18:41
TEDIndia 2009

Anupam Mishra: The ancient ingenuity of water harvesting

Filmed:

With wisdom and wit, Anupam Mishra talks about the amazing feats of engineering built centuries ago by the people of India's Golden Desert to harvest water. These structures are still used today -- and are often superior to modern water megaprojects.

- Environmental activist
To promote smart water management, Anupam Mishra works to preserve rural India’s traditional rainwater harvesting techniques. Full bio

For emotions, we should not move quickly to the desert.
00:15
So, first, a small housekeeping announcement:
00:21
please switch off your
00:27
proper English check programs
00:29
installed in your brain.
00:32
(Applause)
00:35
So, welcome to the Golden Desert, Indian desert.
00:39
It receives the least rainfall in the country,
00:44
lowest rainfall.
00:47
If you are well-versed with inches, nine inches,
00:49
centimeters, 16 [centimeters].
00:53
The groundwater is 300 feet deep, 100 meters.
00:55
And in most parts it is saline, not fit for drinking.
01:00
So, you can't install hand pumps or dig wells,
01:05
though there is no electricity in most of the villages.
01:08
But suppose you use the green technology, solar pumps --
01:11
they are of no use in this area.
01:16
So, welcome to the Golden Desert.
01:19
Clouds seldom visit this area.
01:22
But we find 40 different names of clouds in this dialect used here.
01:25
There are a number of techniques to harvest rain.
01:34
This is a new work, it's a new program.
01:37
But for the desert society
01:40
this is no program; this is their life.
01:42
And they harvest rain in many ways.
01:46
So, this is the first device they use
01:50
in harvesting rain.
01:53
It's called kunds; somewhere it is called [unclear].
01:55
And you can notice they have created
01:58
a kind of false catchment.
02:02
The desert is there, sand dunes, some small field.
02:05
And this is all big raised platform.
02:08
You can notice the small holes
02:12
the water will fall on this catchment,
02:15
and there is a slope.
02:17
Sometimes our engineers and architects
02:19
do not care about slopes in bathrooms,
02:23
but here they will care properly.
02:26
And the water will go where it should go.
02:28
And then it is 40 feet deep.
02:31
The waterproofing is done perfectly,
02:35
better than our city contractors,
02:39
because not a single drop should go waste in this.
02:42
They collect 100 thousand liters in one season.
02:47
And this is pure drinking water.
02:52
Below the surface there is hard saline water.
02:56
But now you can have this for year round.
03:00
It's two houses.
03:04
We often use a term called bylaws.
03:06
Because we are used to get written things.
03:09
But here it is unwritten by law.
03:13
And people made their house,
03:16
and the water storage tanks.
03:19
These raised up platforms just like this stage.
03:23
In fact they go 15 feet deep,
03:29
and collect rain water from roof,
03:31
there is a small pipe, and from their courtyard.
03:34
It can also harvest something like 25,000 in a good monsoon.
03:37
Another big one,
03:43
this is of course out of the hardcore desert area.
03:45
This is near Jaipur. This is called the Jaigarh Fort.
03:51
And it can collect six million gallons of rainwater in one season.
03:55
The age is 400 years.
04:01
So, since 400 years it has been giving you
04:04
almost six million gallons of water per season.
04:08
You can calculate the price of that water.
04:13
It draws water from 15 kilometers of canals.
04:16
You can see a modern road, hardly 50 years old.
04:21
It can break sometimes.
04:26
But this 400 year old canal, which draws water,
04:29
it is maintained for so many generations.
04:32
Of course if you want to go inside, the two doors are locked.
04:35
But they can be opened for TED people.
04:39
(Laughter)
04:42
And we request them.
04:43
You can see person coming up with
04:45
two canisters of water.
04:48
And the water level -- these are not empty canisters --
04:50
water level is right up to this.
04:53
It can envy many municipalities,
04:56
the color, the taste, the purity of this water.
04:59
And this is what they call Zero B type of water,
05:04
because it comes from the clouds,
05:08
pure distilled water.
05:10
We stop for a quick commercial break,
05:13
and then we come back to the traditional systems.
05:16
The government thought that this is a very
05:19
backward area and we should bring
05:22
a multi-million dollar project
05:24
to bring water from the Himalayas.
05:27
That's why I said that this is a commercial break.
05:30
(Laughter)
05:33
But we will come back, once again,
05:34
to the traditional thing.
05:36
So, water from 300, 400 kilometers away,
05:38
soon it become like this.
05:42
In many portions, water hyacinth
05:44
covered these big canals like anything.
05:46
Of course there are some areas where water is reaching,
05:51
I'm not saying that it is not reaching at all.
