Ayyappa Masagi has vivid memories of the long treks during his childhood at Gadag district of Karnataka. He had to wake up at 3 am, walk for two kilometres along with his mother and the two had to fetch water for use in the house through the day. It was the most purposeful mission that he had.
After the arduous trek, fetching the water in the vessels would be another challenge. There was a small hole dug in the ground which was only wide enough for a child to slither in. At that tender age, he had to go about the task with great caution. As he would slip into the hole to collect the water, there was a risk to his life as well because the earth could cave in. Luckily, it never did.
The water worries left a deep impression on Ayyappa. Later as he grew up to complete his engineering diploma from Bengaluru and joined engineering and construction giant Larsen and Toubro, he still had mental imprints of water scarcity and he knew someday he would try to look for a solution.
On one of the hot summer days during his 23-year stint at L&T, Masagi had some work for which he had to go to a place nearly 20 kilometres outside Bengaluru. As he was driving past a sparsely populated locality on the outskirts of the capital, Masagi was thirsty and desperately needed some water.
Since no bottled water was available around, he knocked at a house and asked the woman who opened the door for some water. “If you want it for washing hands, I can give some. But if you want it for drinking, I cannot spare it. It is too precious as I have to walk long distance and get it for the house,” came the terse reply.
His childhood memories of how precious water could be were refreshed as he sipped whatever little water he could manage to get after pleading.
A little later, another incident in Chamarajanagar only strengthened his belief that the shortage of water was indeed something not to be taken lightly. It was impacting more people than he ever thought. Formed as one of the seven new districts in 1997, Chamarajanagar is reputed for its tender coconuts. He stopped by the roadside to have a quick meal at the roadside stall and afterwards asked for water. “I am sorry, we do not have water,” he was told. “But if you want, we can give you some coconut water,” the stall owner said.
By now, Masagi was convinced that water was the most critical issue that he must address. He had found his true calling. He realised that the individuals and companies were facing the problem even though his district received decent rainfall.
Despite having favorable climatic conditions and a conducive geographic location, the inhabitants were facing a recurring problem. So, after leaving L&T in March 2002, he founded the Water Literacy Foundation (WLF) September 2005 which is working to address the local water problems by changing their approach to the solution. In the 12 years since he founded his non-government organisation, the report card for Masagi and his institution paints an impressive picture.
2.5 lakh bore wells recharged.
14 check dams constructed.
35,000 hectares of dryland converted to wet land.
800 ponds and water bodies created.
Many residential apartments have become self-sustaining in water with his help.
189 companies in and around Bangalore have sought his help in solving the water problem.
Several other regions of India, now facing a hot parched summer, could well learn from Masagi’s experience.
His message for World Water Day is simple: “I want to train more and more water warriors,” as he prefers to call the farmers who are sensitized to the problem and are adopting solutions. ‘Water warriors,’ perhaps, indicates the urgency with which Masagi is seeking to address the situation.
Little wonder, Masagi’s message is making several businesses, individuals in residential apartments and others sit up and take note. He wants the youth to take up the cause and turn water warriors. “I want the youth to donate 10 per cent of their earning, in cash or in kind, to help farmers, environment and save forests,” he says with beaming conviction.
For the change that he has tried to bring about, and he continues to carry it on with missionary zeal, Masagi was recognised by Limca Book of Records in 2012.