Updated: May 15, 2015 3:41:56 pm
At 18, Aanya Dalmia is like any other regular teenager who likes sketching and playing table tennis. But what separates her from other teens her age is that she also works for a charity that creates small, affordable check dams to conserve water.
Life took a detour for the daughter of businessman Gaurav Dalmia, when she became aware of the water problems in rural Rajasthan. “About five years ago, I had a chance encounter with water problems in Rajasthan. Maybe I was naïve, but the extent of problems faced by rural folk was astonishing. I learnt two things — this problem was going to get worse if we did not do something about it and lives would get devastated if the area had a bad monsoon or unseasonal rain. This dependence on nature had to be augmented in some ways that would be suitable for low income communities in rural Rajasthan. To me, it came almost as an epiphany that I was destined to do something in this area,” Aanya tells Indian Express Online in an email interview.
Started by her maternal grandmother, Amla Ruia, Aakar adopts an uncomplicated template – it aims to make small check dams, which are cheap, fast to build, uses local resources, and are very effective. These dams store monsoon water and use it to recharge wells, so that the water is accessible for a longer time to many more people.
“Villages have found that these Rs 2,00,000 investments improve agricultural and cattle productivity. Community incomes have gone up 20 times in many cases and even thirty five times in some cases,” says Aanya. Aakar has built over 151 dams across 85 villages, and has transformed the lives of over 150,000 villagers.
A table tennis champ and brilliant student, Aanya recently made a presentation before the Nexus Global Youth Summit at the United Nations Headquarters, New York.
“I had never spoken in front of 400 people before and I was somehow the opening speaker on the water plenary, after which there was a panel discussion with experts with many years of experience,” says Dalmia, admitting that she “was very nervous and intimidated” before the address. The panelists included Giulio Boccaletti, Managing Director of Global Water, Scott Harrison, Founder of Charity Water.
Aanya’s presentation was well received and a group from north Africa approached her to see how they can productise their template and for their home market.
Aanya says her simple philosophy in life is the Chinese saying – ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’. “As we think of charity, we think of how we can sustain our efforts on an automatic basis rather than just have a one-time impact,” she adds.
When the project was completed before the monsoons of 2012, it transformed the little village of Jaisingpura in Rajasthan increasing crop yeilds by 30 times.
Aanya feels there should be increased focus on water conservation in India using simple techniques like check dams this monsoon. “The government in California has gone on an austerity drive vis a vis water because of repeated droughts there. I think in a poor country like India with even more severe dependence on monsoon, we need a greater sense of urgency, both for conservation and for simple techniques, which would also include check dams, for increasing water availability. I do not think this gets as much national attention as it should. Local communities suffer, farmers commit suicide, there is some remorse and then things go back to normal. We have to break this pattern. Small things that one can do, in villages and cities, can make a big difference.”
“I think ground water problems happen because they are typically invisible and lightly regulated. Just look at Delhi. Strictly, by law, you cannot bore your tube well deeper than what has been approved. This is done so that people do not over use their tube wells and the water table below the surface is given a chance to recharge. But, in reality, almost everyone bores deeper than they are allowed, and they break the law. From the rich farm house crowd to slum dwellers, everyone believes that short term needs are more important than long term consequences, so they circumvent this. I believe that as a society, we should be more aware. Also, in every day life, people should have shorter showers, it helps.”
Aanya has completed her schooling and is looking forward to attending a college in US this year (late August), where she will study economics, psychology and also “understand social entrepreneurship better”.
“Thereafter, I want to approach our big issues as an optimist, as noted economist Alan Blinder said, ‘with a soft heart and a hard head’. The rest is open”.
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