05:53
But the tail end, the Jaisalmer area,
05:56
you will notice in Bikaner things like this:
06:00
where the water hyacinth couldn't grow,
06:03
the sand is flowing in these canals.
06:05
The bonus is that you can find wildlife around it.
06:10
(Laughter)
06:14
We had full-page advertisements,
06:17
some 30 years, 25 years ago when this canal came.
06:20
They said that throw away your traditional systems,
06:24
these new cement tanks will supply you piped water.
06:28
It's a dream. And it became a dream also.
06:32
Because soon the water was not able to reach these areas.
06:36
And people started renovating their own structures.
06:43
These are all traditional water structures,
06:48
which we won't be able to explain in such a short time.
06:51
But you can see that no woman is standing on those.
06:55
(Laughter)
06:59
And they are plaiting hair.
07:00
(Applause)
07:02
Jaisalmer. This is heart of desert.
07:06
This town was established 800 years ago.
07:09
I'm not sure by that time
07:13
Bombay was there, or Delhi was there,
07:16
or Chennai was there, or Bangalore was there.
07:18
So, this was the terminal point for silk route.
07:21
Well connected, 800 years ago, through Europe.
07:24
None of us were able to go to Europe,
07:29
but Jaisalmer was well connected to it.
07:33
And this is the 16 centimeter area.
07:36
Such a limited rainfall,
07:40
and highest colorful life flourished in these areas.
07:43
You won't find water in this slide.
07:49
But it is invisible.
07:52
Somewhere a stream or a rivulet
07:54
is running through here.
07:58
Or, if you want to paint, you can paint it blue throughout
08:01
because every roof which you see in this picture
08:05
collects rainwater drops
08:09
and deposit in the rooms.
08:11
But apart from this system,
08:16
they designed 52 beautiful water bodies around this town.
08:19
And what we call private public partnership
08:25
you can add estate also.
08:29
So, estate, public and private entrepreneurs
08:32
work together to build this beautiful water body.
08:36
And it's a kind of water body for all seasons.
08:40
You will admire it. Just behold the beauty throughout the year.
08:45
Whether water level goes up or down,
08:49
the beauty is there throughout.
08:51
Another water body, dried up, of course,
08:53
during the summer period,
08:56
but you can see how the traditional society
08:58
combines engineering with aesthetics, with the heart.
09:03
These statues, marvelous statues,
09:08
gives you an idea of water table.
09:11
When this rain comes and the water starts filling this tank,
09:14
it will submerge these beautiful statues
09:19
in what we call in English today "mass communication."
09:22
This was for mass communication.
09:25
Everybody in the town will know that this elephant has drowned,
09:28
so water will be there for seven months or nine months,
09:32
or 12 months.
09:35
And then they will come and worship this pond,
09:37
pay respect, their gratitude.
09:40
Another small water body, called the [unclear].
09:43
It is difficult to translate in English,
09:46
especially in my English.
09:48
But the nearest would be "glory," a reputation.
09:50
The reputation in desert of this small water body is
09:53
that it never dries up.
09:57
In severe drought periods
10:00
nobody has seen this water body
10:03
getting dried up.
10:05
And perhaps they knew the future also.
10:07
It was designed some 150 years ago.
10:14
But perhaps they knew that on sixth, November, 2009,
10:17
there will be a TED green and blue session,
10:21
so they painted it like this.
10:25
(Laughter)
10:27
(Applause)
10:28
Dry water body. Children are standing on
10:33
a very difficult device to explain.
10:36
This is called kund. We have, in English, surface water and ground water.
10:39
But this is not ground water.
10:44
You can draw ground water from any well.
10:46
But this is no ordinary well.
10:48
It squeeze the moisture
10:51
hidden in the sand.
10:55
And they have dubbed this water as the third one called [unclear].
10:57
And there is a gypsum belt running below it.
11:01
And it was deposited by the great mother Earth,
11:06
some three million years ago.
11:10
And where we have this gypsum strip
11:13
they can harvest this water.
11:16
This is the same dry water body.
11:18
Now, you don't find any kund;
11:20
they are all submerged.
11:23
But when the water goes down they will be able
11:25
to draw water from those structures throughout the year.
11:28
This year they have received only six centimeters.
11:31
Six centimeter of rainfall,
11:35
and they can telephone you
11:38
that if you find any water problem in your city,
11:40
Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore, Mysore,
11:43
please come to our area of six centimeters, we can give you water.
11:45
(Laughter)
11:49
How they maintain them?
11:50
There are three things: concept, planning,
11:52
making the actual thing, and also maintaining them.
