapers that i had put out for the diaper service to pick up in the morning. I found the bag at the end of my street the next day.

The second time the thief was smarter, waiting until the diaper service left a sack full of clean diapers before committing the crime.

So what is my defense? With the ‘keys to the kingdom’ i am now in the elite. With my brand new MBA, just like the rest of you i command an obscenely high salary, far more than i need, and can move. Away from BART, away from the poor, away from crime. A place with great schools, with a responsive police force, a place where there are no homeless. A place where its easier to identify those who don’t belong by their bags, their shopping carts, their junky bikes and their old cars. Someplace where i can be safe for a few years.

What am i fleeing? What am i afraid of?Oakland homeless encampments

Should i be afraid of a bunch of people desperate enough to steal garbage bags to find some goody to eke out their existence? I see these people outside of BART stations every day and am not threatened by them.

But should i be? What is their limit? The moment when they stop panhandling and try manhandling. The moment when they try to mug me or break into my apartment because they are so desperate.

I am terrified not of this limit but of the next. The moment when they cannot control their anger, their frustration and decide to let it out on me. When they don’t want anything i have; they just want me.

While MBAs are in high demand and our salaries and sign-in bonuses are outpacing inflation, the bottom 50% of the population have seen their wages fall for the past 15 years and cannot see the possibility of future improvements. The people further down the economic chain are in worse shape and their population is increasing. Yes, we are in a rising tide, but one that does not lift all boats.

How long will they accept the state of affairs? Are we acting like the French nobility before the Revolution? Remember the LA riots?

We can and probably will continue our move to safer places-it’s survival. That will mean longer commutes and isolated communities. There is another solution that involves facing the problem and trying to solve it. Try to heal communities, to increase equity, to help meet the needs of the desperate. To give hope to people who have lost it.OAKLAND HOMELESS CAMPS

Man-made Air-conditioning and Man-made Heating – Two Climates of Bangalore

In Bengaluru, 500 years ago, there was a drive to change the climate to a cooler one. And an intense drive to heat it today exists. Man can create local weather and it depends on the society’s values and the economic system it adopts as to which gets created.

Note: Bangalore and Bengaluru are the two names for the same city, and Kempe Gauda and Kempegowda are two ways to spell the name of it’s founder. They are used to delineate eras in this essay.

The rocky plateau of Bengaluru was originally a combination of grassland and scrub and thorn forest, with small trees. WIthout a historical record of the original climate, we can conjecture that is was warm and dry, similar to Kolar and Chikballapur districts nearby, possibly receiving only about 300-400mm of rain, with the temperatures somewhere in the low-thirties.

In recorded history, two different climates were created in Bengaluru, by man.

Bengaluru’s first man-made climate change

In 1537, Kempe Gauda I started to work on his dream – a new fortified city. A regular dream – ambitious ruling class members always dream of expanding territory, erecting victory towers, building a walled city by a river or port. But Kempe Gauda’s vision was difficult: to build a city where nothing existed. Nothing. No rivers, no tropical forest, no resources. To achieve his dream he had to first create all the resources the city would need.

Lakes as the foundation

Bengaluru is the only city in the world that does not have a river feeding it. A city cannot exist without water and Kempe Gauda started on his vision by creating a supply of water, a perennial supply, where only a couple rainfed tanks existed.

Kempe Gauda and successors continued to build on his vision, hundreds of more tanks were built and the an incredible network of kaluves (canals) was built to connect them all. The lakes of Bengaluru have always attracted attention, but it is the kaluves that make them work. Over a thousand kilometers of these lake-connectors ensured that not a drop of rain left Bengaluru’s three valleys until all tanks were filled. Work on this design followed for generations of rulers; the Wodeyars in the last century continued to build kaluves and tanks and a couple of lakes were even added by influential citizens and farming communities. It was India’s famous tank culture on steroids.

A water culture was created. Everyone knows water is life, but to conserve and protect it became Bengaluru’s religion. For centuries the lakes remained pure and one could drink from them because nobody would let any waste enter the lake system.

But the problem shifted from water storage to water itself – there was not enough rain to satiate a growing population.

The world’s first air-conditioned city

How can we attract rain? We see how extraordinary Kempe Gauda’s vision was because of its results. He and his successors knew that if Bengaluru grew a forest, it would rain.

And so a major investment into tree planting was made. It was also an activity that continued for centuries. As the forest grew, it breath became bigger and started influencing the climate. The water released from the trees as transpiration and from the lakes as evaporation formed low-lying clouds and then came down as gentle showers.

The temperature dropped. Bengaluru became the coolest city in the south and later the coolest in the summer across India.

This attracted more rain from the monsoons that earlier would pass by without interest. Now the monsoon clouds, lightened after crossing the western ghats, dipped lower due to the cooler climate and shed some more of their weight – rainfall more than doubled.

The world’s first fully air-conditioned city was born. It is said that in 1835, Bangalore had temperatures of 14-16°C at peak summer time. This AC needed no energy and was almost zero maintenance.

The problem of water scarcity was solved. The Vrishabhāvati river – that carried excess rainwater off the rocky plateau started flowing out of the city perenially. Other side-effect such as the creation of a rich layer of topsoil that remained moist and a high water table also created lasting benefits in food security and livelihoods.

Economics for cooling – Kempenomics

Economics is a social creation. In this article, we will refer the economic system used in South India five centuries ago as kempenomics and today’s system as smithanomics, just for the sake of this article.

In kempenomics, there was no GDP number to grow, no single number to worship. Thus, kempenomics did not reduce other sacred beliefs, it retained and strengthened the religious beliefs. Land, water – all of nature – had social and spiritual value and connections with them were not broken. Rather relationships with them were nurtured and even revered. A culture that involved sacred relationships with water (all rivers were named after goddesses) and actively demanded conservation could flourish. The commons and the common good had status in kempenomics, and improving both, created value.

A most attractive city (with limits)

The salubrious climate of Bengaluru attracted many rulers and it was exchanged several times. In 1806, the British made it their military cantonment – a city-state inside the expanding boundaries. It attracted many Europeans, Anglo-Indians and missionaries.

The sacred water culture gave way to an engineered water culture. Traditional tanks gave way to soup bowl style tanks to store more water to satisfy rising demand. A demand fueled by a growing population and a new lifestyle of consumption.

Water was brought from new reservoirs farther and farther away as electricity and motors made their way into the planner’s hands.

In as early as 1923, planners documented that: “[Bangalore] is unsuitable for development as an industrial center on a large scale.

When the British left, the city still continued to grow, especially in scientific research and aeronautics. While Bangalore’s reputation as the Garden City remained intact, sustainability indicators started moving off the charts and some foresaw water issues.

Bangalore’s second man-made climate change

While the first man-made climate change is an opinion, the second is fact. Experienced palpably by all the residents. In the 1960’s Bengaluru started getting transformed. Ironically, it was the reverse transformation of Singapore. Singapore recognized its cesspool conditions and started cleaning up and creating lakes for water security. Bengaluru’s lakes were destroyed and the remaining ones converted to sewage-fed cesspools.

The great transformation took off with the complete adoption of smithanomics in the 1990’s. It was to transform this cool city back to a warm dry place and, even beyond, into a hothouse.

‘Calakes’ – the new lakes of Bangalore

To warm up a cool city takes a lot of heat. How do you generate massive amounts of heat?

Bengaluru had two big coolers – trees and lakes.

The groves of trees, hundreds of years old, with trunks as wide as cars were axed. In smithanomics, the value of a living tree is zero, but the activity of cutting down trees and the resources from their chopped-up state both add measurable increase to the economy. With such a system, it is easy to build momentum and about 85% of the vegetation was lost between 1992-2009 as per a study by Dr. T V Ramachandra and Dr. Bharath H Aithal from Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

bangalore loss of green cover
Bangalore’s loss of green cover – a red signal?

Cutting trees, that slow down rainwater flow and create moisture both in the root zone and in the air above, is not enough, you have to replace them with heaters. Thousands of ‘calakes’ – concrete and asphalt lakes (which include roads, parking lots, malls, and office complexes) come into being at faster and faster rates.

Trees use solar energy to produce oxygen, moisture, and fruits while providing shade and soil and slowing down the rain. In contrast, the ‘calakes’ use solar energy to only produce heat, perfectly and efficiently. They heat up quickly, stay warm, and release the heat later, both into the ground and the air.

The remaining stump of a massive tree which would have cooled the building, parking lot, road, and cars.

Flyovers take this heat generation to new levels of efficiency. A flyover basks in the sun, is dark in color, and thus can easily become hot enough to cook on.

