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Vishva Maati Divas (World Soil Day) 2018


UN FAO’s World Soil Day or Vishva Maati Divas (Hindi), is celebrated worldwide today

Approx. 5 mins read <450 words

This summer I took my toddler to the Botanical Garden in our borough every week for their discovery center activities.

One of the activities was to dig and find the earthworms and look at them via a magnifying glass. It took me back to my early career days, in a small grassroots nonprofit in India. I worked for four years in the early 2000s to promote sustainable agriculture via promoting traditional soil health improvement practices of nitrogen fixation via crop rotation, applying manure along with soil-friendly earthworm species from Australia, rainwater harvesting among others.


looking for worms and making mud pies ©PallaviBharadwaj

Personal context:

Throughout my work of managing water resources for sustainable agriculture, urbanization, soil and water quality and availability, health, climate change, none of the issues has been a more daunting than the global food security, to which healthy soil is integral. UN FAO’s be the Solution to Soil Pollution campaign for World Soil Day 2018 aims to raise awareness and call people to #StopSoilPollution.

Global context:

Globally food quality and public health are becoming increasingly linked to the availability of water for irrigation and quality of soil that the crops grows in. According to UN FAO, 1/3 of our global soils are already degraded. Soil pollution can be invisible and seems far away but everyone, everywhere is affected. With a growing global population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, soil pollution is a worldwide problem which:

Most of the pollutants originate from human activities, such as

Principles not solutions (yet):

The principles from the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization’s 2012 report, “Coping with water scarcity: An action framework for agriculture and food security still resonate in context of preventing #soilpollution today.

In conclusion:

We can envisage that the global and cross-sectoral cooperation shall go a long way in combating soil pollution and accelerating growth at various levels: human, environmental, economical and so on.

Soil (maati or mitti in Hindi) holds a significant place in all ancient civilizations including the Hindu mythology. Its believed that our bodies are comprised of five elements, earth, air, water, wind and fire. When we die, we get assimilated back into these five elements. Its up to each and every one of us though that these elements going back into the nature are as pure as we can possibly make them.

This post Vishva Maati Divas (World Soil Day) 2018 first appeared on theflipsideofdevelopmentdotcom



World’s costliest water (is still the costliest) and now deadliest too

Women in Delhi wait for water at a tap that runs for two hours each day — one hour in the morning and one in the evening. Photo © J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

approx. 3 mins read < 325 words

The context:

I have been writing on the topic of the world’s costliest water for a few years now. Unfortunately, it still continues to be one of the most highlighted issues in most water related news. Costliest, because it demands so many man hours, ironically especially those of women and girls in the developing and poor countries. Add the UN’s latest report’s findings that a child dies every five seconds worldwide, largely due to inadequate water, sanitation, and nutrition, this water suddenly becomes the deadliest too. The report stated that 6.3 million children died before their 15th birthday in 2017, an average of one child every five seconds. The children born in the sub-Saharan African countries are being hit the hardest. Sadly, according to the same report, most of these deaths are preventable. The deadly effect of dirty water, sanitation and nutrition is a global health crisis, from Zimbabwe to Yemen to all the way in Global South.

In conclusion:

The rapid rate of population growth makes the challenges of water, sanitation and nutrition even more pressing, and potentially even greater global threat to the health and well being of our future generations. As the world grows to nine billion people, majority living in cities, the global water challenges are enormous. Inadequate quantity and poor quality of potable water are recognized as a potential destabilizing factors. Climate change threatens to exacerbate these problems with sea level rises and extreme events.

Overall, we need to welcome holistic solutions that avoid isolated approaches and consider inputs from the economic, policy, technology and business sectors. These solutions will  be a part of creating a more sustainable, resilient, and secured water future for all with improved sources, which are safely managed.

This post worlds costliest water is still the costliest and now the deadliest too first appeared on theflipsideofdevelopment

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Polluted water for irrigation = a recipe for public health disaster

Urban pollutants and agriculture run off effect an aquifers’ quality ©NEER Foundation, Meerut India

5-7 minutes read (<720 words)

India is set to overtake China as the most populated country in Asia, however the availability and access to basic needs, such as clean drinking water and safe food, leave a lot to be desired.  According to a recent study by the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI), 70 percent of the India’s freshwater, both ground and surface, is contaminated.


I was born in Meerut, a northern Indian city in the state of (western) Uttar Pradesh, and spent the first 26 years of my life studying, working and living in the peri-urban parts of the district, including Muzaffarnagar, Bagpat (my ancestral town)/Baduat and Daurala village to name a few.