11:55
It is a structure for maintain,
11:58
for centuries, by generations, without any department,
12:00
without any funding,
12:05
So the secret is "[unclear]," respect.
12:07
Your own thing, not personal property,
12:12
my property, every time.
12:16
So, these stone pillars
12:19
will remind you that you are entering into a water body area.
12:21
Don't spit, don't do anything wrong,
12:25
so that the clean water can be collected.
12:27
Another pillar, stone pillar on your right side.
12:30
If you climb these three, six steps
12:33
you will find something very nice.
12:36
This was done in 11th century.
12:39
And you have to go further down.
12:42
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words,
12:45
so we can say a thousand words right now,
12:48
an another thousand words.
12:51
If the water table goes down,
12:53
you will find new stairs.
12:55
If it comes up, some of them will be submerged.
12:57
So, throughout the year
13:01
this beautiful system will give you some pleasure.
13:03
Three sides, such steps, on the fourth side
13:08
there is a four-story building
13:10
where you can organize such TED conferences anytime.
13:12
(Applause)
13:17
Excuse me, who built these structures?
13:23
They are in front of you.
13:27
The best civil engineers we had, the best planners,
13:29
the best architects.
13:33
We can say that because of them,
13:35
because of their forefathers,
13:37
India could get the first engineering college
13:39
in 1847.
13:42
There were no English medium schools at that time,
13:45
even no Hindi schools, [unclear] schools.
13:48
But such people, compelled to the East India Company,
13:51
which came here for business, a very dirty kind of business ...
13:54
(Laughter)
13:58
but not to create the engineering colleges.
14:00
But because of them, first engineering college was created
14:03
in a small village, not in the town.
14:07
The last point, we all know in our primary schools that
14:10
that camel is a ship of desert.
14:15
So, you can find through your Jeep,
14:18
a camel, and a cart.
14:21
This tire comes from the airplane.
14:24
So, look at the beauty from the desert society
14:28
who can harvest rainwater,
14:31
and also create something
14:33
through a tire from a jet plane,
14:36
and used in a camel cart.
14:40
Last picture, it's a tattoo,
14:42
2,000-years-old tattoo.
14:45
They were using it on their body.
14:47
Tattoo was, at one time,
14:50
a kind of a blacklisted
14:52
or con thing, but now it is in thing.
14:54
(Laughter)
14:57
(Applause)
14:59
You can copy this tattoo. I have some posters of this.
15:01
(Laughter)
15:04
The center of life is water.
15:07
These are the beautiful waves.
15:12
These are the beautiful stairs
15:14
which we just saw in one of the slides.
15:17
These are the trees.
15:20
And these are the flowers which
15:23
add fragrance to our lives.
15:25
So, this is the message of desert.
15:29
Thank you very much.
15:32
(Applause)
15:34
Chris Anderson: So, first of all, I wish I had your eloquence, truly, in any language.
16:00
(Applause)
16:04
These artifacts and designs are inspiring.
16:11
Do you believe that they can be used elsewhere,
16:17
that the world can learn from this?
16:20
Or is this just right for this place?
16:22
Anupam Mishra: No, the basic idea is to
16:24
utilize water that falls on our area.
16:27
So, the ponds, the open bodies, are everywhere,
16:30
right from Sri Lanka to Kashmir, and in other parts also.
16:34
And these [unclear], which stored water,
16:39
there are two type of things.
16:42
One recharge, and one stores.
16:44
So, it depends on the terrain.
16:46
But kund, which uses the gypsum belt,
16:49
for that you have to go back to your calendar,
16:52
three million years ago.
16:56
If it is there it can be done right now.
16:58
Otherwise, it can't be done.
17:00
(Laughter)
17:02
(Applause)
17:03
CA: Thank you so much.
17:05
(Applause)
17:07

▲Back to top

About the Speaker:

Anupam Mishra - Environmental activist
To promote smart water management, Anupam Mishra works to preserve rural India’s traditional rainwater harvesting techniques.

Why you should listen

Anupam Mishra travels across water-challenged India studying rainwater harvesting methods and learning from the people behind them. He presents his findings to NGOs, development agencies and environmental groups, pulling from centuries of indigenous wisdom that has found water for drinking and irrigation even in extremely arid landscapes through wells, filter ponds and other catchment systems.

A founding member of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, Mishra is working to bridge the gap between modern water management technology and india's heritage of water harvesting, so that every community is self-sustainable and efficiently safekeeping an increasingly scarce and precious resource.

More profile about the speaker
Anupam Mishra | Speaker | TED.com