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Rejuvenation of Riverine Ecosystem (River Rejuvenation Projects)

Please briefly describe your Water ChangeMaker journey

Bangalore is the fastest growing city in Asia, population exceeding 12 million. In the past, 40% requirement of water for the city was met by 223 water bodies along with Thippagondanahalli Reservoir. Kumudvathi and Arkavathi rivers were the major supply to this reservoir. The late nineties witnessed massive growth of population in the city due to industrial growth and human settlements resulting in the change of land use patterns. Over exploitation of groundwater causing drying up of rivers posed water shortage in the villages around Kumudvathi river basin and Bangalore city. Due to lack of awareness the water crisis was not addressed which is the case in other parts of the country. Volunteers of The Art of Living inspired by His Holiness Sri Sri Ravishankar inclusive of natural resource management practitioners, gender specialists, analysed the situation and identified the root causes such as deforestation, growing non native species, change in the cropping pattern, poor management of common property resources and poor institutional mechanisms. A novel approach was introduced that would improve the “Riverine Ecosystem” based on the treatment of all the watersheds in the river basin. This changed the scenario of water resources and desirable behavioural changes were introduced.

Please describe the change that your initiative created and how was it achieved

River Basin Management is a complex project. A well developed communication strategy by the experts was designed involving all the stakeholders. A Public Private Partnership Model was adopted for Project implementation. Coalitions were built with scientific institutions, Government, Panchayat Raj Institutions and Civil society. We are the nodal agency to undertake Scientific-Planning using Geospatial technologies. Capacity-Building programs such as Stakeholder meetings, walkathons, group-discussions, screening documentaries, publications, exposure visits were organised. Water is essential , to protect these resources, we have an open platform for people to participate/contribute and encounter diverse groups of people - men, women, youth and the disabled. Participation of every individual in ecological restoration activity demonstrated a strong sense of belongingness to revive the rivers. This integration was achieved through our breath workshop. As the projects progressed, Benefactors witnessed augmented groundwater and the river came back to life after two decades. Media gave sufficient coverage to the project which reached the masses, increasing the stakeholders’ confidence resulting in commitment to support our activities in the entire basin, this inspires us to focus on improving the water-use efficiency by taking interventions in the farmers’ field for conservation of soil and water. Participation of women of all age groups is a key feature. Their contribution in building structures and planting trees has inspired the confidence of all. Water literacy programs, best practices in farming and preservation of Biodiversity has helped in rejuvenation of the Riverine Ecosystem to address climate change-an unique effort by Art of Living.

How did your initiative help build resilience to climate change?

Due to deforestation, quarrying, over-exploitation of groundwater, plantation of water intensive non-native species and changed cropping pattern have resulted in migration, soil erosion, siltation of the existing irrigation tanks , depletion of water resources,reduced moisture in the environment affecting micro climatic conditions adding to the rise in global temperatures. Our project plans are founded on IWRM principles. To address the immediate water crisis, artificial recharge structures are constructed viz; Boulder Checks: help reduce speed of water,increase soil moisture and reduce soil erosion, Recharge Wells & Recharge Borewells: recharges Shallow and deep aquifers. Water Pools: helps revive lakes and larger waterbodies . As a long term measure to restore the Riverine Ecosystem, eco restoration cells with holistic watershed development activities were undertaken. Eco-restoration cells along with recharge structures strengthen and nurture the soil, arrests soil-erosion, siltation, preventing floods and drought. Inspite of extraction of groundwater rate of recharge has been restored adequately.

What water-related decisions did your initiative influence or improve?

Our organization identified all the government institutions which are working directly or indirectly on the rural development aspects. Continuous efforts were made to bring them on one platform to solve the water crisis in the rural areas that resulted in achieving convergence. Entry-level activities in the villages were conducted to sensitize the community. To demonstrate the importance, cleaning of old dried step-wells were taken up. Community members involving vulnerable sections of the society offered their labour as their contribution. Donors were approached for funding and periodic reviews with impact assessment motivated them to support in completion of recharge structures. Data collection and data-specific-intensified activities also helped in water literacy and increased water use efficiency. Cooperation extended in exchanging data between various agencies aided in arriving at a sustainable plan. Need assessment was done in the villages and appropriate livelihood options were offered. Our persistent effort influenced the government to bring about changes in their approaches for achieving welfare state. The outstanding example is implementation of ANTARA JALA CHETANA program under rural employment scheme throughout the state of Karnataka. This has resulted in creating overwhelming response from other states and some of the west african countries.

What were some of the challenges faced and how were they overcome?

Inspired by HH Sri Sri Ravishankar, the youth of India was awakened to participate on various service initiatives under “Volunteer for a Better India” and took up the daunting task of rejuvenation of dried-up rivers with hardly any funding support to begin with, making our journey special. As soon the projects commenced it attracted a huge volunteer base. An effective solution was achieved through scientific approach that can stand the test of time.Key initial challenge (1) pooling required datasets from different Government-Agencies, Research-Academic institutions. Though macro level coarse data was available, studies in micro-level data was necessary in building robust, scalable solution. Mitigation (1) Detailed survey of the project area was undertaken. Challenge (2): Availability of tools and technologies and its right-usage. Continued support for a massive project running into a few years with sufficient funding was a challenge. Mitigation (2): Effective-communication helped us in bringing a better understanding with donors for funding. Timely decisions and actions have helped in overcoming the problem. Challenge (3) Removal of illegal encroachment in the treatment area, non availability of skilled labour was experienced along with damage to structures. Mitigation (3) Effective-training and inclusive approach helped enhancing to resolve the issues. With continuous Liasioning with the Govt we have overcome bureaucratic hindrances.

In your view: Will the change that was created by your initiative continue?

Our achievements will endure as our successful implementation of interventions for Riverine Ecosystem has yielded positive results that has satisfied the dire need of access to water upon which the rural livelihood depend upon. We have addressed short term needs such as artificial recharge structures which are liable for damages and have to be maintained on periodic basis requiring commitment of financial resources and involvement of local community. However to address this issue eco-restoration cells have been established in consultation with community using indeginous technology and knowledge (ITK) that ensures recharge of groundwater naturally. With the accumulated experience our learning curve has improved with which sufficient number of training modules have been developed to build the capacities of all the stakeholders in the project implementation. Initiatives have been taken up to strengthen policy regime with regard to usage of groundwater optimally to develop water security plans for sustainable development.

What did you learn during the initiative or after? And is it possible that others could learn from you?

A cause much bigger than an individual, propelled volunteers to come together and conceptualise rejuvenation of Riverine Ecosystem projects which has been a thrilling experience. An end to end solution has been evolved by the participation of various individuals, interest groups along with government agencies. Treatment of the entire river basin needs participation of masses on a very large scale and this has become a reality. No matter the challenges that arose, inspired by a river we have been able to flow and overcome them by equipping ourselves with required skill sets & knowledge by participating in conferences, interacting with scientific bodies, referring to research projects and scientific journals which enhanced an individual's potential. In the process of developing and implementation of the project plan, a number of organisations have contributed their resources, experience and knowledge to fine tune to our project. Sensitivity towards nature is getting established.