Grass Roots

Author:Daphne Ewing-Chow - Anna Jaquiery - Denise Marín - Ashlin Mathew - David Smith
Position:Reported by ASHLIN MATHEW in New Delhi, India; DAPHNE EWING-CHOW in French Polynesia; ANNA JAQUIERY in Wellington, New Zealand; DENISE MARÍN in São Paulo, Brazil; and DAVID SMITH in N'Djamena, Chad.
42 FINANCE & DEVELOPMENT | December 2019
Grass Roots
From Brazil to New Zealand, local activists show that small-scale initiatives can
make a diference
n India, a civil servant gives up his desk job to show villagers how to conserve water and
overcome drought. On a Pacic Ocean atoll, a shing guide helps fellow islanders build
a sustainable tourism industry. And in New Zealand, a retired urban couple are restoring
native plant species on their farm. ey are among the many people across the world who
are pitching in to mitigate climate change. ese are their stories.
Waterman of India
Rajendra Singh set out to cure the sick . He ended
up taking on a far big ger problem: the shortage of
water in India, a drought-plagued countr y with 17
percent of the world’s population but just 4 percent
of its freshwater resources. It’s a crusade that has
earned him the moniker “Waterman of India.”
In 1983, Singh quit an unrewarding civil ser vice
job to take advantage of his t raining in Ayurveda,
an Indian system of med icine based on herbal
remedies. He moved from Jaipur, the capital of
the northern state of Rajast han, to Gopalpura, a
small village where a number of people suered
from night blindness, a condition in developing
countries caused by vita min A deciency.
“I wanted to set up an Ayurvedic clinic to help
cure them,” Singh says. “While I did do that as
well, the people in the village underscored the
fact that their immediate crisis was one of water.
One of Singh’s patients told him about johads,
traditional reser voirs made of rocks and ea rth.
Singh, the son of a farmer, quickly understood the
need for the reservoirs, which c apture rainwater
and so help prevent a decline in the water table.
He enlisted the help of several friends and a few
villagers to build the rst johad, in 1985.
“ere weren’t many people as most had migrated
to the city as a result of water scarcity in the village,”
Singh, 63, explains. “Most often it was the women
in the village who helped.”
He persuaded villagers to overcome caste divi-
sions and work together. “at was the only way
water would become a collective and communit y
project,” he says. It took more than eight months
Rajendra Singh (center) confers with villagers in
Bhupkera, Rajasthan.

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