A new day dawns in India's water history
November 11, 2015

Office opens in Mumbai

The office of AWWAIndia, part of AWWA’s vision of “A better world through better water,” is up and running, signing up members and developing strategies to improve drinking water quality for the nation’s 1.29 billion people.

The office, located in Mumbai, is the headquarters of AWWA’s first international community outside North America and is staffed by three paid workers and five volunteers.

“Our volunteers are passionate about water,” said Gaurav Sood, the office’s executive manager.  “I feel their energy and they are very upbeat. They feel that, ‘Yes, we can make a difference.’”

A launch event was held Nov. 3 in Mumbai and included dinner, cocktails and keynote addresses by Dr. Mrs. Malini Shankar, Addl. Chief Secretary, Department of Environment, Government of Maharashtra, who spoke on "Integration of Water & Sanitation" and Dr. Harish Shetty, a social psychiatrist whose talk was entitled "Blood Red Waters -- Drought, Farmers and Suicides." About 90 water professionals attended.

On Nov. 5 a mini-launch was held in Hyderabad – about 440 miles southeast of Mumbai -- where the town’s water supply and sewer board hosted a two-hour get-together to discuss India’s water issues and how it can partner with AWWA.

Among AWWAIndia’s priorities is to develop training for water operators and managers and talk with utilities, consultants, end-users, government leaders and others about certificate training programs. 

“Drinking water is an absolute necessity and its quality directly affects the public health, which is a basic parameter of human development index,” said AWWAIndia Board Chair, Shirish Jayant Kardile. “And still, there is not a single regulation or law governing the quality of drinking water in India even after 68 years of glorious independence.”

One-sixth of the world’s population lives in India, where 100,000 people die every year from waterborne diseases. Only two cities – Kota and Thiruvananthapuram -- have water 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while the rest provide it just three to four hours a day. Indians in those less developed cities must adjust their routines to be available when the water is.

“All of India’s water challenges can be solved in time with a commitment toward public health, protecting the environment, and a lot of dedicated hard work by water professionals and government officials,” “ said AWWA CEO David LaFrance, who spoke at the launch event in Mumbai.

LaFrance said that while there are differences between the United States and India, the process of incremental change is the same. “We both can get better” through incremental improvement. “The desire for better drinking water and wastewater disposal is the same between our two countries.”

The life expectancy in India is 69, nearly 10 years less than in the United States. Half of rural dwellers and one of every five city residents do not have safe drinking water. The country needs to spend an estimated $1.7 trillion over the next five years to develop adequate drinking water infrastructure, said Sood, pictured at right.

There couldn’t be a better time for AWWA to enter India,” Sood said.

Kardile said the new office has four short-term goals: Creating operator training and certification facilities, increasing individual and corporate memberships, promoting member interaction through seminars in India and participation in AWWA’s Annual Conference & Exposition, and creating opportunities for consumers and politicians to discuss safe and reliable water supplies.

The five AWWAIndia volunteers working with staff includes Kardile, Board Vice Chair Sanjay Shashikant Kamat, Communications Committee Chair Shilpashree Sudeendra, Membership Chair Shilpashree Sudeendra, Membership Committee Chair D. Hanumantha Chari, and Training Committee Chair Amita Bhatnagar.

Sood is leading AWWAIndia’s business strategy, marketing and communications, outreach and office infrastructure. During these first months, the new office is focusing on building a community of water professionals who collaborate to support public health, environmental protection and best management practices.

So far, AWWAIndia has nearly 100 members who come from all regions of the country.

“Our expectation is that the number of members will grow by leaps and bounds over the next several years as AWWAIndia joins with others to work on and solve India’s water and wastewater challenges,” LaFrance said.

LaFrance described AWWA’s history as one of working with others. The Indian Water Works Association is a key business partner, said LaFrance, adding that India’s new prime minister and other government officials are aligned with the goals of water professionals.

“They have set lofty aspirations and so this is now a call to action for Indian water professionals,” LaFrance said, “and that’s part of why we are there, too.”