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Sunday 26 March 2017
News updated at 2:06 AM IST

Saving water, drop by drop

Shree Padre March 21, 2017
BLUE IS THE COLOUR Various water conservation structures have been constructed in over a hundred schools in Dakshina Kannada.

BLUE IS THE COLOUR Various water conservation structures have been constructed in over a hundred schools in Dakshina Kannada.

All the roof water of our school is now used to recharge the open well. As a result, the well has sufficient water to meet the needs of not only the school, but also neighbouring houses. Water problem is so acute in our area that many households depend on tankers for water. Next year, we will visit all these houses and guide them to recharge their wells,” says Santhoshkumar T N, headmaster of Montepadavu Government High School, who is now a rainwater harvesting (RWH) campaigner too. What started as an awareness activity for students, rainwater harvesting has now been extended outside the school too.

So far, he has addressed 12 awareness meetings on the issue, reaching over 3,500 people.Similarly, Ramesh Bayaru, headmaster of Government High School, Kallangala – Kepu, has addressed hundreds of teachers and has held 10 sessions for the public on RWH last year.

Rainwater harvesting
These are some instances that indicate how schools in Dakshina Kannada have become centres of water awareness programmes, reaching students, teachers and even parents. Over 200 schools in the district have now become water-conscious if not water-literate. Students and teachers are leaving no stone unturned to encourage people to take up simple and low-cost methods of rainwater harvesting.

Dakshina Kannada is one of the districts that get good rainfall (3500 mm) in the State. Despite this, it has been facing severe water scarcity in the last few years. Unfortunately, awareness about rainwater harvesting is very low here due to the lack of interest in people and the administration.

The situation remained so until K Sudhakar, district adult education officer, realised that catching rain was the only way to address the water woes that the district was facing. Jana Shikshana Trust, a local non-governmental organisation, responded positively to his ideas. In 2016, efforts were started to create awareness in one gram panchayat. This was later extended to the entire district. They concentrated on schools as they felt that the messages turn into action effectively when students understand their significance. The team works with government and government-aided high schools.

Initially, awareness meetings were held in schools. The main objective was to introduce the concept of catching rain to young minds. At a later stage, programmes were conducted for teachers. The seriousness with which teachers have pursued the work is heartening. “Oxygen, water and food are the basic necessities. Proper education about these essentials has to be accorded top priority,” opines Padmashri Rao, science teacher at Government High School, Malali.

Padmashri has hung a chart on the walls of all the classrooms. Once a student reports completion of a rain pit at his or her house, it is included in this chart. To give practical exposure to students, check dams have been constructed in the school premises. In the beginning, Padmashri demonstrated different stages of sandbag check dam construction, and involved students in different batches. Subsequently, five small check dams were constructed in a year. “No doubt, their attitude towards water has changed. They are also given the responsibility of raising plants,” she says.

Headmaster of Sathya Sai Lokaseva High School Alike, T Y Raghu, has given high priority to proper water management in daily life. He has replaced most of the normal taps in the institution with push-cock taps. “As much as 60% of water was being wasted earlier. Now there is a visible change. Once they have realised the value of water, they are voluntarily shifting to water-saving mode, even at home,” he says. Construction of a sandbag check dam in the school premises has improved the water availability in the well. Hundreds of rain pits dug by students in the adjoining hill have helped not only the school, but also neighbouring households.

Savithri, a teacher from Urva, Mangaluru, has grown many plants in her compound. She has also ensured that rainwater doesn’t escape from her homestead. Water from the terrace is used for recharging the well. Water shortage in their respective houses has led many teachers to practice what they are advocating in schools.

Ismail, president of Naringana gram panchayat, is convinced about RWH after the panchayat’s efforts of diverting the run-off to a nearby quarry improved the water level in adjoining borewells. Inspired by the campaign in schools, Ismail initiated a plan to dig 5,000 rain pits in the panchayat area in 2016. “This summer, our tanker-dependence will certainly come down. We want to have one rain pit per house and work towards achieving water self-sufficiency,” he hopes.

Kallangala High School has used modern technology to motivate students. “We asked students to take a photo of their rain pit and send it through WhatsApp. This was later incorporated in our PowerPoint presentations,” recalls Ramesh Bayaru. Sudhakar has created a WhatsApp group, ‘Jala Saksharatha Andolana’ (water literacy campaign), to keep up the tempo. Apart from school teachers, he has roped in water activists and water enthusiasts too. With constant messages and updates about the activities across the district, he maintains the enthusiasm of the stakeholders.

From diverting roof water to borewell or open well to digging rain pits, more than one hundred schools have incorporated one or the other rainwater harvesting structure in their premises. To sustain the spirit even after the monsoons, the movement conducted a drawing competition on the issue last year. An estimated 15,000 students took part in this competition.

Though Sudhakar is satisfied with the progress of the campaign, he feels that there is a long way to go. “Students, teachers and a section of society have come to a level of discussing water-related issues. Now we have to develop strategies to take the knowledge to the mainstream. We are confident that these young minds will effectively convey the message to the elders. This will be a concrete step towards bringing real change.”

Setting a model
For the first time in the history of the district, the State government has declared two taluks, Mangaluru and Bantwal, as drought-hit areas. “The district has 27–30% deficit in the annual rains and 70% shortfall in Southwest monsoon,” says Dr M R Ravi, chief executive officer of Dakshina Kannada Zilla Panchayat. “Awareness and implementation have to go hand in hand. Building vented dams in a big way is one possible solution. We are marching ahead with a plan to construct 1,000 vented dams in the district.”

Unfortunately, the required stress is not given on creating mass awareness on water conservation either at the district or state level. At this juncture, such campaigns, that engage students, can make a difference. With more man power and resources, the district’s ‘school water literacy programme’ can emerge as a model for the rest of the State. Thousands of students and hundreds of teachers here are convinced that a sustainable solution for drought lies in the proper management and conservation of rainwater and, not in digging borewells or cloud seeding —a lesson that the State badly needs now.

To know more about the campaign, one can contact K Sudhakar on 9449488836.

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