The Size of India’s (And Your) Water Footprint

While reading an article called “Water Footprints Make a Splash,” I was immediately intrigued by the concept of a water footprint. What exactly is a water footprint? Author Ben Block uses coffee to illustrate:

If the full water requirements of a morning roast are calculated – farm irrigation, bean transportation, and the serving of the coffee – one cup requires 140 liters of water.

Water footprints measure the complete cycle and at all levels of a water’s use. The Water Footprint website explains that

the water footprint is an indicator of water use that looks at both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer. The water footprint of an individual, community or business is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community or produced by the business.

And how does India’s water footprint fare? Block’s article reveals: Continue reading

Plastic for the Eco-Era

Plastic is a daily companion, even in the remotest of villages. The roads may be not be paved, means of transport may be scarce, but there is bound to be a cluster of small stores that inevitably sell the same products – tobacco, fried snacks, water pouches, Balaji potato chips – all wrapped up in plastic. Whether it’s North India or South India, the story seems to be the same.

The sheer affordability of plastic is what has made these types of amenities commonplace. But it is also the this very characteristic that has led to the accumulation of megatons of plastic in landfills and garbage dumps – plastic that will outlive us and possibly our offspring, and contribute to environmental degradation in the process.

So what’s the alternative? Ireland has started taxing the usage of plastic shopping bags, cutting consumption by 90%, and raising millions of euros in revenue in the process. In a few states in India (Himachal Pradesh, for example), the usage of polyethylene bags is completely banned. These types of methods seem to suggest that what is required is behavioral change – if plastic is here to stay, then we must find ways to minimize its usage, maybe by abstaining from buying products wrapped in obscene amounts of utterly pointless plastic packaging, or using cloth instead of plastic. That’s one option.

Another option is to revolutionize the manufacture of plastic completely, or, alternatively (especially in the face of an oil deficit), transition to an equally viable substitute. Long-term thinking, I know, especially since practically everything we consume uses plastic in some form, and leads to affordability in areas as seemingly disparate as medical care and transportation. But then, it’s the same argument we face with regard to the usage of oil – the question is no longer, “how do we transition to an economy that is less oil-dependent?”, but rather, “we must do so in order to sustain existence as we understand it.”

Fortunately, there are glimmers on the horizon that could potentially revolutionize the way we view plastic. One of them is an experiment being conducted by the Defense Food Research Laboratory (DFRL), Mysore, which has led to the development of a “packaging film” that degrades within 100 days. According to A.S. Bawa, DFRL Director, “various biodegradable films, based on granular starches like potato, tapioca, rice, corn, and others incorporated in Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE), are under development.” Currently, the plan is to experiment with the plastic in the military sector, and then potentially transfer knowledge and technology to the civil sector.

Source: Hindustan Times, May 30, 2008 (from “News You Can Use,” a print publication by Communication for Development and Learning)

TC-I Tidbits

Your daily dose of headlines:

  • Energy: Four ultra mega (super duper?) power projects have been greenlit by the Indian government across the country.
  • Education: Microsoft is investing $20 million in education initiatives in India over the next five years. Along with their current programs which focus on resources and training, the company will partner with state governments to implement national programs.
  • Employment: For technology graduates, according to a study completed by Accenture, India is the place with the most job opportunities this year (with the US coming in second place).
  • Technology: Airtel and Nokia are working together to develop a regional language fonts keyboard. This will allow greater linkages with rural areas.
  • Environment: Concern India Foundation, a non-profit public charitable trust, plans to introduce cloth shopping bags in Bangalore’s major retail stores and shopping destinations. This is just one of the initiatives from the NGO, along with a “Kachra Kumar” competition for children to capture litterers on camera. [Source: Business Standard]

Midday Newsfeed

  • Technology: Although it is a hub for information technology, India is only #50 on the world’s most networked economies list, partly due to its poor ICT infrastructure.
  • Health: According to a survey, in the next decade, one in 20 female deaths in India between the ages 30 to 69 will be caused by smoking. (Source: India Today)
  • Citizen Advocacy: Indian citizens are submitting an open letter to the Prime Minister urging the reconsideration of a bill that would place restrictive regulations on civil society organizations receiving foreign contributions.
  • Business: New Ventures India launched a Coaches Network at the Green Investor Summit. The members of this network would devote time in nurturing seed and early stage green companies. (Source: Business Wire India)
  • Agriculture: Via the UN News Centre: The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today bestowed its highest award, the Agricola Medal, on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his efforts to spur agricultural development and reduce hunger and poverty in India.