Lakes of water keep the ground and air cool and moist. So we replace water bodies with ‘calakes’ too. While it is not possible to own lakes privately in India, by exasperating the normal dry cycles of Bangalore’s lake system allowed them to look like unoccupied and unsold land. The conversion (destruction) of lakes created much financial activity for builders, bureaucrats, politicians, and banks. And consumers and investors flocked in to own homes (and offices). In addition, since a quality water supply became absent, tankers and household filters become prominent. Amazing progress when calculated in smithanomics terms.

Kempe Gauda remains Bangalore’s hero; his name is kept alive even in creations that dismantle his vision. Bangalore’s largest heater, close to Kempe Gauda’s village, is named after him. Larger than all the remaining lakes of Bangalore combined, this ‘calake’ is well over 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) in size, much more if you consider the elevated highway to get to it. It is the Kempegowda International Airport.

Heating appliances galore

The second source of heating comes from all our appliances. Cars, trucks, diesel gensets (DGs), refrigerators, outdoor lights, and other big items of course generate the most heat. But millions of smaller appliances such as set-top boxes, microwaves, … all the way down to chargers also end up contributing to local heating.

The laws of thermodynamics inform us that all appliances that use the transformation of energy will generate more heat than the actual work performed. So refrigerators generate around four times as much heat as they cool.

We love our cars, which are truly efficient heaters. Modern gasoline engines have a maximum theoretical efficiency of about 25% to 30%. In other words, even when the engine is operating at maximum efficiency (which requires beautiful design, quality construction, good lubrication, and steady operation at high speeds), about 70-75% is sent out as heat – energy not used for turning the crankshaft (note there is further energy loss in turning tires, which also need to be properly inflated, balanced, aligned, etc.). In Bangalore traffic, only a couple of percent of the fuel burnt in the engine goes towards transportation. Heating efficiency is more than 90%. More if the car has an AC.

The particulates in the emissions also impact climate. They coat the leaves of the remaining trees reducing their vital functions. Haze also retains heat compared to clean air.

Air-conditioners have to be highlighted for two reasons. They are the most efficient heating appliances made – well over 90% of energy goes towards heat. For every unit of personal cooling created, around 99 units of heat are sent outside. One way to state is that for very short-term cooling 1% of the population, 99% (actually 100% in the long-term) have to warm up. ACs are also the main reason why state power generation cannot keep up with demand and thus DGs are required: efficient heaters plus airborne particle generators.

Economics for heating – Smithanomics

The head of Harvard’s Anthropology department, David Maybury-Lewis, eloquently stated: “The driven economy is accompanied by a restless and driven society. The educational system teaches children to be competitive and tries to instill in them the hunger for personal achievement. Drive is esteemed and required of business executives and even anthropologists if they want to be promoted.” Smithanomics makes countries measure their economy by a single indicator of increasing financial activity. Personal wealth is made the goal for individuals with the means of acquiring the wealth as unimportant. This breaks all links to religious beliefs and the sacred. Unbridled drive (greed) with no limits is unleashed as the necessary driving force of society.

In smithanomics, personal consumption (strongly linked to and confused with the term ‘personal freedom’) drives the economy, so creating more devices for individual is highly valued. In addition to being touted as a solution to commuting problems, private cars have high status. If the side-effects, in heat or pollution, are bad, it actually increases the economy, for example, as more people install personal ACs and start using air filters.

Since the focus is to sell more appliances and, as a result, even more energy will be consumed, our make-in-India heating effect will only increase. New technology like led lights, solar panels, and lithium batteries promise more efficiency but in a smithanomics system of perpetual growth, they can only marginally slow down further heating – they cannot reverse the trend.

A public AC, especially a free one such as old Bengaluru’s, would not generate enough economic activity and would be labelled backward, as many of our historically sound personal and social practices.

Man is seen as a one-dimensional being – homo economicus – and as Maybury-Lewis continued: “Other human capabilities – for kindness, generosity, patience, tolerance, cooperation, compassion – all the qualities one might wish for in one’s family and friends, are literally undervalued.”

The Oven City

Bangalore not only becomes hot, it also becomes dry.

With the removal of cooling lakes and trees and replacing them with highly efficient large heaters – the ‘calakes’ – and the addition of billions of smaller heaters, a towering pillar of heat emanates from the new city. This ferocious pillar pushes monsoon clouds higher and to the side. So rainfall events start getting reduced.

The monsoon is still mighty. Once in a while it will overpower the pillar of heat and heavy clouds will descend. And it will rain heavily. Intensely. Precipitation that took hours can happen in minutes.

Instead of regular gentle showers we will see a few of these heavy downpours resulting in floods and very little capture into the little left of Kempe Gauda’s system.

Now Bangalore is hot and dry and extremely dusty. We have transformed the Garden City into the Oven City. Rapidly. The first climate transformation for Bengaluru started took at least three centuries; the second transformation for Bangalore took only a few decades.

Entirely man-made. Local make-in-Bangalore, no credit to be given to global warming.

We don’t have a visionary for this new Bangalore to give credit to. To work on the common good is being socialist. To work on improving the commons is for NGOs. So current leaders will hesitate in taking credit in these areas. Of course, while it is said that destroying the commons is the price of economic progress, no leader wants that deed on their record.

What’s next for Bangalore?

Current leaders want it to become a ‘smart city’. That might mean having lots more sensors to track temperature and then visualize the heat on smartphones (a smart oven!). Great for the smithanomics fans; for the majority of humans, it boiling in a cooker.

In cooking, the flame is hot instantly, but a pot of water takes a while to boil. Similarly, while we turned on heaters in Bangalore a couple of decades ago, climate change took a bit of time. That lag is over. Bangalore’s climate in 2016 has reached the boiling point. Breaking all its records and showing higher temperatures in April than Chennai, Goa, and Mumbai.

The residents complain helplessly as they see the future snatched out of the present. It is not nostalgia that makes people lament the transformation of the places they call home. It is the conversion of life-affirming visionary cities to something with skin-deep beauty that does not support life. The replacement of a cool home surrounded by lakes with fish and trees with birds and inhabited by a connected community that reveres the space with a hot concrete structure in a cesspool filled with plastic waste and sewage, engulfed by sooty air inhabited by burnt-out, worried, isolated people is bound to make everyone unhappy and angry.

The same fate awaits every Indian city. Even if it has a river going thru it.

he folks building the new capital of Andhra Pradesh are visionaries, but of which kind is the question. Riding on the momentum of smithanomics and led by foreign consultants, they are unlikely to see Kempe Gauda as their role model. The result there is likely to be the same as the new Bangalore.

Heat pollution ranks far behind all the other pollutions in people’s eyes, until now. In 2016, it has made a noticeable impact, whether it is enough to act on is the question.

There is a movement in Bangalore to stop further destruction of the few remaining lakes and last few meters of kaluves. But there is no movement to reduce the total heat generated. To actually increase cooling. In kempenomics, we would follow Will Rogers’ advice: “If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.” In smithanomics, that would be against the system and labelled anti-progress. Instead we dig faster. Maybe we can reach 45℃ in 2017. Why not try to win the gold in the climate change olympics with 50℃?

Of course, we could always choose to move to a new economic system, kempenomics or another modern avatar, where people and nature matter, under which we could create a city with a pleasant and cool climate for the benefit of all.

– Rajesh works on sustainability: physical, social, and spiritual. He actually did study climate change in college.

Two Truths That Are Obstacles To Development

Two Truths in the Development Sector

Two ideas are generally regarded as true in the social sector. Both inspire people to enter the sector and find a mission — a dream to serve.

1. Any Impact Is Fulfilling

The first truth is about the importance of creating even a small impact.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain.
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

– Emily Dickinson –

Most people have read the above quote or one similar to it and deeply resonate with it. Humans do like to help others and such reminders bring out our inner calling to serve.

I realize that for some the motivation can be, as Peter Buffet states, “conscience laundering”, but we have to acknowledge that many who do not make big money do contribute in small ways, not for tax loopholes, but from a genuine desire to help.

Like all truths, this has a dark side. In our rat-race we lack time to listen, to understand, and help in the true context of the needy, much less to understand systemic issues and address them. So we are often satisfied with a donation and a feel-good photo in return; even the suggestion of an impact is enough.

2. Big Dreams Are More Important

The second truth people generally accept is regarding the size of the dream. If a person has a dream to impact one child, it is nice. Someone else who wants to impact a school has a better dream. The dream of someone who wants to improve a village is even better. Clearly, folks working at a national level deserve more support for their bigger dream and people working globally are considered incredible dreamers and more important. With pressing global problems of climate change, water, health, war, etc staring us in the face, we do need ‘big’ dreamers.

The title of Peter Buffet’s essay — The Charitable-Industrial Complex — gives us a hint about the dark side of this truth. The ‘industrial’ influence on our thinking,  steers us towards bigger projects, standardizable solutions that mention scalability and replicability. And it is dreams that mobilize resources, not actual impact or root-cause analysis.


