A conversation with Himanshu Thakkar from South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People

In the process of reaching out to experts, I interviewed Mr. Himanshu Thakkar, who is a coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, an informal network of organizations and individuals working on issues related with water sector. Here is an excerpt from the interview.

Akanksha Saluja: In your opinion what are the biggest challenges in extending the supply of clean drinking water to all?

Himanshu Thakkar: I think most of the biggest challenges are in the area of governance. We need to democratize the governance in water sector, which would mean greater value for and institutionalisation of bottom up participatory processes, transparency and accountability. If can achieve these, I think a lot of the problems in this sector will be taken care of. The technological choices, whether of scale, type or even related to recycle and reuse that your note rightly emphasizes should also be taken care of. Such governance has to be bottom up. Unfortunately there is little value, push or effort in that direction. A clear symptom of this malice is evident in the state of our rivers and how our efforts in improving that state has been such abject failure for so long.

A necessary and integral part of this change will have to be building and valuing independent knowledge and voices that can use that in non partisan way and that can get a place in governance. Today we are lacking in such voices and our system has little value for them.

There are of course many technical aspect of the water sector canvas, including our increasing dependence on groundwater that is not sustainable in most parts, our massive water infrastructure that is larger than that in any other country but that remains poorly performing for decades, the unsustainable cropping patterns, hydrologic that remains such a huge blind spot of our urban areas, failure to tackle pollution, deteriorating situation of surface and even groundwater, looming threat of climate change in many forms, to name just a few.

A.S.: What cross-sectoral partnerships can you envision that would bring about innovative solutions to these challenges?

H.T.: Agriculture, cropping patterns, cropping methods like SRI, urban areas where water gets greater logical treatment, institution building hinted above, efforts to ensure sustenance of groundwater lifeline in terms of quality and quantity, giving rivers their due in cost benefit, environment impact assessment, social impact assessment, cumulative impact assessment, water pollution control and environment governance, optimisation of benefits from existing water infrastructure, protecting local water systems, learning from traditional water wisdom, going for sub MW hydropower projects rather than mega projects, ensuring siting policies, giving demand side management its due, valuing wetlands, understanding floods before talking about flood control, are some of the cross sectoral issues that I can immediately think of, there are bound to be many more.

A.S.: What initiatives are you aware of that are geared in this direction?

H.T.: There are some efforts in case of some parts of this jig saw puzzle, but there are not too many hopeful signs at official level or systemic level.

*Stay tuned for more interviews. For past interview, look at:
Expert Interview: Equitable Water

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