Water home
India's past reveal why it should look back to be in the forefront
By Astrid J Svensson    

Isaac Newton’s famous quote that we are “standing on the shoulders of giants”, is a value that is often forgotten in these post modern times. Technocratic solutions are today handed out as answers to old, chronic problems that earlier had simpler, localized solutions. The management of water resources in India was based on precise experience and local expertise. All parts of India are filled with evidence of India's rich traditions and engineering expertise on localised water management. These have the potential to solve the water crisis in India's centralized and failed water management system.

Photos: Astrid J Svensson
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Traveling in India to learn about the management of water resources is a journey that takes you to the wonders of India’s rich and amazing past, where you will find palaces such as Nahargarh Fort in desert-like areas which conserved and managed water in the most sophisticated ways. Most commonly, rainwater was harvested from rooftops, open courtyards, fort walls, and stored in step wells for easy access. Sewage from the same palace was channeled away from the drinking water sources, preventing contamination. This was unusual, even at a global scale. Even today, some of the world's drinking water gets infected with sewage due to poor planning and maintenance.

The baolis, or step wells of India have been neglected due to years of modern techniques of irrigation and water supply. The step wells was more than just a source of water for the community. The architecture of Delhi's grand baolis, for instance, signified to its users whether it was to be used for washing of clothes, bathing or drinking. They also served as meeting points, cool spaces shielded from the sun. Many of the step wells of Delhi lie in ruin today, but if revived and used, they will not only recharge the groundwater levels, but also relieve the city’s water shortage.

Studies show that without returning to some of the ancient methods of harvesting and recharging groundwater via rooftops, tanks, ponds or artificial lakes, commonly practiced in Rajasthan and Delhi, both the quantity and quality of water in these areas will continue to drop.

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