The Truths Are Obstacles To Achieve Impact

While both these truths stand tall individually, together they have caused a system-wide failure. As described above, they do have drawbacks, and their combination amplifies their dark side and drives individuals, institutions, and society to expend vast resources without accountability, without results.

1. Small Dreams Have To Act Big

We obviously steer more attention and resources towards the big dreams. Small projects do not need big resources. Often they do not get any resources, since small projects do not have the visibility and require the similar attention as large projects. So people seeking resources for smaller, local efforts pitch bigger dreams. This is a mistake, especially when the pitches are ‘successful’. Large resources for the small dream (originally) ends up causing a loss of the passion and efficiency of efforts designed to impact at a small-scale.

For example, a person may have a great idea to help a local school thru a series of activities. To raise resources, they may be forced to pitch the applicability of this process to a thousand schools. The factors for achieving success at the original school might be: passion, local presence, and long-term commitment. These human factors are made less prominent, since those qualities are hard to scale and replicate — what is made explicit is the set of activities. The person may be good at working directly on the ground. They may not be have the same result by hiring managers and overseeing them at far-away schools. So if they do manage to get resources for many schools they are not likely to replicate the results of the original school.

However, the results of the original school will be showcased. The lack of success in scaling, replicating will not be part of the learnings shared.

2. Big Dreams Don’t Have To Deliver

When large resources are steered towards big dreams, another problem can result. Thanks to the first truth, if someone has a big dream, they also have a big escape door. They can exit without providing results in relation to the resources expended.

We are the world by Michael Jackson and his peers in the music world started a major movement of giving towards the poor. Decades later, others including Bono have picked up the mantle of generating resources. However, the results do not match the size of the resources consumed, and due to the fact that some good has been achieved, we do not question the entire activity. By not considering the outcome as a failure in not matching the original plan, we do not seek to learn from the entire process.

Another example: someone has a dream of helping 200 million get safe drinking water, and they manage to raise large resources for their big dream. If they do not reach their goal, they still have a way to look successful. If instead of helping 200 million, lets say that they manage to reach 50,000 people, they can take refuge in that achievement.  This is the problem. Instead of treating the result — not living up to the proportion of the large resources expended — as a failure, we celebrate the small success in itself. This means we loose a chance to examine what went wrong, to learn, to adapt, and try again.


How Can We Achieve Impact?

We need to close loopholes that exists in the current combination of the two truths.

1. Dreams Are Almost Equal

A dream of helping one village is not much smaller than a dream to work in 5,000 villages. Both are equally valid and resources should be allocated based on their approach and plan, especially to share results and learnings.

‘Small’ dreamers need to get the resources to do their work without posing as ‘big’. Whether they succeed or fail, their efforts can also result in learnings and inspiration for other dreamers.

So our challenge is to find ways to support small dreams. Today’s networking and mobile technologies, peer processes, and crowdsourcing options allow us to share small dreams, get support for them, and showcase outcomes.

2. Outcomes Analyzed In Relation To Original Dream

We need to measure results against the original plan. If someone has a dream of helping 200 million people and gets appropriate resources, then a result of 50,000 is definitely a failure. Labeling this type of effort as a failure is not denying that the 50,000 did not benefit or that 50,000 is a small number. It is a statement of measuring the outcome based on the initial plan, the resources applied, and adapting to challenges that surface along the way. Labeling an effort as a failure is the only way to study it and document what went wrong. It will more likely help the next dreamer since it is almost impossible to learn from ‘success’.

‘Big’ dreamers have to show plans that are up to the scale of achieving those dreams. They cannot rely on the status quo or scaling by simple mathematics. And if they fail, they cannot seek refuge in small outcomes, they have to create learning for other dreamers.


Today, our society has become cynical and apathetic, violent and draining. We do not act on the root causes of many issues. We need dreamers more than ever. We need new dreams to mobilize society, we need actionable dreams. We need to act on large and small dreams, and learn and share, increasing the chances of some dreams being successful.


Rajesh dreams about a sustainable society and has created a new model of giving — Philanthropy 2.0 — which increases collaboration, transparency, and effectiveness.

Our Country Is Being Invaded — Will We Fight Back?

National Security or Scientific Research?

Imagine if India was being invaded by one of its neighbours. Not in the traditional way – marching in with armies and tanks. But in a very subtle way. Imagine if Myanmar (to choose one neighbour) moved the 1,643 km border into Indian territory stealthily a few inches at a time. Yes, we could see the results over time, in a year would notice that the border had moved several meters in and we had lost many square kilometres of area to the enemy.

What would our nation do in this case? Would we send a few people to figure out how they did it? Would we give them a decade to study if they were moving a millimetre a minute or an entire meter at one time? How many resources would we provide so that they could graph how much area we were losing on a daily and annual basis? Would we forecast the outcome over five years or more? Would we spend years debating what to do?

Or would we be outraged and move the nation to put an end to this invasion?

The Invasion

The invasion described above is happening, it is real. However, the invader is not one of our land neighbours but the seas surrounding India.

With 1,600 km of coastline, Gujarat has one third of India’s coastline. For the past few decades, the Arabian Sea has been invading Gujarat. Subtly. Seawater has been encroaching into the freshwater aquifers along the coastal belt. Saltwater adversely affects human life and human activity, especially agriculture. This invasion has already caused debilitating salinity problems along a 15-25 km coastal belt. These problems are progressing inland at a rate of 500 meters annually (more than a meter a day!) and, over the next few years, will adversely impact the health, social, and economic factors of one fifth of the population of the state living in about 1,500 villages.

This invasion has not gone unnoticed. The people of the coastal belt have noticed it. Some government agencies are fully aware. One response was created in 2002 by the Agha Khan Rural Support Program (India), Ambuja Cement Foundation, and the Sir Ratan Tata Trust. They came together to seed the Kharash Vistarotthan Yojana: the Coastal Salinity Prevention Cell (CSPC). The role of CSPC is to facilitate the networking of civil organizations, government and local populations to study the issue, design responses, trial them and then take them to scale to combat the salinity problem.

For a decade CSPC has documented how salinity has increased and is impacting 10 million people living in 1,500 villages. Over the past few years, CSPC has built labs to monitor the salt-water encroachment and other pollutants to the water table. They do not have the resources to get data collated properly, analyse it and showcase it. They do not have the ability to map out the 600 sqkm. lost to salinity every year. With help from Indian and foreign foundations they have managed to support a few local organizations in doing water projects to ensure some steady supply of non-saline and even drinkable water.

Invasion? I Meant “Invitation”

Very few are studying, much less addressing the root cause of the issue. The Arabian Sea is not invading – it is being invited in. By extracting water from our fresh-water aquifers at an every increasing pace, we are creating a strong suction force. We are giving no choice to the ocean but to flow in. We are gifting our land to our saline neighbour. This is happening in Gujarat and also all along India’s coastline. And all around the world, even in California.
We have met the enemy and he is us
Can we see the real problem? The enemy is us. We cannot point to an external enemy. And thus we cannot unite quickly. And respond decisively.

The Only Way to Fight Back

A response involves acknowledging that we are the enemy and revisiting our new model of development, our new lifestyle.

Our ancestors successfully used aquifers to keep the salty sea out, resisting an urge to deplete them. They lived in harmony with the land and water. But they did not live in poverty and ‘backwardness’.

In Gujarat, they created the most beautiful forts, palaces, temples, havelis, and even amazingly decorated step wells all lasting hundreds of years – magnificent creations we are unable to replicate today. And their vibrant society was filled with dance, music, food, fashion, crafts – all of which are still part of today’s society. Their poor lived in better conditions than the millions living in the slums today. Instead of dismissing our elders as backward and their lifestyle as ‘old’, we need to learn from their wisdom that sustained their society and allowed it to thrive for hundreds of years.

Today, we have to stop sucking water out of our aquifers immediately. We have to recharge them with fresh water and push the saltwater back. We have to balance our consumption of our aquifer resource with its replenishment. That is the only way to push the Arabian Sea out and keep it away. And make our lands and waters healthy for us and for our children. And make our ancestors, who bequeathed us enormous resources, look at us with pride.

“Water” – The Hidden Side!!

Tangisahi village in the Nayagarh district of Orissa welcomes you with bright sunflower field at the entrance of the village. The villagers greet the gram vikas staff and photographers with warm smiles and fresh papayas.

A village meeting was held as an open, general discussion. All the villagers were present for the meeting. The women lined up on one side of the carpet and the men on the other. When asked, how they got to know about the water & sanitation project, it was explained that the President of the village had seen the facilities in his relatives house in the Ganjam district where the project was implemented by Gram Vikas. Thus, he decided to introduce this program in his village also.

