Mobilizing a City to Store Rainwater   (August 19, 2009)

Correspondent K.R. describes a city in India mobilizing to store rainwater.

We in First World post-industrial economies assume less-developed nations should "learn from us" and "follow our lead." Maybe we could learn a few valuable lessons from them as well. The First World methodology is generally this: choose the most expensive technological solution, lard it up with regulatory bureaucracy, file a passel of lawsuits to bog it down, and then either try to sell it at enormous profit to consumers or let a governmant agency implement it, guaranteeing delays and cost-overruns paid for by taxpayers.

Since less-developed countries don't have that much money to burn, they have to resort to cheaper, quicker, low-tech solutions to large-scale problems like drought and rainwater collection.

Correspondent K.R. filed this report from Bangalore, India:

Regarding your article Emergency Water and Waste Disposal (August 15, 2009), I thought I might bring something to your notice which, I believe, may eventually help the human race survive after all.

The city of Chennai in India had a prolonged and severe water shortage a few years ago. Being coastal, groundwater tapping quickly ran out as the water started getting brackish after a few days of pumping. It became so bad that a large part of the city was being supplied with water from towns over 100 kms away by tankers. Given the level of corruption, you can guess the amount of money made by unscruplous "businessmen" and politicians in that period.

Once the city got back onto its feet, a rule was passed to make it mandatory for every new (residential) construction to incorporate rainwater harvesting without which the builder would not get permission to build. Older dwellings too thought it fit to retro-fit since the painful memory of the shortage era was still fresh in people's minds.

Today, I believe this city is becoming some kind of a model for other cities to make homes significantly self-sufficient in terms of water and it permits civic authorities to plan expansion of capacity and supply in a more gradual and sustainable manner.

It's also worth noting that many of these innovations happen best when it is local in design and implementation instead of costly, overdesigned, imported equipment which does not meet local needs much of the time.

I have carried endless buckets of water from the tanker to our underground storage. I have been around to supervise the Rain Water harvesting system at our home in Chennai.

Just thought I'd let you know that humans somehow manage to back off from the brink and innovate their way out of trouble most times and this gives me hope that, despite all the doomsday predictions, we will continue to adapt and survive! :)

K.R. added this comment on another topic where the First World might learn something from its less-developed brethren:

There is one other thing. A lot of your posts have to do with dealing with the problems of the poor. While reading one of your posts on dumpster diving to make do, I was wondering about the sea of difference between the concept of poor in the developed West and back home in the East.

As part of a social service group, I have spent a couple of days among the poor in an urban slum in my city. The official definition of the Poverty Line in India is $1 per day as family income. There are around 60% of our population living below that poverty line. But statistics seldom bring such poverty to life.

Most of us have been brought up with the rule that nothing must be left when we have finished a meal. We carry over everything. And what is found to be in excess, we give it to the maid at home who uses it for her family. It is quite unthinkable for us to dump out a completely unopened pack of anything simply because it has gone out of date. In fact it is very rare for anything to go out of date as we buy only for a few days and consume every thing with care! Today, even though I might be senior executive in a software company earning as much as an American in the U.S., it is still unthinkable to leave something on the plate when the meal is finished! :)

I was thinking about an interesting solution to the rampant greed among the business and political leaders in the West. As well as the growing dehumanisation amongst them. Why not make it mandatory for each one of your Investment Bank top management and maybe your Administration bosses, the FED chairman, Treasury Secretary and maybe the whole of Congress come down to the worst slums in India (or China or any of these countries) and live like one of the locals for a single week.

I guarantee you. Their outlook on life would change forever. The flip side of it is, some of them may simply not make it through the week!

Thank you, K.R. A number of readers submitted links and further reading on water collection and disposal of human waste. Dennis H. recommended Jenkins Publishing and The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure "It's available as a free pdf download at various places online and for not much at Amazon," Dennis writes. (Thanks to Warren for the same suggestion.)

Ben D. recommended two books: The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure and Rainwater Collection for the Mechanically Challenged.

A reader who prefers to remain anonymous sent in these links from his/her site "Getting Started In Emergency Preparedness" which provides a 16-part "course" on emergency prep. Here is the 3-part primer on water storage:

Storing Water part 1

Storing Water part 2

Storing Water part 3

the site includes many links to other sources of information.

Thank you, readers, for the great information and recommendations.

NOTE: With the U.S. dollar down again today this looks less than prescient, but here is my bullish column on the dollar's longer term prospects on AOL's Daily Finance site: The Dollar: Sunrise or Sunset?

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