Published: 29th May 2019
Meet Amit Srivastwa, a water researcher who is trying to quench the world's thirst using ancient knowledge
Amit Srivastwa urges young people to talk to their grandparents and parents and learn age-old techniques of sustainability
It is said that water may well become the reason behind the next world war. Every other day, we learn about water resources running alarmingly low in various areas around the globe, including the recent crisis in a major city like Cape Town in South Africa. Amit Srivastwa, a 24-year-old activist based in New Delhi, believes that it has already started becoming a major geopolitical issue and a threat to national security. “We may not be able to reverse the depletion of resources after 2030. Time is running out in terms of water. It’s either too contaminated or it is fast depleting. I believe we only have a maximum of ten years before water snowballs into a national security crisis threat,” says Amit, who completed his Master’s in Environmental Studies from Nalanda University.
Amit works with 5waraj, an NGO based in Delhi that works on the relation between culture and climate. “My Master’s thesis was based on drinking water policy and public perception. I worked in Pilkhi, a village in Nalanda district of Bihar, examining the issues they had with drinking water. My hypothesis was that income influenced the willingness to pay for water. But when I started working on public perception, I realised a few things. Firstly, the community had been working together to maintain a common hand pump. Then, an organisation was supposed to set up a water plant to provide water to homes through pipes. But this was not implemented for several years. This affected the public perception of technological change, creating fear and doubt in the minds of the people. Furthermore, the pipes set up were not up to the mark. They sometimes passed between open sewage lines which caused a sanitation issue.”
Time is running out. The situation is bad enough that we need to become super conscious of our consumption, maybe force yourself to feel guilty if you keep the tap running for too long
Amit Srivastwa, 5waraj | (Pic: Amit Srivastwa)
Amit, who hails from Bihar, learned that these problems were created because those who constructed the plant, did not bother understanding the geographical and cultural layout of the area. “In India especially, you have to identify and respect the harmony between the culture and the environment. That is when you will understand the issues and that is also where you will find solutions,” says Amit, adding that he personally wanted to research a few methods and approaches in the context of the environment, Science and technology and culture.
That mindset took him to Kanpur after his master’s, where he worked at a water security plan, researching water harvesting techniques of the region. “There I realised that people used indigenous techniques. They didn’t use any pesticides. They make their own fertilisers without harming the environment and sell organic products,” says the Economics graduate from Delhi University.
He learnt that in Bihar, people used to eat sattu early in the morning in summers to help keep cool through the day. These days, we believe that cold, carbonated drinks, he opines
The experience sensitised this young man towards the approach that rural communities in India have towards the environment. “Unlike the urban areas, those in rural areas prioritise their needs equally with that of the ecology around them. They care about their agriculture and their animals too. If they foresee a shortage of water, they start conserving. They deploy age-old indigenous techniques that are in harmony with the environment,” says Amit, while lamenting the fact that those in cities merely purchase water in case of a crisis, without paying any heed to the causes of the shortage and to further damage the purchase may cause.
Amit, who has also worked for tribal communities in a small village near Dehradun, says, it is time people start respecting indigenous techniques. “I do field, research and documentation work for 5waraj. I talk to the local communities and try to harvest their knowledge of the ecosystem around them. This helps create a massive database of knowledge that can help make better environmental policies,” Amit says.
Let's talk: Amit talking about environmental issues in Hisar, Haryana | (Pic: Amit Srivastwa)
While the youngster is passionate about pursuing this uphill task, he recognises that there is very little support from the government and the public alike. “Among the general public, there is no awareness of the issue of water. It is not talked about enough in the national media. There is little to be expected from the political parties as they’re busy catering to corporate interest,” says Amit, pointing out that political parties gather votes based on things people are aware of. And that is not the environment.
Amit’s drive to study the water crisis and work on solutions cames from his motivation to implement theories he had learnt in class. This diligent and ambitious youngster has the ability to inspire many other young environmentalists to put their education to good use and work together with our communities to preserve our resources.