He spoke to everyone in the village and got an acceptance from all. He then contacted Gram Vikas for the implementation. The project was successfully implemented and everybody now has access to safe and clean water for bathing & drinking.

Blue Planet Network supported the cost to set-up the water supply system in this village. This contribution is apart from the government & community contribution. The community contributes towards the corpus fund and also towards physical labour for construction of toilets, bathrooms etc.

Some have even improved the facility: Utam Jani made it easier for herself to clean vessels by hooking up a garden hose to the bathroom tap – a simple innovation.

In hindsight old customs die hard. During menstruation women go to the well for water. They then use this water to bathe separately. When asked to explain about the practice, we were told that they have been following this practice for a very long time. The belief is that the women are impure during this time of the month. And so would not want to contaminate the clean water, as this water is offered to God.

When compared to the state of affairs in the villages before the intervention, particularly in the tribal villages there have been a lot of improvements in the quality of life. However, age old customs and traditions are still followed in the tribal villages.  But Gram Vikas has to work its way around some of these.

Tribal villages are often neglected as these communities are small in numbers. More often than not they are excluded from the government schemes because they are unaware as to what is available to them. Gram Vikas works on the policy of “inclusion” and thus believes that the community size is not a limiting factor when it comes being included in any welfare schemes.

Dusashyan Jani is a farmer who tends his nearby fields. After which he comes home and takes a sacred bath. He then offers water to the Tulsi plant, (It has religious significance and also healing power) a ritual practised for centuries, bringing fortune to the person.

Thus “water” is just not water in these villages, it fullfills various needs of the tribal people  in more than one way. The important thing is that Tangisahi village now have access to clean water which always seemed impossible.

-By Siri Avalur

Water after Ten Years!!

Bimala Jani, a resident of Adivasi Colony in Ganjam district of Orissa has five children – three boys and two girls. She talks excitedly about how happy she is with the new water and sanitation facilities in her village.

This project is implemented only if every single household in the village agrees to participate and contribute in every stage of the project. She talks about the “inclusion” process and explained that initially two families in her village were against the water & sanitation project.  Even with Gram Vikas’ earlier successful livelihood projects, getting every families agreement for this project proved a challenge.   This project was proposed much earlier in this village – nearly ten years ago. Due to internal conflict among the villagers the project could not materialise and take shape at that point in time. Nevertheless, Gram Vikas made repeated attempts to convince the people of this village to take up the program.

An interesting observation can be made from what Bimala Jani says. She says that two families in the village were not convinced for a very long time.  The President of the Adivasi Colony conducted a village meeting and explained the benefits of availing this facility, having seen the benefits in the different villages. It took a week of serious discussion to get a positive response from everyone. This program was being implemented in the neighbouring village (Indra Colony) where the benefits of the piped water system and sanitation facility were clear. The women in those villages were happy to make use of the facility and were the best demonstration for Adivasi colony: word of mouth spread across this village about the benefits of the new facility.

Chanchala Jani, who has two boys and five girls, adds that she had to collect water from the well which was 200 meters away from her house at least five times a day. Not only was this a lot of hard work, but also decreased the amount of time she had to earn extra income and just to sit and relax. She also explains that the people in the village realised that the water from the well was creating sickness but they had no        other source of water for drinking and bathing.

When asked what she does with her extra time now, she says she just relaxes and watches television and also adds extra income to the family by leaf-plate making.

Finally, when asked if she would marry her daughter into a village that did not have water and sanitation facility she couldn’t imagine that occurring. By the time her daughter would be eligible for marriage, she was positive that all the villages would have water and sanitation facility as her village was one of the last to avail this facility.

Blue Planet Network has supported the water supply system in this village. Gravity flow system is the first option in all the villages to supply water.  This reduces the cost as no electricity is used in the process while people still enjoy piped water at the turn of a tap in their houses!  The water source is at a height from the water tank, thus the water is directly pushed into the water tank because of the pressure.  However, in this village the water has been supplied directly from the well without a water tank! This was an experiment done in this village as the number of households was less. The experiment was successful. This was then taken to the other villages with more families from then on.

Adivasi colony has only nineteen households, out of which two households were not convinced about the project. Because the numbers were so small, it was easier to get everyone to agree to this project especially as there was a lot of awareness amongst the villagers about the benefits of the program. The advantage was that the first hand benefits were visible in their neighbouring village.

On the other hand it becomes a herculean task for Gram Vikas when the number of household increases and the task becomes even more daunting when it is a non-tribal village, as the issues of caste and class come up. Gram Vikas is fighting hard to overcome all these barriers and make water available to more people in the inaccessible areas, most importantly where the government has limited reach.

-By Siri Avalur

Peer report on Agua para la Vida in Nicaragua by Jackie Powell

As a Program Coordinator for Agua para la Salud in Nebaj, Guatemala I had the rare opportunity to visit Agua para la Vida in Nicaragua. APLV has completed over 50 water and sanitation projects all over Nicaragua with offices located in Managua and Rio Blanco. The purpose of my visit was to learn not only about their past and present projects but to familiarize myself with the extensive organizational network that APLV has constructed to address all aspects and issues of their projects.

During my five day stay in Rio Blanco I had the opportunity to visit three nearby project sites with various specialists from Agua para la Vida, local members of water committees, and a volunteer photographer from PhotoPhilanthropy, Jon Polka. (Photos provided by Jon Polka, photo-philanthropist: APLV Photographs – GIF Pics) Commonalities between the sites were easy to diagnose as all villages had few economic resources and were extremely rural and disperse which lead to the great need of a reliable and nearby water resource and sanitation facilities.

Day One: Tri-Community Water System

The first site we visited was located two hours from Rio Blanco and is a current project site serving the three communities of Quirragua, El Carmen, and San Isidro (111 families in total). Upon arriving, we hopped on horses waiting for us at the entrance of San Isidro. The horses were necessary for two reasons: the rainy season in Nicaragua creates deep pockets of mud difficult to pass through on foot and the three communities are located several kilometres away from each other with no road access.

This large project began when the community of El Carmen began to look for a water resource in order to provide water for their community. The spring they located was eight kilometres away in the village of Quirragua. It was decided during the initiation of the project to include the village of San Isidro as well to the conduction lines since it is located between El Carmen and Quirragua.

First, we visited the school of San Isidro and met with the local water committee or CAPS (Comité de Agua Potable y Saneamiento or Committee of Potable Water and Health). From their introduction and brief words shared it was clear that APLV has not only formed excellent relations with the community but APVL has also created tight work strategies within the communities. Each CAPS committee not only has a President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer but there are also individuals with the titles of Health Promoter, Environmental Promoter, and a Maintenance Representative. Each of these posts works alongside their APLV counterpart throughout the implementation of the project. The APVL counterpart gives several educational workshops members of CAPS and the community in order to assure the communities knowledge of the project, system maintenance, healthy habits, and environmental care.

After lunch we saddled up to visit the spring site located in Quirragua. CAPS and other community members joined us on our trek to the site and once we arrived it was quite the communal celebration of drinking water from the spring. Overall it was an excellent day spent seeing and learning how the communities and APLV work together.

Day Two: APLV Office in Rio Blanco

The next day I spent some time in the Rio Blanco office where I visited with Esteban Cantillano who is responsible for the monitoring of finished projects, potable water, and overall health of the communities. In other words, Esteban is the maintenance monitor for all of the projects APLV has done and will do in the future. In order to manage his time he dutifully trains CAPS and the community during the realization of the project. Due to content, his trainings are often long and intense yet he tries to make them as fun and interactive as possible. He also believes in teamwork and hones in on this skill development throughout his community trainings.  His job can be looked at as the sustainability element of the organization because he does not want a small issue to get in the way of the community having access to water in the future.One lesson Esteban presents to communities is the identification of parts commonly used during the construction of the water system.

Unfortunately Esteban´s job does have major hurdles to overcome. First, he was eager to remind me that his job does not begin at the end of the project. Instead, he feels as though he must keep a close watch on every step of the project to prevent future complications and issues. Furthermore, his job is made even more complicated when members of CAPS change and he has to re-train members. Unlike the other sections of APLV who have multiple employees, Esteban is overseeing every project maintenance issue himself. Additionally, Esteban must travel by public transportation to visit the sites which cuts into his time with each community. Each of these issues boil down to a common concern when it comes to maintenance and sustainability in any NGO: funding.

