WOTR we all about…


Dear Blog Reader,

Excuse the title pun, but we love our name- WOTR….

(For any newcomers, WOTR is Watershed Organisation Trust- a not-for-profit, non-governmental-organisation, founded in 1993, currently operating in five 5 Indian states – Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand.

Do check out www.wotr.org for the detailed lowdown on all the stuff we are engaged in.)

So now, let’s get back to why we love our name… Apart from the fact that our journey began with Watershed Development, the acronym WOTR is the beginning of a question. A question is the beginning to finding solutions. And this quest pretty much sums up all our lives, doesn’t it?

WOTR’s quest began with the question:

WOTR the most intense and basic needs of village communities in India?

…which led to more questions:

WOTR the ways in which diverse sectors of village communities can be brought together to find organic, sustainable solutions to these issues?

WOTR the methodologies through which technical expertise can be combined with traditional knowledge systems to provide appropriate, locally accessible tools?

and many more…. The process of finding answers is continuous and colourful. We invite  your participation in this quest and can guarantee an exciting, enriching confrontation with a  host of questions- fundamental and difficult but inescapable and challenging.

(We wish we could invite other members of our planet’s ecosystem to participate here as well, but as of now, due to technical challenges, we are able to communicate only within the realm of homo sapiens sapiens,with internet access!)

The Watering Hole is an informal forum of expression. Along with hard hitting articles with stats and graphs, personal views, musings and confusions will be often observed and always allowed here.

Yours in good faith,

The WOTR Team

(PS: If you would like to see our serious (but always lively) side, please do subscribe to our e-Newsletter - ECOLOGIC. Our Audio-visuals can be viewed on our Youtube channel- WOTRINDIA.)


AALA, GELA, RAHILA – the water budgeting tool that Everyone should use…


The rains are crawling into India…. late, but hopefully here for a good spell. In my house in the heart of Pune city, we are getting water only every alternate day. I shudder to imagine the situation in outskirts, suburbs villages…. 

In this context, here is a tool WOTR uses in its rural trainings, but which is relevant every-single-where….

It’s quite an amazing feeling when something you learnt reluctantly in school comes back to you and you realise the exact significance of what you were mugging up for the exams! This happened to me in Darewadi just now. And it happened like this:

I attended a Training workshop on Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction for WOTR’s Wasundhara Sevaks (People from the community directly engaged in implementing WOTR’s projects in the villages). One of the many topics introduced was Water Budgeting and Crop Selection- kharif, rabi and summer crop harvests and their relationship with water consumption. My 4th and 5th standard Geography with the list of kharif and rabi crops came running back to me.

The Water Budgeting session began. The facilitator made 2 columns on the board: Credit  and Debit and proceeded to map the utilisation of water as Income and Expenditure.

Wasundhara sevaks from 15 villages watched, going along with the idea. Water was flowing instead of money and Rain instead of daily wages or market sales. Expenditure of water on home, farm and cattle was something they were all familiar with. Someone also cleverly thought of evaporation from open water bodies and transpiration from leaves as part of expenses. (They knew they were in a training session after all!)

Water sources excluded external sources like tankers or canals or moving sources of water like rivers. Only water directly received by the village as rain and that got stored as groundwater was included.

Aala, Gela, Rahila – What comes in, what goes away and what remains.

Next, the total water received by a village, any sample village was calculated (in hectare metre) by multiplying its area in hectares to the amount of rainfall in metres.

1 hectare metre = 1 crore litre. So the amount of water available was calculated in crore litre, then calculated in the number of water tankers which would make up that many crore litre and then calculated in the cost of all these tankers put together.

For example: For the sample village 1017 hectares big that gets 700 mm of water in a year… (Take out your mobile phones)

This comes to 712 Crore litre of water!

@ 10,000 litres per tanker, this comes to 71200 tankers!!

And @ Rs. 3000 per tanker, this comes to Rupees 21,36,00,000!!!

Let us be very clear.

This… Rupees Twenty one crore, thirty six lakh only,

… is the money value of the total water received by a single village every year.

(The sad situation is that just like cities, most of the villages here have had to have water brought to them in tankers in the summers. And this has gotten worse over the last few years. So calculating something in number of tankers really drove the point home. )

The God Almighty (i. e, the Earth, the Clouds, the Trees….) showered so many crore litre i.e so many crore, lakh rupees on them every year. Free, free, free!

The Wasundhara sevaks from 15 villages looked on with open mouthed disbelief. This was a moment of huge learning for all of us.

But of course, this is not the actual amount of water that the village gets. After further calculations of water lost through various sources, a much smaller, but still substantial figure (about 463 crore litres for the sample village) is obtained. This is the actual water resource that the village has for utilisation per year.

Using data collected by Wasundhara Sevaks from the village using GIS and GPS systems, the water consumption of each individual crop is calculated. This forms the basis for crop planning. If more water gets spent on the kharif crop, then the crop pattern for the rabi crop needed to be changed accordingly so that water can be conserved.

Accordingly, a 4-year plan can be formulated, at the end of which, the Water Budgeting tool will ensure that the village never lacks water, or is at least prepared for an imminent drought situation.

The point of this Water Budgeting tool is simple. Let us for once, treat water as a limited resource, as a commodity and not as a free, unlimited grant from nature.

The Ultimate Aim: a) Optimum utilisation of available water resources without strain on the eco system and b) the village should NEVER need tankers again.

When one starts giving value to ‘freely’ available natural resources like water, the real cost of production starts becoming clear. So, a farmer can calculate the real profitability of a crop. Also, it makes us all conscious that our wanton consumption of water is actually stolen from someone else’s rightful share of this indispensible resource.

Coming back to school, I can now make the connections.

