India fights a drought

In this podcast, Amit Chandra, managing director of Bain Capital in India, social entrepreneur Nimesh Sumati and Sundeep Waslekar, president of Strategic Foresight Group, talk about how communities and social entrepreneurs are finding long-term systemic solutions and what India can learn from others

N S Ramnath

[Photograph: Save water by Vinoth Chandar under Creative Commons]

By: NS Ramnath & Nilofer Mendonca

At Founding Fuel, we believe that we, as a society, have the power to solve our hardest problems. One of the biggest problems that we face at this point of time is the drought that has hit several parts of the country. This is not the first time we have been confronted with such a crisis. So, if we have the power to solve our hardest problems, why are we unable to address it? Is it our inability to learn from the past, from other nations around the world and our failure to act? These are the questions that made us pick up drought as a theme for this podcast. Do listen to this, and let us know what you think.


Part 1: The ground realities

In part one, the experts talk about how dire the situation is—last month, the government told the Parliament that 33 crore people, or 25% of India's population, are facing drought. However, drought by itself is not something you can avoid—it affects rich as well as poor countries. So how do you prepare yourself to anticipate and manage a drought situation? There are things India can learn from others—particularly the way the countries in Africa’s Sahel region came together after the drought in the 1970s to engineer solutions for water management.

Part 2: Solutions: Taking care of tomorrow

Democracies have strong feedback loops and politicians have a strong incentive to listen to people and act. And indeed there is some action on the ground in response to calls to action. Yet, drought has hit Marathwada four times in the last five years. And every time we were as helpless as we were the first time. Why doesn’t democracy work in this case? Simply because there is no pressure for long term solutions, only short term relief.

So, what’s the way forward? Fortunately we have some examples on the ground. Over the last few years, a group of volunteers has been working closely with local communities, backed by help and guidance from those who have wider corporate experience, to de-silt dams and rivers, dig trenches, and harvest rain water.

The local communities in these initiatives weren’t just beneficiaries, but active participants—in terms of efforts and monetary contribution.

Part 3: Immediate relief and big policy changes—both are equally important

It would be fair to say that India responds to a crisis rather well. Even when government is unable to respond, people step in. However, for a drought-free India that is not helpless when the monsoon fails, we need to take a broader view of the problem.  We need to re-think our water policies to avert water scarcity and its impact on agriculture, health and incomes.

There is much India can learn from other countries on managing its water resources. Together with policy changes, technological solutions can be brought in for better results.

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About the author

N S Ramnath
N S Ramnath

Journalist, Author

NS Ramnath has been writing about business from 2002, first for The Economic Times, and then for Forbes India. He took a break from journalism in 2014 as a Tow Knight Entrepreneurial Journalism Fellow at City University of New York to study business models in media, one of the many industries being disrupted by technology. Now, he devours information on exponential technology, and its impact on individuals, businesses and society. His stories in Founding Fuel revolve around this theme. He is also associated with HowIndiaLives.com, a public data start up. He has degrees in economics and finance from Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning.

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