Escuela Technica de Agua Portable

Next, I visited ETAP- Escuela Technica de Agua Portable or Technical School for Potable Water. The story goes the APLV´s co-founder, Gilles Corcos, began this in-residence technical training course in 1996 after meeting a younger and eager-to-learn Esteban Cantillano. In return Esteban became one of six students to first graduate from ETAP. Currently, the school is comprised of eight recently graduated students from high school and a teacher. Anyone young person from Nicaragua can apply but only eight are accepted on full scholarships. The teachers for the current term (terms last 2-3 years) are a caring and energetic French couple, Denis and Cecile Barea who also share the responsibility of director for APLV. The classes are intensely math focused but this term is also being encouraged to read for fun and taught basic life skills though the influence of their teachers. Students also spend three-fourths of their time with APLV technicians to gain hands-on experience in the field. After students graduate they go on to work in government institutions, other NGOs or APLV. However, APVL cannot give all graduates a job because of the small size of the organization.

Day Three: River Captation Site

On Wednesday we went back into the field to visit an extraordinary open river captation site located in the village of Enea. Like the majority of the villages APLV works with, Enea is a very disperse community but with a very unique situation. For twenty years families in Enea searched for a way to provide water to their homes. Prior to the water system, Enea residents were fetching water from the river between 2 and 4 in the morning because that is when they thought the water was most clean. Since the river was the main water source for the community, many engineering groups did technical analysis on the river and said a captation site could not be done. Enea kept searching. Finally, one day a pastor mentioned an organization he had heard of in Rio Blanco who worked in water projects. Representatives from Enea travelled to Rio Blanco and finally encountered APLV. After a diagnostic study and help in design from Gilles Corcos the community was told APLV could support the construction of their water system. After eight months of hard labour and sometimes working 24 hours a day in shifts, the 102 families of Enea now have water in their homes.

Tubing runs from the initial river captation site to the distribution tanks located several kilometres away. However, before the water reaches the distribution tank it is put through two more filtration processes. First, (left) the water is put into two open storage tanks that have a filtration system of three types of sand and a rock layer. This system is cleaned once a month by members of the community. Then, (right) water is put through a chlorination system. Currently, the community is not chlorinating their water due to lack of access to chlorination tablets. APLV is working with the community and a distributor in Managua on finding a solution to this issue. However, it was found through a water test that the water in the storage tank only contained two coliform bacteria thus proving that the multiple filtration process alone is working to extract the majority of the harmful bacterias.

In my experience I found the residents of Enea to be very proud of the hard work they have put forth to complete their water system and further develop their community. Moreover, they are extremely grateful to APLV not only for their technical support and help funding the project but for the trainings they executed. One of the health promoters in Enea openly shared that because of the trainings the residents of Enea now understand that water fetched directly from the river at any hour is contaminated.

Day Four: Health Education Workshop

On Thursday we paid our final field visit to the community of Carrizal of forty-three families where Health and Hygiene Promoter, Lilian Obando, was giving an educational workshop to the women beneficiaries of Carrizal on the use and management of water. With every project APLV executes a health promoter from APLV gives four health trainings to CAPS members and four to the beneficiaries. Although all members of the community are important to involve, Lilian enjoys having a few trainings for only the women in the community since they are the ones whose lives are directly affected by water. When we arrived at the school at 1pm there was a group of eager women awaiting us. The hour long workshop seemed to be a dynamic and fun experience for all involved. The training included songs, skits, poems, games, teamwork, and lots of participation, smiles and laughter. It was very clear that Lilian´s means of educating communities is fluid from her almost fifteen years working as Health and Hygiene Promoter of APLV.

Additional workshops and responsibilities of Lilian includes but is not limited to teaching beneficiaries how to construct their own latrine, working with local schools, health posts, and the Ministry of Education to provide health classes in schools, home visits to understand economic and social conditions of each family and sometimes helping them locate other local resources such as women´s shelters or homes for the handicapped. The job of the Health and Hygiene Promoter, like all the promoters at APLV, is essential to the holistic approach engrained into the organization.

Before the workshop commenced we joined Lilian to visit a few families who were in the process of installing their water meters. Water meters are an extremely important and useful tool APLV has been using the keep track of water used and therefore how much each family needs to pay. These monthly fees are then deposited into a bank account controlled by CAPS and used when repairs are needed to be made.


In conclusion, my experience with APLV and their welcoming staff was overwhelmingly positive. As noted in this report, APLV has an extensive network within their organization that seems to be functioning with few troubles. Unfortunately my short visit cannot capture this picture entirely. I was unable to personally meet and/or speak in-depth with the Reforestation Manager, Social Promoters, Accountant, National Coordinator, Technical Staff, Masons, and Board of Directors whose jobs are also essential to the success of APLV and the communities in which they work.

A comparison between Agua para la Salud and Agua para la Vida is possible but not without limitations. The main difference between APS and APLV is the size of the organizations. APLV has over double the staff of APS and therefore is able to hone in on certain topics more than APS. However, the main purpose, goals, and methodology of APS and APLV are strikingly similar: to organize and work with local, rural populations in order to provide reliable water sources and sanitation facilities to communities and schools while also educating the beneficiaries on environmental and health impacts as well as maintenance concerns.

Egypt’s Nile v India’s Ganga: Practicality and Reverence

Egypt is the gift of the Nile. The world’s longest river is the source of life in an otherwise hostile (to man) terrain. Egypt’s civilizations have hugged the river. The ancient Egyptians worshiped it as their god Hapy. It enabled their civilization to rise to the zenith by providing water and transport. More importantly it served as the dividing line in their mythology. East of the Nile was this life. West of the Nile was the afterlife.

The later civilizations based on Islam and Christianity did not worship the Nile. Their monotheistic approach does not include reverence to Nature.

However, the Nile has still been preserved. Today the Nile is among the cleanest of the rivers in Africa and Asia. Very little sewage from the millions that live within a kilometer of the Nile flows into the river. Pollution is minimal and looks more accidental than deliberate. The cruise ships that plow the Nile do not discharge any waste into it. Save the fear of a parasite, the Nile is almost swimmable even at the end of its 5584-kilometer (3470 miles) journey. Not that there is nothing to worry about, the pace of development is putting pressures on the quality and quantity of the waters. Our guide on the Nile started his historical introduction with the observation that they were very worried that the source of the Nile – Lake Victoria – was receding at an alarming rate.

Two observations about today’s Egyptian society need to be mentioned: the presence of potable water across all towns in Egypt and the absence of destitution.

In India, the Ganga is revered – the holiest of holy rivers – even today. Its role in physical nurturing a several thousand-year-old culture is mirrored by its spiritual role in the mythology.

Great civilizations have come up along the its banks, used it for their growth, and even realized the impact they had on the river. The Gangetic plain was the site of the first national park in the world – Ashoka’s edict two and half millennia ago made the Ganges River dolphin (Platanista gangetica) a protected species.

However, today the Ganga is a closer to a sewage stream than a holy river. It is not swimmable even in the high reaches at the foot of the Himalayas. In Indian consciousness, the holy Ganga has been separated from the physical. They revere the spiritual image of Ganga emanating out of Lord Shiva’s hair, tamed. And they urge for the chance of taking a ‘purifying’ bath in it. However, today, the physical Ganga is seen mainly as a resource, a source of water, sand, and fish, and an outlet for all wastes: industrial and biological. The physical Ganga has lost its place in the mythology, its defilement causes no outrage to the vast majority of Indian society. This is true of all the ‘holy’ rivers: the Yamuna, the Brahmaputra, and the Narmada.

To parallel the observations about Egyptian society: a large fraction of the people living on the banks of the Ganga do not have access to safe drinking water, a majority lack access to sanitation facilities, and millions live below poverty: in destitution.

Ecology, deep ecology, and reverential ecology are supposedly progressive in terms our defining our thinking about nature, our feeling for nature, and our actions involving nature. It is thought that if we understand something we are unlikely to destroy it, if we connect with something we are likely to preserve it, if we revere something we are likely to nurture it. The case of the Ganga shows that thinking and feeling and acting can be a divorced threesome. We can revere something but at the same time rape it.

Manushi and Jal Biradari organized a three-day conference to discuss the Ganga and Yamuna Action Plans. Magsaysay Award winner Rajendra Singh led a discussion involving a small but diverse representation of activists, environmentalists, government officials, religious leaders, and academics. Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh participated on the last day. It was clear that many people understood the many acts that defile the river and also impact the communities along the river. Many in the room also understood preventing pollution was more important than cleaning it and that we had to return to revering the physical river.

However, India hurtles towards neoliberal capitalism eying everything as a resource to be exploited. A rise in the number and value of mutual funds betting on the exploitation of natural resources portend a speedier exploitation of the river. It is hard to find a silver lining in this dark stream. Clearly, until our both spiritual and practical thinking changes at a societal level to create action, no power can prevent the Ganga from becoming poisoned and thus poisoning us.

We still have time, we can clean up the Ganga and we can unite its holy spirit to a clean body. We can avoid the Cree prophecy of the wise Native Americans:

Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last river has been poisoned,
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will we realize that money cannot be eaten.

