12 July 2016, Kotagiri: Mr G.K Bhat, Chairman, TARU Leading Edge, addressed Keystone staff at the campus in Kotagiri last week on “From Scarcity to Sustainability – Developing Anticipatory Culture “. Taru Leading Edge Consulting is a multi-disciplinary consulting firm with strong technical expertise in urban contexts, climate change and disaster mitigation.

Comparison of life in the Nilgiris 25 years ago and 25 years hence
Comparison of life in the Nilgiris 25 years ago and 25 years hence

Mr. Bhat spoke about how a situation that begins as a seasonal scarcity can, if left unattended, escalate into a crisis requiring huge inputs of finance, infrastructure and person-hours. He cited the example of Arab Spring in 2010 which began with the issue of food scarcity and ended as political upheaval. Mr. Bhat observed that the summer water scarcity that the Nilgiris is witnessing is the birth of a problem. He urged that instead of settling for quick-fix or ‘Bandaid’ solutions, an anticipatory culture needs to be developed, wherein we can take lessons from the past and project reasonably accurately for the future. He presented a comparison of life in the Nilgiris 25 years ago and a projection of what, given the trend, can be expected 25 years hence. With the current rate of urbanization, it is expected that the hillsides would be ‘desakota’ or a periurban continuum facing the same set of issues related to overcrowding and pollution that plague our cities.

With regard to water conservation, he advised that we map springs in project areas, both seasonal and perennial and calculate discharge. Seasonal springs, though small, would be enough to supply drinking water to households during a crisis period. He urged us to observe all sources of water pollution and monitor their levels. He also suggested that we identify and document water indicator plants that show the presence of water sources below the soil.

Mr. G. K. Bhat addressing Keystone personnel in Kotagiri
Mr. G. K. Bhat addressing Keystone personnel in Kotagiri

Every Keystone programme has linkages to water which makes this talk relevant to each person here. Mr. Bhat described the connection with four broad disciplines – water and waste management, ecosystem and biodiversity, health and nutrition, and education and behaviour change – and community wellbeing and hence, sustainability.  He gave one example of how improper waste disposal could pollute water causing diseases leading to nutritional deficiencies and stunted growth in children. He stressed repeatedly the need for effective communication from the poeple’s perspective to drive home the urgency of the water situation in the Nilgiris. Talking about Keystone’s Happy Valley restoration project, he hailed it as an initiative that merits replication. Mr. Bhat had several suggestions regarding water security such as setting up village level biodiversity and water-monitoring committees, understanding the linkages between biodiversity and water, education material designed stressing on the importance of clean, unpolluted water sources and branding water resources to make local villages proud of their unpolluted status, etc.

The Nilgiris receives an average of 2000 mm of rain every year. Generally, this would have been sufficient to support the needs of animals and humans. But over the past few years, the growing concrete footprint has taken its toll on nature’s capacity to absorb, retain and release rainwater. Now the area is witnessing extremes such as a sharp rise in water levels of streams during monsoons and dry wells in summer.

Various stakeholders are largely uninformed about the hazards of improper waste management and have limited knowledge about the connection between waste and water. The goal in this day would be to bring together all stakeholders – the poor and marginalized, the panchayats and government agencies, the private sector and individuals, and civil society organisations with the common mission of redesigning activities so that the ample rainwater resource that the Nilgiris receives can be directed towards turning wastelands into wetlands. While such solutions may not be ideal, it would be one that works the best as all stakeholders would find in them an element of benefit directly affecting them.