Action for Food Production (AFPRO) along with Anandana has worked in many drought-prone areas to create water structures that can provide for dry spells. The organisation has undertaken many initiatives in Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan, with several others in the pipeline in Pune, Maharashtra; Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh; and Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu.

In an interview with Journey India, Dr. D.K. Manavalan, the Head of AFPRO, talks about his journey so far, and what we can do in the present to save our future.

From your experience with AFPRO, could you give us a bit of a background on the current situation in India with respect to water management?

Action for Food Production is an organisation which was established in 1967, with regards to management of natural resources, with special reference to water - surface water, ground water and also the type of soil in which the water exists. Our experience is that there is requirement of more coordination between the central and state governments with regard to management of water.

In 1992, the Panchayat Raj Act Amendments came in. There was a specific constitutional amendment - the 74th amendment - which transferred items including water, agriculture, animal husbandry and allied items, under the Gram Sabhas, administratively, financially and technically.

After this period, in 2000 came the Millennium Development Goals. By 2015, we found that we were in great trouble with regard to equity, justice, food production. The government of India wanted to bring in technologies to train people for roles in state governments and for various organisations to see that water management was put in a different order.

Many of them didn't happen really, and soon the need to focus on climate change also arose. With that the government started tribal projects, invested fairly good money. They key observation was that holistic participation of all stakeholders was required.

Today, I find that blocks and villages should be taught how to calculate the capacities of their natural resources - like ponds and water bodies, and how to maintain them and ‘green’ India. These days you see that a lot of forest fires are taking place. These are all connected with the dryness of soil. In ponds, natural aquifers and other water bodies, run off is not properly recharged, a typical example being Kerala.

This is the one message which I want to give to all the players including the corporate world and the philanthropic organisations. They have to ensure that with the cooperation of the government, they train people to do this hands-down approach in the field. The people have to be made technically trained and qualified on understanding the nuances of each community on how to use and manage water in that community. This refers to what I would call demand management.

What is AFPRO doing specifically to address these challenges?

I’ll answer this with an example. The Gangetic basin is flood prone for three months, but people were harvesting only one crop. They didn't even have enough of drinking water in spite of the fact that the Jharkhand hills were feeding an ample supply to the Ganges. So we decided to use ground water, using proper technology measures with all the available GIS applications and remote sensing technology, and implemented them for around 2000 farmers. Through remote sensing we detected that the project was a huge success and the people were very happy.

You have worked extensively with Anandana, the Coca Cola India Foundation in various places- in Pune, in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, in Rajasthan. Could you share any key insights or perspectives that you have gained from this association?

Anandana has taken on many water recharge projects in areas where there was a lot of neglect. They found that in many of these places, a lot of water was flowing off, because there was no structure made to capture it and keep it there for allowing recharge. So, they helped build these structures, such as check dams, which would allow farmers to harvest at least two crops and increase their income. An example of such a project was in Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan, where they helped construct five check dams, two earthen dams, renovated two existing check dams, constructed 20 farm ponds and helped desilt and facelift two step walls.

Today, the people of Sawai Madhopur are very happy. They have better knowledge of what types of crops to grow, they have ample drinking water, and their economic status has gone up.

You have done a lot of work as an organisation for addressing issues of water and sanitation in many schools in places like Maharashtra and Tripura. Could you shed some light on that?

The problem of inadequate sanitation is prevalent in co-education and girls’ schools- being more pronounced in the latter. The fundamental thing is that these schools only have one or two bathrooms, and have an average of 200 students. Surely, that is not enough. According to government guidelines on latrines and urinals, there needs to be at least a ratio of 1:50 (toilets to students). So if a school has 200 students, they need to have a minimum of 4 toilets. The ideal ratio is 1:6.

We also found that the most affected areas were falling in the dry zones for example - Maharashtra and Rajasthan. In a majority of the areas, the local people were not contributing in any way, except for digging some leach pits.

As part of the Swachh Bharat initiative, we need to inculcate these cleanliness habits into the students and even teachers. Hand washing for example is very important thing for children.

Could you tell us a little bit about your vision, your goals and any messages for India that you may have?

My vision is that we get support for putting in place basic technological infrastructures and teach the local communities how to sustain them. So, when I do water prospecting maps, I tell the people "Aapka yeh area mein paani itna hai, itna paani barasta hai, itne paani se kitna daal sakte hain andar, usko kaise upayog karna hai." (This is the amount of water available in your area, this is the amount of rain, and this is how it can be utilised)

We need to show them how to periodically maintain hand pumps, and recharge pits and keep them clean. That is how we can reach the sustainable development goals. For that, the government has to think very, very carefully what should be the methodology by which we can capacitate our young people who are engineers, social workers, including the village community.