Water on our planet is limited and unevenly distributed. When we talk of water conservation, the issue is not just about “saving” water but having enough water to meet our present and future needs. For centuries, humans have exploited water resources and many fear that future wars could be fought over water. A study by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) in 2018 said that scarce resources like water could lead to wars in the future.

Judicious use of water and increased efforts at water conservation are considered vital so that water shortage doesn’t lead to social unrest or conflict.

The government in India has taken various steps for water conservation like promoting recharging of underground water, rainwater harvesting, construction of check dams and others. Nonprofits are also playing an important role in popularising the concept of water conservation by working with the stakeholders. India may not be a water deficit country, but without proper water conservation efforts, it could become one.

Here, we look at top Indian NGOs that are promoting sustainable water conservation practices and impacting lives.

1. Environmentalist Foundation of India

The Foundation is a water conservation NGO in India with a holistic approach that comprises wildlife conservation and habitat restoration. The organisation’s primary focus is on reviving freshwater habitats such as lakes and ponds across the country.

After several studies, Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI) has concluded that it can revive contaminated freshwater bodies in India only through scientific means. It has revived several freshwater lakes and ponds in India ever since its inception in 2007. While it has worked in several urban areas, EFI also works in rural hinterlands.

Some of the water conservation efforts of this NGO include the restoration of the Kinhi-Gadegaon Reservoir in Maharashtra, Tirunelveli-Keezh Ambur Lake in Tamil Nadu, Navule Kere in Shivamogga, Karnataka and others.

2. Tarun Bharat Sangh

Self-reliant communities living in harmony with nature are at the centre of Tarun Bharat Sangh’s mission. The organisation involves the community at every stage of development work. These are mainly around water conservation in one of the most water-deficient states in the country—Rajasthan.

With Dr. Rajendra Singh (Waterman of India), as its founder, TBS has revived 10 rivers and transformed 10,000 sq km of drought-prone areas. He has converted drought-prone areas in Rajasthan into flourishing ecosystems. TBS employs indigenous water harvesting methods and community mobilization.

Dr Singh has received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership and the Stockholm Water Prize also called the Nobel Prize in Water. The Guardian, in 2008, listed him as one of the ‘50 people who can Save the Earth’.

3. SARA (Sustainable Alternatives for Rural Accord)

Sara and its associate organisations have been working on the ground at various levels to understand and implement sustainable models under its ‘Swagrama’ programme. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s dream project ‘Village Swaraj,’ the ‘Swagrama’ project aims to achieve self-sustainable rural development.

Water conservation is an important part of the programme. Sara is reviving ten lakes in four panchayats of Karnataka’s Shivamogga district. Most of these lakes had full of silt and lost the capacity to recharge and irrigate the cultivable land. With enhanced water storage capacity and desilting, the lakes can now hold the water throughout the summer months, helping the villages surrounding them. Groundwater recharging is helping in retaining soil moisture and helping in the growth of crops.

4. Jal Bhagirathi Foundation

This water conservation NGO in India works in one of the most densely populated arid zones in the world- the Marwar region of Rajasthan. Jal Bhagirathi Foundation has been addressing the challenge of water scarcity in the region for decades. It is reviving and constructing rainwater harvesting structures so that it can recharge groundwater. It helps local communities in building rainwater harvesting tanks called tankas. Experts believe building tankas are good for the region and also the most replicable water conservation solution.

The organisation’s ‘Community Led Water Management System’ is implemented through local associations called Jal Sabhas. As women are vital for water conservation, the NGO encourages women to take part in Jal Sabhas.

5. Sehgal Foundation

The SM Sehgal Foundation has been working in the field for almost 24 years now. Its focus is on community-led development initiatives to achieve social, economic and environmental changes across the country. As water conservation is a major issue, Sehgal Foundation primarily works in semi-arid regions of Haryana and Rajasthan, and in Bihar. It has expanded to other parts too in recent years.

The Foundation works with communities to harvest and store rainwater, by building and restoring infrastructure in villages. It has also played a vital role in reviving traditional water bodies, constructing water storage dams and creating awareness about the need for water conservation. It also collaborates with others for continuous improvement and replication of low-cost water management and conservation methods. This water conservation NGO in India has won several awards for its rural water management from the Government of India and others.

6. Dreams Alive

The organisation has been assisting farmers in the delta region of Tamil Nadu by restoring ponds. The ponds are the primary water resource for homes, irrigation, cattle, wild animals, birds and others. Dreams Alive believes that restoring water bodies is the need of the hour to impact the lives of people.

The organisation is restoring 39 ponds from different villages in the Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu so that it becomes a model for others. The aim is to improve the livelihood of farmers, by improving ground-water levels and increasing water storage.

7. Centre for Aquatic Livelihood Jaljeevika

Jaljeevika has played a vital role in water conservation and helping fish farmers in states like Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Jharkhand. It teaches them sustainable fishing methods while also conserving water. Fishery cooperatives have been encouraged to adopt new technologies, and better management practices to enhance their livelihood.

The organisation has integrated livelihood models to ensure the doubling of farmers’ income and enhance productivity. The existing water resources can be exploited better through sustainable management. Thousands of small and marginal farmers have benefitted because of the organisation’s work on the ground.

8. Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR)

This water conservation NGO in India has been working on comprehensive rural development for decades. Its initiatives include water management, agriculture development, climate change adaptation and others.

WOTR believes that over the years, unsustainable land and water management have adversely affected the ecosystem in rural India. These have led to deforestation, intensive agriculture, overgrazing and over-extraction of groundwater. And these are threatening agriculture, leading to distress migration and a loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. As part of its water conservation initiative, WOTR has facilitated several projects. These include the construction of check dams, and water harvesting structures to enable better drinking water and sanitation facilities.

9. Self Reliant Initiatives through Joint Action (SRIJAN)

As a grassroots organisation, SRIJAN has improved the incomes of tens of thousands of rural families in the backward districts of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh. One of its most important water conservation projects is the Bundelkhand Initiative for Water Agriculture and Livelihood (BIWAL). It is an attempt to revive traditional water bodies and the surrounding ecosystems through community engagement. Over the years, the tanks in the region have fallen into disuse because of droughts, neglect and apathy.

A large number of tanks in Bundelkhand, according to SRIJAN, are silted, encroached upon or are being used for purposes other than water harvesting. It has launched water harvesting and conservation through various methods including community involvement. BIWAL has multi-faceted benefits including the local communities associated with the tanks.

10. Sankalpa Rural Development Society

This water conservation NGO in India has been promoting rainwater harvesting techniques through bore well recharge, and rooftop rainwater harvesting for well over a decade now. Founded by Sikandar Meeranaik, an entrepreneur in modern-day rainwater harvesting SRDS believes that following its water harvesting methods could cause no water scarcity in India.

The organisation’s direct bore-well recharge technique combines common rainwater harvesting practices with innovative practices to replenish groundwater tables and aquifers with naturally filtered rainwater. Borewells recharged using its technique have seen increased water levels. Rooftop water harvesting is another method through which this NGO is inspiring many to conserve water. This water can be used for drinking and household needs, agriculture, and recharge bore wells and groundwater levels.

(Updated in September, 2022)

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