Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Family Ties

After a few lectures introducing us to world water issues, our class squabbled a bit on where to start with India’s daunting water problem.

As an interdisciplinary Honors class, everyone had their own expertise by training. Business majors were more concerned with marketability of water technology, India’s current financial situation, and economic poverty. Designers and architects typically want to jumpstart the project by beginning the building process. Engineers consider only seemingly feasible technologies while the environmentalists would like to spend some extra time evaluating ecological impact of the project on the local area. Sprinkle in a few pre-medicine biology majors trying to grasp how everything relates to global health issues, and we’ve created a standstill on where to even begin.

After thirty minutes of voicing opinions on how to split into groups, it became apparent that there were two main options for tackling this project: divide into interdisciplinary teams with each group studying every aspect of the water project OR split into specialized teams with each group focusing on a single topic to be later shared with the class as a whole. Each scenario had its pros and cons, and as expected, the class vote turned into a deadlock. By this point, it seemed obvious that an executive decision would need to be made if we were ever going to move forward.

Thankfully, Dr. Oerther suggested that the class split into interdisciplinary teams with the option of changing the group dynamic at a later date if the project required such a move. Finally moving away from group logistics, we were free to start discussing how India’s water problem has spiraled into the crisis it is now today.

So what do we need to know? Posing this question to the class, we began brainstorming a list of background topics that need to be researched before clearly identifying the problem we wish to solve in India. Is the water situation caused by lack of education? Government policy? Scarcity of resources? Climate? Developing economy? Water contamination?

As you can probably imagine, the list goes on and on.

Feeling overwhelmed by the scope of research required to answer this grocery list of questions, I wasn’t quite sure where or how to begin.

Then I remembered a resource that I hadn’t yet considered… family.

About ten years ago, one of my cousins married a woman of Indian descent. The wedding itself was a cultural experience unlike any I’ve ever seen. Though a traditional American Christian, I was impressed by the elaborate Hindu wedding ritual even though I had no idea which god was receiving prayers or incense at any given point in the ceremony.

Though I had rarely seen my cousin’s wife (a.k.a. Tina) over several years, I decided to send a short email mentioning that I would be traveling to India to work on a water project in Gujarat. Surprisingly, her response was rapidly quick as she excitedly explained her immigration to the States from Gujarat during college. Interestingly, her parents recently retired to their hometown in Gujarat after Tina’s father spent many years working on water systems in Kenya. Thanks to amazing internet communication, Tina forwarded my email to her father (a.k.a. Dinesh) who thereafter sent dozens of articles on Indian water issues as well as information on local problems concerning the region where we will be traveling in December.

Clicking my heels at this sudden stroke of luck, I posted these articles online for my other group members to read before throwing together a five-minute presentation due by the end of the week.

Wading through piles of population statistics, census reports, and basic geographic information, I eventually came across a paper sponsored by the World Health Organization based in New Delhi. Written by Indira Hirway, the 46-page report carefully outlines the progress of Gujarat water resources from availability to depletion as well as the cultural, political, and industrial factors affecting this decline.

Well-written in an understandable manner, the content of this paper requires a separate conversation of its own. With that said, I’d like to give my deepest apologies for postponing these background findings until the next blog post… I tend to be slightly long-winded when setting up a particularly good story.

(Discussion to be continued…)

1 comment:

Paul said...


An interesting blog on water in Gujarrat. Are you planning to go back there to do more water treatment projects long term? I spend most of 2008 over in Jaipur and Delhi with my wife and kids and there are certainly some water and povery issues. My wife Sarita is of Indian origin and speaks fluent Hindi so that was handy over there. Because of my wifes Indian origin she and our kids can get a lifetime multiple entry visa and as her spouse I can get a 15 year visa that can be renewed. I would love to go back and get involved in some clean water projects. As mentioned in your blog it's good to learn about the caste system as it's still very strong, particularly in rural India. If Westerners develop clean water wells in Hindu villages it's always good to build two wells. One for the Dalits (formerly called untouchables) and one for the higher castes as in most villages Dalits are still not able to draw water from the same wells as high caste Hindus. If you have any info on portable water filtration systems I would like to read it. I am checking out biosand filters that use a membrane as they are very effective from what I have read. I presume you familiar with LifeStraw They make excellent personal and family water filters to remove bacteria and Viruses.

Paul Williams
Ipswich, Australia