By Arjun Arya:
Editor’s note: Youth Ki Awaaz and Environmentalist Foundation of India have joined hands to help save India’s water bodies. Watch this space for stories, photo galleries and ideas on what you can do to be a part of this growing movement.
Having been brought up in a family with an Army background, being close to nature has always nurtured in me a genuine concern for the environment. I have lived in Hyderabad for almost eight years now, and during this time have observed closely the encroachment of lakes to such an extent that some lakes have lost their ability to hold water. In fact, Hyderabad, once known as the city of lakes, lost about 3,245 hectares of water bodies in 12 years!
Lakes, here, are rapidly being converted into residential colonies. They serve not only as sources of water supply for residents but as open sewers! The extinction of the very recharge points that serve as insurance against drought and floods has further jeopardised the condition of water supply in Hyderabad. A prime example is lake Gangaram Cheruvu, which has been completely surrounded by multiple residential apartments. Today, it takes great effort to find water in this lake.
Having been a bystander for some time, I felt it was necessary to do something to reverse this trend. Seven years ago I heard about the Environmentalist Foundation Of India (EFI), which is focused on restoring India’s lakes, and I ended up becoming their first volunteer. Through EFI, I met like-minded volunteers, and the experience of a lake clean-up was not only a whole new experience but put pressure on me, personally, to work towards a breakthrough. I have been an active volunteer and a core team member for about seven years and must have participated in at least 33 lake clean-ups!
During a typical cleaning expedition, we handpick garbage from the periphery of the lakes and plant native saplings on the bunds of the lakes. Currently, we organise regular clean-ups at Kapra, Alwal, Gurunadham Cheruvu, Madinaguda and Gangaram Cheruvu. These lakes have been chosen due to severe encroachment and excessive dumping of solid and liquid municipal waste directly into these lakes. I have also come across idols of various gods mixed in the trash, and have sometimes found myself deep in faecal sludge! The alarming thing is that these very lakes are also the source of our drinking water and the faecal sludge usually comes from the localities close to the lake. The number of clean-ups needed per lake are not constant and vary basis the size and location of each lake.
Alongside clean-up activities, we also ensure mass sensitisation of people in the localities nearby. This approach helps add new volunteers with every successive clean-up, thus making our efforts more sustainable. On the whole, we have observed that once we do a clean-up and start our awareness campaigns, residents ranging from students and professionals to senior citizens are inspired to contribute to our cause, especially, after seeing us volunteer on a regular basis.
However, I have also come across the prevalence of a different attitude, where we humans have come to believe that since we do not own natural resources like lakes, rivers and ponds, we assume no responsibility for their destruction. Let me ask you – do we own the air we breathe? Yet, we acknowledge our contribution to the rising levels of pollution? The fact is that we are all responsible in some way or the other for the deleterious effects on the environment. Water shortage in Hyderabad, and other cities, is a clear reflection of what we have done to our water bodies.
Aside from the environmental benefits, my own volunteering experiences with the clean-up of Hyderabad’s lakes has not only helped me expand my understanding of the situation; it has literally helped me develop my vocation. I started out as a volunteer, eager to learn. But over time I developed skills to organise clean-ups, conceptualise conservation events, motivate students to join hands, innovate towards various techniques of scientific restoration of lakes and lastly, turn myself into an environmental leader.
I shall now be pursuing my Master’s in Energy and Sustainability at a leading international university and this, I believe would not have happened had I not volunteered with an organisation that shares my own ideology – that the environment must be saved. EFI has not only paved a path for my career but also shown me where the youth of this country is really needed and, that certainly is to protect India and her environment.
If you would like to play a role in restoring India’s lakes, get more details here.