Field Trip Part II: I <3 Water

Ok, I’ll admit it, I’ve become a total water and sanitation nerd 🙂  My day visiting projects was basically epic and after being inspired by the people in Panoli, learning about watersheds, as I did in the next village, was almost excitement overload for me!

As we drove toward Sherikoldara, over the bumps in the road and through the dry, brown landscape, I wondered how long the pipe would have to be to bring water to this arid place.  Little did I know that the type of projects WOTR specializes in, require hardly any fancy technology to bring prosperous and lush fields to whole regions. Quite honestly, until Thomas explained it to me that day, I had no clue what “watershed development” really meant, and if you are like me, prepare to be amazed!

First, we pulled over on the side of the road overlooking hillsides covered in long, parallel lines, that Thomas explained to me were stone bunts or rock dams.  From photos I had seen in the office I knew that these trenches had something to do with watershed but then again, I didn’t even know what the word “watershed” really referred to or how it did anything for people needing water in this browning place.  It turns out, the idea behind watershed (think: “shed” as in, to shed tears or, as the dictionary defines it “shed -verb :to emit and let fall”) development and rainwater harvesting is actually quite simple and fascinatingly brilliant!

The concept, as Thomas showed me, is to catch the rainwater where it falls and then control, through these trenches, how fast the water flows down the hill sides and how the soil absorbs the moisture.  When it rains, water speeds down hills leaving no time for the soil to soak up that much moisture and, for it to be used to benefit communities.  In fact, often over the past few years rainfall has decimated crops coming in one week instead of stretched over months and flooding out anything planted.  Through creating rock formations, digging trenches, and  planting sapplings, WOTR attempts to change this pattern by working with communities to completely redevelop their hillsides around their fields and valleys and, “make the water walk.”

These contour lines and simple landscape modifications that seriously require no high-tech or costly appliances slow the water’s run down so instead of speeding down hill with gravity, it sinks slowly into the ground.  Each drop of rain is literally harvested or used like this to reduces runoff and, ultimately, increase the water table.  By ending free grazing and planting saplings, the development encourages natural growth to create vegetative cover and even increase the water holding capacity of the aquifers.

The soil absorbs the moisture, the vegetation cuts out erosion, agriculture flourishes.  Simple as that.  As we wound around the hills to reach the valley, I saw how simply brilliant that method really is.  We emerged from the dusty brown fields to a valley covered in a patchwork quilt of crops and lush green trees similar to what I’m sure the Great Valley from the Land Before Time must have been like!

WOTR’s particular approach has also been so successful because, as Shiwaji, the head of Sherikoldara’s watershed development, explained to me, everyone in his village had to come together and work for months to create the habitat they now benefit so richly from.  Shiwaji told me the whole story about the village’s progress from convincing everyone to develop the land this way, all the way through to the benefits they receive now.  He said that farmers who farm the now plentiful lands will receive 1,000,000 rupees this year for their onion crop!  In a country where the average person earns Rs 36,000 for the whole year (less than $1,000), and drought conditions are making it so hard for farmers to make ends meet that they are actually committing suicide, this number is absolutely phenomenal!

Shiwaji also told me a fantastic story about how, since the approach that WOTR uses requires the whole village to come together uniting the poor and tribal parts of the village with the rich and higher caste members, now a member of the lowest caste, Adavasi, is going to university in Pune and, the whole village even paid for his education!  Shiwaji told me that this young man hopes to finish school and reach the highest government office working for communities to come together over caste barriers.  Amazing.

It was truly incredible to hear all of the success this village, in a flourishing valley and surrounded by thousands of acres of hillsides covered in man-made trenches, is enjoying.  As the sunset over the hillside, I imagined what it would be like, after years of drought, to wake up in the morning after spending months and months digging around in the dirt on hillsides to see the sun pouring over the great valley that I worked with my neighbours to create.  Of course, my imagination could never compare to the reality that the families bagging their onion crop were experiencing, but looking around, it was tangible how watershed development had transformed these people’s lives.  The valley seemed to smile as the sun was setting on it and I was beaming after learning that something so technologically simple could have such vast impacts in every realm of life for a whole community.

I learned so much and was incredibly inspired both from meeting the women and families in Panoli and seeing such excellent innovation and land usage to create new opportunities in people’s lives.  As in my day spent with the hydrogeologists and talking to Joe Madiath, my knowledge base of water and development was expanded tenfold through this field trip and, as dorky as it may sound, I love water and sanitation 🙂  Now off to see some toilets in Mumbai!!

Field Trip Part I: Girl Power

Yesterday I finally got to visit one of the BPR-funded water projects!  After months of tireless work with the Youth Board in Boulder a few years back, I finally got to meet the people who benefited from the projects that the awesome young people I had the pleasure of working with had helped to fundraise for!  Also, as has been rather typical for almost my entire volunteer experience with PWX, I learned an infinite amount about water and innovations working in the developing world, all the while sipping sweet chai and meeting some of the most wonderful people!  One of the WOTR employees, Thomas, (who actually began one of the watershed development projects we would visit) showed me around the region and taught me so many incredible things about the work of WOTR and the world of water.

Our first destination of the day was Panoli, a village of 1,200 people in Mahrashtra, India where WOTR helped facilitate a drinking water project with BPF funds.  On the way there, we picked up a passenger, Tukaram, who grew up in this village and recently moved to the city to work for an NGO that implements water projects in other villages.  Thomas and Tukaram gave me some background on the area where we were heading and we drove along the (newly-paved!) highway into the countryside.  An hour or so later, we turned down a dirt road to a big body of water on our right and just down the hill on the left, the well and pump house.  Thomas pointed out the area where the trench was dug that connected the village, located four kilometers from the well, to the water.  Thomas explained to me how there used to be a project here, but the pipe that brought the water from the well to the village was leaky so it took over nine hours to fill the tank in town and was basically useless for the people.  Then, with the BPR funds, the women organized their village to build a new pipeline and install a faster pump.  Even when he said, “the women organized their village,” I didn’t totally know what that involvement meant until we got to Panoli.

After arriving in the village and meeting a group of high school girls eager to practice their English, we walked up to the school where several taps had been installed in the school yard.  Three kids came up to the taps to demonstrate drinking out of them and lead us through a neat little garden that was fed with waste water.  At the entrance to the garden, a little stage was set up in front of the school where all of the students were practicing for a Republic Day Performance for the next day.

After a few excellent performances, some of the village members led us to a little room where village governance matters are taken care of and I met the head of the village – a WOMAN!  I was so very excited to see a woman occupying the Sarpanch seat at the table because it showed how truly powerful and active women have become in the village.  From something as simple and basic as drinking water, Mrs. Anita Gaikwad and a group of other women united their village for this cause and gained respect and confidence as women!

Before the women took initiative to fix the drinking water problem in their community, there actually was a well, pump, and pipeline that, in theory, brought water to Panoli.  All of these devices were installed over ten years ago and even at that point, the pump didn’t have enough horsepower to pump enough water, fast enough to supply the village with water for the day.  Because of the faulty devices, women still had to walk to get water, especially during power cuts and summer months and, over time, the pipeline started to leak so that any water that was being delivered was arriving more slowly than ever.

These women then rallied their communities to raise their portion of the funds and begin working with WOTR.  After this initial stage, all of the village members worked for a whole year to dig the trench with the new pipeline so that they could improve their society.  I was so impressed by these powerful and inspirational women doing such great things for their community and they were so proud to tell me about all of their accomplishments.

Then, with Thomas translating, I told them about the Youth Board and how young people in the US were working to raise the funds for drinking water projects and I think they were equally as impressed.  One man stood up to say how amazed he was by this because he always thought the donor funds came from business people but, hearing that kids in schools are working so hard for the cause was really inspirational as well.  It was a really motivational meeting to see great work being done and people really acting on needs for their community!  I loved the pride and eagerness emanating from the village and I was really blown away by the unity and confidence that Anita and the other women on the water board in Panoli had achieved.  When I left, I was practically flying I felt so inspired by the good work being done by organizations like WOTR, the awesome Youth Board students, and the wonderful women and families of Panoli!

Indian Women Don’t Pee

Men peeing

On any trip through any part of Bangalore, one catches a glimpse of a man relieving himself. It’s normal to have several such sightings. These sightings of this ‘natural’ behaviour are the inspiration for the cartoon printed in ToI, shown on the right.

In fact, that is true in all cities in India (except Mumbai where you have to look in the side lanes). One photo journal of men peeing around the capital city of Delhi shows the rich diversity of sightings.

I remember when my childhood neighbour painted his wall, he decided to paint some images of Indian dieties, to prevent the wall from getting dirty from pee, paan spit, and posters.

