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Sunita Narain gets top water award

She received $150,000 and a crystal sculpture from King Carl XV1 Gustaf of Sweden, writes Nivedita Mishra.

india Updated: Aug 26, 2005 16:12 IST

Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), headed by Sunita Narain, was honoured with the 2005 Stockholm Water Prize.

The prize has been awarded for efforts made by CSE in fighting powerful, top-down bureaucratic resource control, empowering women in water and rejuvenating traditional rainwater harvesting.

She received a cash award of $150,000 and a crystal sculpture from King Carl XV1 Gustaf of Sweden. The ceremony was held in Stockholm on Thursday and is a part of the ongoing World Water Week in Stockholm.

Narain said, "I accept the award on behalf of thousands of water engineers and water managers all over the world, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America. These people are discounted in the formal knowledge system of the world."

Narain has been with the CSE since 1982 and is currently director of the Centre, director of the Society for Environmental Communications and the publisher of the widely-acclaimed environmental magazine Down to Earth.

"CSE's own work and belief has been based on the imperative of change," Narain said. "It is also based on the arrogance that we can bring about change because we are working our democracy."

She added that it is clear that the management of water, and not scarcity of water, is the problem in many parts of the world.

CSE's work on rainwater harvesting has shown the many ingenious ways in which people learnt to live with water scarcity. The solution, practiced diversely in different regions, lies in capturing rain in millions of storage systems - in tanks, ponds, stepwells and even rooftops - and to use it to recharge groundwater reserves for irrigation and drinking water needs.

"Water is not about water," she said… "it's about building people's institutions and power to take control over decisions."

The world faces a critical challenge to improve the productivity of rain-fed and marginalised lands. In this challenge, water can turn a large part of the country's currently parched lands into productive lands, reduce poverty and increase incomes where it is needed the most.

CSE's work has highlighted that water cannot become everybody's business until there are fundamental changes in the ways we do business with water. Policy will have to recognise that water management, which involves communities and households, has to become the biggest cooperative enterprise in the world. For this, the organisation forcefully argues that the prevalent mindset that water management is the exclusive responsibility of government must give way to a paradigm built on participative and local management of this critical life source.

This powerful idea is gaining ground to become the policy and practice in many regions of the world.

"Water will define if we remain poor or become rich," Narain said.

First Published: Aug 26, 2005 16:01 IST