Most traditional farming systems had an inbuilt basic harmony with the water cycle and common community sense. There were crops which were grown in particular seasons and particular soil and climate types. Kharif and rabi were not merely time of harvests in the year. They were the cycle of seasons, in the agricultural year, in the life of a farmer, in the nutrition of a nation. They brought with them a particular cuisine, culture and economy, which regulated everything from festivals and food to soil nutrients and the water table. Our unreasonable demands on soil and water are tiring the earth out, draining her strength.

This Budgeting tool was so simple and yet had never been used for anything except money before. We all came away with a lot from this workshop. I came away with a lot of questions.

So here is a new question paper:

Q1. Shouldn’t each of us know our rightful water usage- how much water we have, how much we need and how much we are consuming?

Q2. Shouldn’t old cities and new townships stop stealing water from the surrounding villages and consume based on water budgets of rain and ground water?

Q3. Shouldn’t there be a National Budget for every resource and not just for money?

If your answer is Yes, Yes, Yes… please start asking more questions!

- Radhika

(Please watch our video on the daily struggle for water in rural India here.)


The old man in the light shop…


We are doing up our new house. So, we went to buy some energy efficient CFL bulbs. After careful consideration, we bought yellow CFLs to maintain the ‘warm feel’ of our home.

These bulbs also come with a one year warranty. As we waited for the shopkeeper to write the date with a permanent marker on our CFLs, a bent old man walked into the shop.

As often happens with people like him, we didn’t even hear him ask for whatever he wanted. I noticed the shopkeeper pass him a standard incandescent bulb, in its classic cardboard wrapping, across the counter and thought, “There! Now this man will consume so much more electricity with that bulb. People should really get more aware about their carbon footprints….” (and more along these lines- “Environment, Conservation, GHGs, Resource depletion, Climate Change…”)

The old man hadn’t left the shop even when our bill was being made. So I noticed him again. He was painstakingly untying a knot in his grimy handkerchief, while the shopkeeper’s assistant looked impatiently on. The old, gnarled fingers, the bent nails, finally got the knot open and handed the assistant a crumpled Rs.10 note and fumbled with a number of coins, finally counting out 2 Rs.1 coins.

His light bulb cost Rs.12. And these Rs.12 were very dear.

4 CFLs, their packaging, the permanent marker, its ink, our debit card, the card payment machine, the card payment transaction, the transaction slip, a proper bill (we said no to a plastic bag) and Rs.750 later, we stepped out of the shop and saw the old man walking on the road outside, clutching the bulb in both his hands.

“We just bought light bulbs probably equal to his monthly income,” my husband remarked quietly. Our carbon footprints joined his on the road and symbolically moved past him- faster, more self-righteous…

Why is an incandescent bulb and Grid Energy so cheap and CFLs or other Alternate Energy systems so formidably costly? This old man gets basic illumination in his one-room home at Rs.12, probably by throwing a hook on a grid live-wire. How can we make that old man buy into Alternate Energy? Can I really ask him to change his energy consumption pattern?

How many carbon footprints does it take to really change a light bulb?


Economic Disaster at the Doorstep!!

Money and money making are two different and independent aspects of modern economy. The former is a medium to transact having no intrinsic value and the later is created out of thin air. How much money is created in an economy depends on multiple factors,of which demand is one. Hence, governments and banks across the world pump money in the system to create purchasing power and galvanize the economy.

Global Bailout packages were the savior during the last recession which helped the economy to recover and come out of the recession, albeit temporarily. This mirage is about to be broken because we are on the verge of witnessing another dip in international markets and its cascading affects will be felt across nations, including emerging markets specifically India.

The last recession (2008-09) came on the back of very strong economic growth. This meant that our economic health and ancillary support was at its best which made bailout packages conveniently possible for countries. It is going to be different this time. We have not yet fully recovered from the after effects of the last recession while the next one is staring at us. It is much more complex this time and I guess handful of people understand what are the potential effects of downgrading of US credit ratings. Let us give it a try!!!

US treasury investments are considered as “safe heavens”, i.e. the place where one has least risk. Downgrading of this “safe heaven” means that now there is some element of risk in it. What made the credit rating companies think so??? One answer would be US has got a 100% Debt to GDP ratio, i.e. their national debt is equal to their gross domestic output. Under such circumstances one should hesitate to call US debt market/treasury as “safe heaven”, it may not be one.

What has India to do with this??? Any investment is judged based on the return it generates against the potential risk that it carries. If the world’s “safe heaven” has become riskier now, then in relative terms everything else is also more riskier. Higher risk necessarily needs to be backed by higher returns which means the companies listed in the stock markets need to come out with flying colors if they want their investors to stay put and attract fresh money.

But India has also suffered a credit rating downgrade, that too the lowest possible of BBB-. With input costs soaring due to sustained high inflation profit growth may be tough. Indian markets have tanked in the last week and would continue to go down, till one thing happens. The economy has witnessed enough slowdown that it pulls down the demand for oil and subsequently its price . A fall in oil prices should ease things out considerably and provide us with some breathing time. But that wont happen until we have reached a downside threshold in demand.

Once the demand has shrunk and oil prices have come down by half, would be the time to galvanize the economy. But will we be able to create money out of think air this time too??? In the last recession US bail out package was largely funded by China who had bough US treasury bonds worth $878 bn. I have my doubts if that would happen this time. There is a fair possibility that India will witness a slowdown in its trade due to a declining rupee.

Domestically we face a steep challenge to manage increasing fuel costs and ballooning subsidies. With India having a 80% oil import economy, it is unlikely that this problem is going to be solved anytime in the near future. Hence, our fiscal deficits would keep getting bigger and this recession will make it worse. Money making will not be easy this time and currency valuations will come under severe stress.