A photo by T. Trompeter in 1991, below, shows a Bangalore where there were ‘facilities’ for men to pee – the wall was tiled! Maybe this doesn’t exist now, but it clearly has not been missed.

B'lore '91

The sight of a woman and a daughter standing next to a motor cycle at the edge of the road, waiting for the man (wearing a helmet and facing the wall) to complete his business sparked a thought: Do Indian women pee? It struck me that i have never seen a woman relieving herself near the road. Men get to relieve their biological urge anywhere there is a wall. In the absence of public sanitation facilities in Indian cities, one should expect to see signs of women relieving themselves. Even if it’s just the blocking of the actual act from passing eyes, the evidence should be there. Yes, it is most embarrassing and an affront to dignity but sometimes you got to go. Or don’t you?

The only conclusion i can make is that Indian women don’t pee. Well, at least, they can go through the entire day without visiting a loo.

A friend spent a week in a village in Gujarat and told me how she and the women would get up at five in the morning and all the women would go as a group to answer Nature’s call in the dark. The elder women would form an outer circle to protect from prying eyes. And then nothing for the rest of the day. A Korean-American friend visited another (commercial) town in Gujarat and while the two males in the group enjoyed relieving themselves whenever and wherever, she had to go an entire day without bladder relief. I live in a nice gated community in Bangalore and while there is a facility for security guards, for other staff (gardeners, sweepers, …) there is none. It’s not that they can’t go into the security shed, but it’s highly unlikely that women workers will. So, a full day’s work demanded, with lunch break, but no sanitation facility. This essay was sparked by another friend who after visiting me told me that she wanted to use the bathroom before she left, “Not because I need to go, but because I don’t know when next I will be able to go”.

Yes, women, have it tough. Urban facilities are rare, and good facilities are rarer. Sulabh, the household name in public sanitation, has found its name copied everywhere, with little aspiration towards the standards that they hold dear.

A study by Arghyam titled, Ashwas, highlighted the dismal sanitation situation in rural Karnataka, just outside India’s Silicon Valley with its most globally successful and most marketed IT class. In this state, 78% of the rural population does not have access to sanitation and often the village maps show the open defecation places dangerously close to the water sources.

What is most damming is the statistics used in the water sector to show progress. The Nirmal Gram Puraskar is a prize given to a village where open defecation is history, all households have access to toilets and, they are all used. In addition, all schools should have toilet facilities. The awards are used in government statistics and by institutions (such as the World Bank and the UN) to show progress. The Ashwas report shows that of the 14 surveyed winners of the Nirmal Gram Puraskar in Karnataka, not one was worthy of the prize a year following the award; they had all regressed to some level of open defecation. Both these awards and the sustainability of projects are huge discussion issues, and should serve a warning about reading too much into prizes and progress metrics being touted.

In this nation of a billion we are rushing towards ensuring a mobile phone for all and a TV too. The GDP grows in that rush and we consider ourselves advancing.

However, can we consider ourselves advanced if we don’t provide private, accessible, and hygienic sanitation facilities for all?  Jawaharlal Nehru’s statement has been forgotten: “The day everyone of us gets a toilet to use, I shall know that our country has reached the pinnacle of progress“. Maybe we should consider another metric for progress based on Nehru’s vision – the number of public water and toilet facilities. Maybe we should consider ourselves having advanced to the next stage only when there is safe drinking water and access to private and hygienic sanitation facilities for all – especially women. Then we will know that we have arrived, not by economic statistics, but by sight or lack of seeing anyone peeing in public, by smell or lack of smell when we pass through slums and villages, and by stories or lack of anecdotes of women having to hold it.

Yes, Indian women do pee, and they should be allowed to do so whenever they want, with dignity and privacy.

A Volunteer’s Adventures Part Three: A Day in the Life

In addition to learning thousands of things about water and sanitation, I am also having the greatest time learning about Indian office life and sipping chai about six times a day! I usually wake up around seven to the lovely sound of water buffalo and goats cruising along on the road outside my window. I cart the water for a bucket bath from a tap in the center of campus back to my room- barely understanding the burden of hauling it from miles away and increasingly more impressed at how so many Indian women can carry these vessels all those miles on their heads while also gracefully holding up saris! Even though my task is so small, I am keenly aware that this is something I would have never had to do back home and it is giving me the slightest insight into life for so much of the world.
My room in the guest house is about ten minutes from the main office and dining hall. Breakfast is served by the wonderful cook we call, Na Na, around 8:30 – usually puri or idlly, but sometimes my favorite, opma or the odd choice, chowmein with ketchup (this is something most people back home would really never eat in combination let alone for breakfast!). The work day then officially starts at nine. I somehow scored a great little office on the second floor overlooking the courtyard in the center of the main building. There is even a little pond in the center with a turtle swimming around.
Everyday at ten, the lovely office employee, Joyo, brings little cups of chai to all of us at our desks and consequently ten might be my favorite time of morning!

When I’m not drinking tea, I am poking around the PWX site, exploring the different features, thinking of ways to make things easier or more understandable, and sorting out what Gram Vikas already has uploaded to the site and what else needs to be. Much of my time has been devoted to talking to different people in the office trying to locate records on different computers or actual hard copies of information for various projects on the site. I’ve been focusing on getting my hands on some interviews, videos, and photos to try to bring the sites alive and show the life of villages with or without water and sanitation. Collecting all of this information has proven a bit tricky since it isn’t always centrally located or accessible, and so my goal is to use PWX to add another element of organization and a fuller picture of projects for a non-profit that has really done some amazing work and has a lot to showcase to the world.
In addition to updating the Gram Vikas projects on the site and the welcome interruptions of chai, I spent a few days working on a water award application for Gram Vikas. Again throughout the project I learned more and more about this organization’s practices and other WASH systems for rural development, but I was also introduced to a British/Indian form of English quite unlike my native American English. For an English major with a mother who is a professional proofreader, this was quite a task! Words like “whomsoever” and “alongwith” seemed as foreign to me as the little chili peppers I picked out of my meals. Naturally I had to edit for British spellings throughout as well – in American English we write, “feces” while in British English the same word is spelled “faeces.” There are little sayings too that still confuse me: “fill up an application,” “go to office,” and “I’ve been in my home,” – those tricky prepositions always switching with different forms of the confusing English language! Many other parts from grammatical intricacies to crores and commas were different as well so in addition to picking up bits of Oriya, I’m really happy to have discovered this new form of English.

Besides punctuation and pronunciation differences, there are many office customs here that differ from the American offices I’ve worked in. There are, of course, the 10am and 4pm daily chai breaks which I have already explained my new love for, but other office practices are taking some getting used to for me. For instance, as an American woman shaking hands is always a little confusing for me, sometimes in certain offices we wear shoes and sometimes it is customary to leave them by the door, and here people always take lunch breaks whereas back home lunch usually meant shoving something down in front of your computer screen – these are just some of the quirky little differences in the day-to-day functions of an office in a new place. Then there are the power outages that remind me again that I am indeed out here in a village! They happen several times throughout the work day, and now I’m so used to them that when the power flicks off I just keep working away until the internet cuts out and then I read for a minute until it all comes flashing back on and we can start the whole process again!
Everyone stops for an hour lunch break at one and the work day is officially over at 5:45. In the evenings I have often continued working just trying to finish up these projects but sometimes I play cards with new friends or read until dinner which happens at 8:30 in the evening. Since we usually eat at 6 or 7 back in America, this late night meal is definitely a transition too! All of the curries and dals and pakoras have been delicious at the mess and all of the staff I have met through Gram Vikas have been so welcoming and wonderful! Only a few weeks left in my new home, but I have really enjoyed the learning experience – about water, but also about culture.

A Volunteer’s Adventures Part Two: Hydrogeology and Golpapur

Not only is the campus absolutely gorgeous, but all of the staff and volunteers I’ve met working for and with Gram Vikas are incredible as well! In addition to the 500 or so employees of Gram Vikas, various contacts from all kinds of organizations come through Mohuda all the time. For a traveler exploring the developing world, meeting people from all over the globe working on various projects in the villages is basically a dream come true!

Two such new friends, Marijn and Roelof, are hydrogeologists staying here for about two weeks to train people in the villages to test water quality. From the Netherlands, Marijn and Roelof have taught me so many things, one of which is a culinary tip from their hometown: how to turn every Indian dish into something sweet by adding jam or sugar! Besides amusing the dining hall with our strange creations, they invited another intern and me to go on an explorer mission with them last Sunday!