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Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Khatauli, Baraut are a few towns, which can be seen in this map ©Google

I witnessed first hand how farmers used the polluted surface and groundwater aquifers to not only irrigate their crops but also to dilute and prepare their dairy products (milk, yogurt, butter, ghee and others), along with cleaning and bathing their livestock.

Janhit Foundation (JF), the grassroots organization that I was a part of the team, partnered with Toxic Links, Center for Science and Environment (CSE), Peoples Science Institute (PSI), D’dun and IIT Roorkee along with Navdanya , to provide samples and participate in various similar studies. JF also formed partnership with Pure Earth (formerly Blacksmith Institute) for their toxic sites identification program (TSIP), International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) and organic agricultural arm of the central government agency National Center for Organic Farming (NCOF) to conduct studies on water, food, environment and public health in and around Meerut and the neighboring districts. In 2005, the blood sampling of farmers and their families in the grain bowl of India, Punjab state, was found alarmingly high in a study.

The years in between:

Since early 2000s until late 2011, I got to live and work extensively in the northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh under the aegis of grassroots nonprofits, consulting agencies and international NGOs. During those years, I saw how and why the two phases of Ganga Action Plan (GAP)  failed and what was wrong with the way it got implemented along the course of the river Ganges. Most wastewater treatment plants were running inadequately because of the lack of electricity, and poor operation and maintenance. Other times the treatment plants were so full that they had to just flow the raw, untreated sewage in the holy river of Ganga, Yamuna, Hindon and Kali rivers in northern India. The result? These rivers and parts of them look more like a sewage canal.


Kali River pollution in northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh ©NEER Foundation

Many approaches, including the unconventional ones of treating wastewater via introduction of bacteria, have been applied in the years past, without any substantial success. Repeated loans, grants and technical aid from foreign governments and modern approaches such as water vending machines/ATMs, small water enterprises (SWEs) and urban small water enterprises (USWEs) for urban slums, can only do so much and are yet to deliver long term solutions.

Present day:

India is the 15th largest exporter of agriculture produce. However, according to the NITI report, at least 600 million Indians, which is almost half of the country’s 1.3 population, contends with high or extreme water stress. This is especially hard on women, children and young girls, who end up missing school in extreme cases.

In conclusion:

From India to the US, (Ministry of Environment and MoWater Resources in India and EPA in the US) are working towards combating and banning the pesticides and other heavy metal contaminants. India still has a long way to go for securing safe water and food for its rapidly growing population, which is predicted to add 440M more by 2050.

This post Polluted water for irrigation means a recipe for disaster first appeared on For all other related posts, please click here.

Disclaimer: This blog post has been adopted from Circle of Blue’s latest article on India. Thoughts and views expressed are entirely mine. For any study, links and references, please visit the original article and reports cited in this blog post.

Studies and reports links (chronologically):



Reflections on #WED2018 from childhood comics


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World Environment Day is today. This year’s theme is stop ocean pollution by reducing single use plastic waste. NatGeo Magazine’s latest cover has created quite a stir on social media with its powerful message to highlight this crisis.

I have written an entire series of blog posts based on plastics’ menace in our daily life this year. To read them all please click here.

To me it personally stirs the memory of growing up in a landlocked region in India and dreaming of visiting the ocean someday. I cannot express the joy I experienced, as a thirty year old, when I saw the Indian Ocean in Goa or the out of body experience I had, while floating and snorkeling in the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, in the little paradise called Jamaica.

My sister and I used to read a lot of Archie comics growing up as a way to encourage our little brother to read more. One of the comic strips (highlighted above) that comes to mind, today they say a prayer* for water. I hope today that we all say a little prayer for the oceans, the waters and the species, inhabiting the fragile ecosystems, and work towards their safe future together. Tathastu (Sanskrit word for Amen).

*God’s spirit will flow like living water through anyone who truly believes in Him!

This post Reflections on #WED2018 from childhood comics appeared first on theflipsideofdevelopmentdotcom.

5 years old but still relevant, esp. on Earth Day 2018


Every refill bottle is important

Earth Day is today. #EarthDay2018 ‘s theme is to end plastic pollution.

I wrote this post about 5 years ago and its even more significant today.

Earth Day, which started almost 48 years, is more important to celebrate today more than ever. Google has definitely outdone itself by posting a message from my most favorite naturalists/ecologists/environmentalists/scientist/humanitarian of all times, Dr. Jane Goodall.

I have been writing about sustainable living in harmony with nature for over a decade now via this and other blogs and published work.

Coincidentally, a lot of my recent blog posts focused on plastic pollution, including the one on the discovery of microplastics in drinking water bottles. Read them all here.

How can we make a difference as an individual most people ask me all the time?