The Unintended (and seemingly unrelated) Effects of Climate Change

India’s coastlines extend a distance of 7,500 kilometers and are contiguous with 8 states, including Orissa, West Bengal, Andra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa, and Maharashtra. In 2 recent posts entitled, “Predicting a Shift: Climate Migrants” and “Mumbai in 2100: Underwater“, we spoke to the displacement risk faced by coastal inhabitants as a result of rising water levels – predicted around 15 to 38 cm, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Well, it seems there are other, more unintended risks associated with climate change as well – pregnancy and childbirth. According to the IPCC, rising sea levels will create a “severe problem of potable water,” and as a result, people will be forced to drink salty water. Pregnant women and their unborn children, in particular, will suffer from this change:

“The extra intake of salt through drinking water will lead to high blood pressure mainly during the last three-four months (of pregnancy). It has the potential to make deliveries difficult. Salt is associated with heart problems as well and the sea water exposure may affect the normal life cycle of an unborn baby. The baby may develop complications after birth.”

According to Anthony J. McMichael of the Australian National University, India needs to “develop research capacity to tackle the climate change issue.” In fact,

“Environmental changes will cast an increasingly long shadow over future population health unless we effectively communicate these health risks and help society shape a sustainable way of living.”

Source: Sify News

Midday Newsfeed

  • Employment: The social justice ministry concluded that the participation ratio of SCs/STs in the NREGA, a rural job scheme, shows that despite the fact that tribals are half the number of Dalits, they consistently outnumber them in the program, and that this needs to be corrected.
  • Environment: The government is working on a formula to compensate states for the environmental damage caused by power projects that sell power outside the states they are located in. The compensation will be paid by the company, agency, or state buying power. (Source: OneWorld South Asia)
  • Health: A Planning Commission report says that India is an attractive destination for health tourists, but that a major obstacle was the unwillingness of insurance companies to pay for treatment in India. Alternative systems of medicine are an added attraction for medical tourists.
  • Technology: More Indian IT firms are moving abroad because they claim it is cheaper to do business elsewhere.

Tata – Heart of Gold or Steel?

Featured in India’s Business Today is Tata Steel, a company that outperforms other steel players and is not only known for its management acumen, but also its long history of philanthropy. Despite charges last year from the Bhopal disaster survivors that the Tata group of companies has a dismal environmental record due to a complicated deal with Union Carbide (the pesticide factory that leaked poisonous gas), the Business Today article touts Tata Steel’s CSR initiatives as integral to its operations. A boxed section in the article states:

The goal of the CSR team is to empower people and focus their healthcare and hygiene in Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh, where the company has operations or is planning to set up new plans. Apart from building parks, laying pipelines and other civic amenities, the company has undertaken environmental and ecological initiatives to bring down carbon emission and save energy.

Tata Steel’s corporate sustainability website provides a detailed account of its activities, including environment management.

What happens when a company works in part for social innovation, but at the same time, some of its corporate dealings stand against these aims? CSR can ultimately equate only to branding strategies, or in some truly innovative cases, also work hand in hand with the company’s profit-driven objectives. Is this steel behemoth a model or a mask for corporate social responsibility in the Indian setting?

Local Solutions to Local Water Problems

The UN General Assembly assigned 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation as part of its Water for Life campaign, and World Water Day is on March 20. With that in mind, Barefoot College’s approach to water is worth highlighting.

Barefoot College is an organization based in Rajasthan that believes solutions to rural problems lie within the community and that also encourages practical knowledge and skills rather than paper qualifications through a learning-by-doing process of education. The organization released a report titled The Barefoot Approach: Rooftop Rainwater Harvesting last month.

Rainwater harvesting collects rain and distributes water through underground tanks to store drinkable water for months at a time. According to Barefoot College, this traditional approach has been used for hundreds of years. Barefoot College advocates its simple approach above all:

The success of Barefoot initiatives in rainwater harvesting and well recharging as part of the collective efforts of rural communities in India have demonstrated the need to reintroduce traditional, low-cost technologies that communities can implement themselves.

Using this local, low-cost approach allows communities to spend time on productive activities rather than collecting water on a daily basis, especially in drought-ridden areas. Particularly interesting is that the project is internally dependent, allowing for more sustainable measures to innovative answers:

The Barefoot approach draws upon local knowledge and skills, and involves local people to administer, supervise and finance their own community development. This helps to reduce dependency on external aid and creates a sense of local ownership in managing the local water supply.