CSE started its work on water issues way back in the 80s, when it was becoming apparent that the water management paradigm based on exploitation of surface and groundwater resources even as it neglected capturing rain to recharge or for direct use would lead the country to a huge water crisis. CSE first focussed on pushing for policy reforms in the water sector to mainstream harvesting rainwater in both urban and rural areas.
To support this policy advocacy, CSE undertook intensive and extensive awareness campaigns, capacity building workshops and informational materials. The outcome of this work was that there were supportive policy initiatives in urban and rural areas to promote water harvesting and all this was met with public support.
CSE has been promoting the concept of water harvesting, particularly in urban areas, as a technological solution that can be adopted by all. CSE’s campaign to promote water harvesting began with its in-depth research on India’s rich traditions in using rainwater for a sustainable, participatory and equitable management of water. The research culminated in the book, Dying Wisdom: Rise, Fall and Potential of India’s Traditional Water Harvesting Systems. The central message of the book was that harvesting rainwater makes eminent sense in a monsoon-type climate (where most rain occurs in less than 200 hours in a year and engenders community participation. Indians can learn from their traditions to develop new approaches for sustainable water management and meet the water crisis of today. The report provided a comprehensive overview of India’s traditions in community-based water harvesting, their decline and relevance in the modern context. The report was released at 15 different places in India in collaboration with the country's civil society to take the message across India and to establish a network of people interested in promoting community-based water management systems.
Internalising the message, CSE initiated an advocacy programme to promote the concept of community-based water harvesting and make it a national movement. It produced simple literature and organised dozens of meetings to explain the principles and practice of rainwater harvesting. For urban audiences CSE’s programme to build model institutions shows people how rainwater harvesting is done. The CSE building, for instance, captures every drop of rain that falls on its premises. In order to create awareness among opinion and decision-makers, CSE provided them with easily understandable briefing papers that explained how policy options can be developed and implemented.
CSE’s special website, rainwaterharvesting.org, provides interested people comprehensive information on rainwater harvesting – on water crisis, conflicts, solutions, technologies, water crusaders and policy, including a database of different technologies for rural and urban contexts. To provide information on resource persons and experts, CSE has compiled a database of NGOs and individuals knowledgeable about water harvesting across the country. In 2001, CSE published another book, Making Water Everybody’s Business: Policy and Practice of Water Harvesting, which captures numerous case studies of village communities involved in water harvesting both in India and abroad.
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