One of my simplest strategies to overcome this over dependency on plastic is by adopting these simple steps in my daily life:

  • Bring/carry my own water bottle and beverage containers/tumblers
  • Bring/carry my own stainless steel straws
  • Wash clothes in cold water and then air dry them as much as I can
  • Bring my own grocery bags to shopping
  • Taking public transportation or walking to most places
  • Turning off the taps while washing dishes and brushing teeth

Challenges: Of course there are certain challenges in the above approach that I am yet to address, when it comes to my personal dependency on plastics daily. One of the biggest ones that I am trying to work on is reaching for the ziplock bags. Ever since becoming a parent, I have become overly dependent on carrying our snacks and similar items, in ziplock bags. Its my pledge on #EarthDay2018 to try my best to cut back significantly on this usage.

In conclusion: We would go much further if we are able to convince our family and friends to adopt these steps overtime too. The smile I saw on my toddler’s face this morning, upon seeing a tiny spider cross our bed, is worth every singly step that I take to ensure that we live in harmony with the planet earth and lend a hand as much as we can.

Reflections on World Heritage Day 2018

Abandoned pond (water tank), a traditional rainwater harvesting body ©NeerFoundation,India

World Heritage Day is today. It is a day to remember the significance of our cultural heritage and the need to preserve it.

Water was considered a valuable resource in India in the past, and traditional water conservation bodies and structures were constructed to catch, conserve and utilize it.

Personal musings:

I was fortunate enough to look at some of these unique and beautiful structures first hand during my work on water and gender based issues in India. In fact my very first introduction to water based issues was through the translation of the ‘Census of traditional natural resources management structures in Meerut district’ in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, while I was still in graduate school. I was also present, as a team member, when one of the first ever rain center was established, in India, in my hometown. These unique structures known as ‘talaab‘ in Hindi or Urdu roughly translate to ponds or tanks in English. Looking at them one marvels at the ingenuity and wisdom that our ancestors practice when it came to rainwater harvesting for future use.


A groundwater extraction well in Western Uttar Pradesh, India ©Pallavi Bharadwaj

These structures were made to sustain the agriculture/irrigation use along with supply potable water to the community dependent on it. Along side the surface water recharging these ponds and tanks also recharged the wells to extract groundwater.

Widespread structures:

During my work and travel to the Indian states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, I was amazed to see how widespread and varied these structures were to suit the local needs of the ancient people, who relied on these systems of water resources. I was also very fortunate to have worked along side some very knowledgeable people like Late Sh. Anupam Mishra, to learn how sustainable these water systems were even in the parched state of Rajasthan.

In conclusion: By utilizing the ancient knowledge and applying it in modern times one can hope that the water wisdom of our past can help us through the water based challenges that we face today and in the future.

How safe is potable water around the world?

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Members of the Roma community are seen in front their shacks that have no running water or sewerage in Cierny Balog. (©Reuters/Radovan Stoklasa)

< 5 mins read approx. 410 words

Scenario: The WHO data shows that 57 million people do not have piped water at home, and 21 million people still lack access to basic drinking water services. Those people then have to find ways to have a steady supply of water. Unfortunately, this has led affected people to walk for over 30 minutes to collect water from unprotected dug wells and springs. Others just rely on surface water, from rivers, canals, and streams, as their primary source of water. But in tandem, WHO said that almost 1.7 million people in 11 countries practice open defecation due to the lack of toilets. So their feces are disposed of in fields, forests, and open bodies of water. (Source Quartz)

Sounds all too familiar and maybe from an Asian, African or LatAm city? Sorry to disappoint you but the case in point this time is Europe, especially the rural communities. On World Water Day 2018 the World Health Organization reminded Europe that many people in the region, classified as 53 countries, drink dirty water without even realize it.

The World Water Day might be celebrated for only day in a year, however the woes related to water are an everyday affair for a majority of world’s population. From Cape Town to Kenya, from LA to London to Eastern EU cities and all the way to India and SE Asian cities, one of the most common everyday problems that people face is the quality of their potable water. In India and other developing countries, where agencies are often inefficient, corrupt and without any regulation or standards, the water quality problem poses increased risks. People buy bottled water in hopes to drink clean and safe water, however studies show that as much as 30% bottled water available might be contaminated. Installing a water purifier might seem like a viable solution, however there are many factors to be taken under consideration, before making a decision.

In conclusion: Access to water is critical of course, however it is also important to remember that the focus should be on access to safe water.  Equitable solutions, such as investing in water related infrastructure as well making the public aware of the importance of WASH practices’ adoption, behavioral change (from the studies based on biobehavioral health and anthropology and others), policy implementation and alike, shall go a long way to solve the crisis.

Anupama Dawson

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