They explained to us the adventure they were planning: GoogleMaps shows the earth in this part of Orissa as being darker in a western part and lighter in an eastern part, pretty much separated by a distinct line that they imagined was a different kind of rock or deposit from a river or the ocean. Armed with a large print out of the area, a jeep and driver from GV, and a GPS system we were going to figure out why. They tried to play it off as though it sounded boring, but I thought they were essentially proposing an exploration mission that would rival that of Christopher Columbus!

So with excitement in the air and our explorer’s gear in hand, we climbed into the Qualis around ten in the morning ready for a day of real, live exploring! The four of us and our driver, Babolo took up all of the seats in the jeep so it was a little crammed especially as we wound around the dogs and people in the streets. Mixed with lots of trying to explain to our driver where we wanted to go, Marijn explained to me so much about water projects and systems of all kinds, the science and engineering about how water actually arrives to most of the taps, and ground water. I was ecstatic all day long! I have been working around water- fundraising with BPR and now here, for a few years, but something about seeing the projects and hearing about the processes from my new Dutch friends really illuminated the world of water to me.

Throughout the morning, we stopped at a few sites where holes had been dug in the ground for random purposes and surveyed the soil. Marijn and Rudolph showed us how and why certain parts of the earth were red and others gray. We took pictures of the rocks and my specific job was to make GPS readings at each site so we could make a more accurate map to compare with the google image. Everywhere we went a crowd of confused Indians huddled around us really baffled as to why four foreigners were maneuvering around piles of poop to pick up dirt and take pictures of holes!

We stopped at one of the GV village water towers and in addition to surveying the area, picked up about four new members to our team who were to help us navigate the tricky roads in that part of the region. So, for the next hour or so, nine of us crammed into the jeep and looked for differences in water sources and rock and earth colors. Most of the time we were going a different direction than we had planned because of road blocks and communication barriers but the adventure didn’t disappoint in showing us great new things like long-tailed, kangaroo-like monkeys and all kinds of mountainous and rocky terrain from rock quarries to brackish water bodies. It was wild and fun and fascinating!

After some photos and marking a few more points we returned to drop off the extra people at their car. The villagers were waiting for us with sodas and tons of kids crowding around the jeep looking at us. Even though our communication with the kids was limited to, “How are you,” and “What’s your name,” they were thrilled to hear us try to speak to them. Most of the 20 minutes we sat with them was just us smiling really big at the kids and them returning the gesture! It was such a fun morning!

The next few hours continued with much of the same, convincing our driver to take us down certain roads to spots we thought would lead us to a point on the map, making some notes and pictures, and then continuing on. From the highway our driver turned down a tiny narrow street totally covered in foliage which eventually led us to a huge lake. It was amazing that he could ever know that that tiny road from the busy highway could lead to the lake!

There we took a water quality reading. It was tricky to find a part of the lake where someone wasn’t bathing or doing laundry to be able to take a sample, but eventually we found a fenced in area that would be as clean as it would get. We tested the PH as well as the levels of carbonate hardness, nitride, and iron among other things and learned which pollutants may cause some of the levels to be higher- again I was learning just how important the link is between water and sanitation, but this time with chemical numbers to back this up!

Our last stop was Golpapur. In the spring Golpapur is known for giant sea turtles mating and laying eggs on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. Here we ate at a delicious Indian restaurant. We had my favorite, Paneer Butter Masala and another mushroom dish with hot, puffy naan. I also tasted the best sweet/salty lime soda! After a late lunch and a walk along the beach, we drove the hour-long return back to campus. The day was filled with exciting adventures and sightseeing. I felt like a sponge soaking up all of the knowledge my new friends could teach me and I was exhausted as I returned to my room. In perfect Indian style, my wonderful neighbor heard my return and knocked at the door with a steaming cup of chai. Oh, how I love India!

Adventures in Volunteering

Okay. I know, the little white suburban girl learns about a real-world issue firsthand – it’s kind of clichéd by now, made into movies and books and blogs galore, but here I am, in the middle of India, fresh out of university with a padded humanities degree and all of the fluff in my head trying to find a path into the world of development and getting a good dose of reality along with it!

I first worked with the Blue Planet Run Youth Board for two years working with incredibly creative and motivated young people to raise awareness among their peers of the world’s drinking water crisis. The experience was wonderful, and when I graduated and wanted to spend a year traveling and volunteering, I contacted Rajesh – head of the BPR water network, Peer Water Exchange, to see if he knew of anything. And boy, did he! Now I’m knee-deep in PWX and loving every single second of it!

I’ll first hail back to my BPR days though (even just a year ago). One of the many activities we created to raise awareness was a viral video where I, along with another youth board coordinator, explained the statistics on a video for other youth – 1.1 billion people, women walking hours, blah, blah, blah. And not that the statistics aren’t important – they are incredibly astonishing and worthwhile, but my point is that while I knew the statistics forward and back, I know now that I did not know the problem until I got to Gram Vikas.

I arrived to the sunny haven that is the main office campus of Gram Vikas in little Mohuda Village, Orissa after a grueling 20-some-hour train journey. Butterflies pranced in the palm tree-shaded path as I carried my backpack to my new room in the beautifully crafted intern guesthouse.

On the way here, I had no idea what the area would be like. In fact, in my ignorance, I was pretty much expecting dry, uninhabitable lands with unbearable conditions. Orissa is, after all, one of the poorest states in India where less than 4% of the population has access to piped drinking water. To make matters worse, I had been reading in the paper leading up to my visit to Gram Vikas that farmers across the state where killing themselves because of the terrible drought conditions slamming the lands. Walking in this lush enclave was not at all what I had imagined. Again, I knew the stats about the area, but I was blown away by the mountainous region covered in green trees and jungle fauna.

Since then, I have visited five projects in the area and researched pretty much every single one of the 701 water and sanitation projects initiated by Gram Vikas and the great Joe Madiath. In many parts, conditions are indeed terrible, but what I have learned from Joe – both through the books about him and his wonderful patience in explaining everything to me – is that the statistics about water that I have so fervently memorized and preached for all these years are very important, but still, only half the problem or less. Why is the water unsafe and unclean? Because people poop in it, bathe in it, and wash in it. Because flies land on feces, which sticks to their feet, which then contaminates the food they land on. Because animals loiter around the water sources pooping at will and carrying feces on their hooves and mouths as they drink from the well. Sitting in Joe’s office while he spelled it out for me was one of those “duh” moments. The numbers are meaningless without understanding the meat behind the issue. And in this case, it took me coming all the way here to begin to really grasp the water crisis.

Since then, I have delved into everything WatSan (one of the many acronyms I’ve learned for water and sanitation). My official business here is to help Gram Vikas get all of their projects organized onto PWX, but in that process, I have helped with a few other things around the office and in every ounce of my free time, soaked up all of the knowledge I can on water and sanitation – no pun intended! More on my adventures in water to follow!

In Praise Of Inefficiency And (Dis)Organization

This essay is about my personality and process, written in 2002.

It might explain how the idea of PWX came about, as it was in the period when BPR closed down without having a solution to the challenge of scale after a frenzy of activity including opening an office.
I was lucky to not have to work as my wife was working and so i used the time to let my mind drift and figure out a way to solve the world’s most important and urgent problems.

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Airing Clean Laundry

While laundry is about water (see other article on Household Water Usage), this essay is about status symbols. Starting by looking at the energy used in drying our clean clothes, i end with the challenge of creating status symbols appropriate for our situation today.

Today, in India brands abound and the rich are using more energy to dry clothes.
For example, most using washing machines, use higher speeds in spin cycles using to dry clothes. And some have dryers in this tropical country!

Though, i am happy that hanging clothes out to dry is still acceptable in all parts of India.

Originally, published in HaasWeek, the newspaper of the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley in 1996.

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Change, the Motor Industry, and Water

Motors are used for many purposes today and consume an estimated 40-50% of India’s electricity. Is there a need to become efficient?

They also are used heavily for water, starting in Bangalore in 1894 and now used commonly in borewells across the countryside. Does the industry bear any responsibility for declining groundwater levels?

A short tour through Bangalore’s water history that is closely tied to the motor industry ends with the question: what does the future look like?

The article starts and ends with the question: can our society change?

Shorter version without images published in AIEMMA (All India Electric Motor Manufacturer’s Association), September 2008.

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Improving the PWX Application Process

After experiencing one round of the application review process, I have some suggestions on improving it.

To keep these dialogues concise and to the point I tend to believe that the key solution lays in the project proposal and applications. These may have to be presented by adopted concise and comprehensive standard format, containing specific parameters of a perfect projects definition that match adopted standard selection and prioritization criteria. These parameters and criteria would necessarily derive from adopted underlying general domestic water supply & sanitation development policy principles. The same parameters may form the basis for monitoring verifiable indicators respectively evaluation.

For example: currently stakeholder information is not clearly and explicitly spelled out.

I welcome a discussion on this topic.


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