Indian environmental organization wins 2005 Stockholm Water Prize

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in New Delhi, an influential Indian non-governmental organization led by Ms. Sunita Narain, a dynamic advocate for water, environment, human rights, democracy and health, will receive the 2005 Stockholm Water Prize...

STOCKHOLM, March 22, 2005 -- The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in New Delhi, an influential Indian non-governmental organization led by Sunita Narain, a dynamic advocate for water, environment, human rights, democracy and health, will receive the 2005 Stockholm Water Prize.

The award has been given to CSE for its efforts to build a new paradigm of water management, which uses the traditional wisdom of rainwater harvesting and advocates the role of communities in managing their local water systems. In its citation, the Nominating Committee lauded CSE, under the leadership of Narain, "For a successful recovery of old and generation of new knowledge on water management, a community-based sustainable integrated resource management under gender equity, a courageous stand against undemocratic, top-down bureaucratic resource control, an efficient use of a free press, and an independent judiciary to meet these goals."

CSE will receive the $150,000 Prize from HM King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden in August. The Stockholm Water Prize is awarded annually to individuals and institutions for their outstanding contributions to the world of water. This year's prize to CSE acknowledges the growing crisis of water management in many regions of the South and the need for new approaches that provide local food and water security to communities. CSE's work, through its many publications, its research and advocacy has helped create new thinking on how traditional systems of water management, which use rainwater endowment, once rejuvenated could become the starting point for the removal of rural poverty in many part of the world.

It's clear that the management of water, and not scarcity of water, is the problem in many parts of the world. CSE's work on rainwater harvesting has shown the many ingenious ways in which people learnt to live with water scarcity. The solution practiced diversely in different regions, lies in capturing rain in millions of storage systems -- in tanks, ponds, stepwells and even rooftops -- and to use it to recharge groundwater reserves for irrigation and drinking water needs.

The world faces a critical challenge is improve the productivity of rainfed and marginalized lands. In this challenge, water can turn a large part of the country's currently parched lands into productive lands, reduce poverty and increase incomes where it is needed the most. CSE has shown through its advocacy that localized water management is a cost-effective approach and more importantly that local water management -- harvesting and storing water where it falls -- can only be done through community participation.

The work of CSE has highlighted that water cannot become everybody's business until there are fundamental changes in the ways we do business with water. Policy will have to recognize that water management, which involves communities and households, has to become the biggest cooperative enterprise in the world. For this, the organization forcefully argues that the prevalent mindset that water management is the exclusive responsibility of government must give way to a paradigm built on participative and local management of this critical life source. This powerful idea is gaining ground to become the policy and practice in many regions of the world.

The 2005 Water Prize is given for CSE's contribution to build a water-literate society that values the raindrop and teaches society to learn from the frugality of our ancestors, to build a water prudent world. The movement has the potential to change the water futures of the world.

Reviving Ancient Water Harvesting Techniques
CSE ( has lobbied successfully for rainwater harvesting to be an accepted, important element in India's water strategy. CSE' founder director Anil Agarwal co-edited with Narain, the eye-opening 1997 book, Dying Wisdom: Rise, Fall and Potential of India's Water Harvesting System, spawned a rediscovery of this practical, traditional and inexpensive technique to capture rainwater for drinking, sanitation and agricultural purposes, and to help alleviate pressure on India's inefficient, centralised water system -- itself a remnant of colonial times. Making Water Everybody's Business (2001) expanded upon Dying Wisdom by documenting traditions, practices, technologies and policies of water harvesting in India, and by assessing state government efforts to deal with drought.

CSE's National Water Harvesters Network has put the ancient wisdom into practice by creating awareness, undertaking policy research and lobbying to bring about change in policy as required so that water management is decentralized and water availability increased.

Tackling Global Climate Change, Scrutinizing Indian Companies
CSE has worked actively with both global and Indian issues. Through Narain -- a winner of the Indian government's highest civilian honor, the Padma Shri -- CSE became involved in discussions on the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Claiming that the Kyoto emission quotas favored rich countries, CSE campaigned that the atmosphere is a global common and should be equally shared by all citizens. CSE campaigned to bring policy changes in the areas of air pollution, industrial pollution, water management and pesticide use. In India, CSE's Green Rating Project (GRP), for example, is a respected civil society initiative to develop an alternative form of governance to control industrial pollution. Its ratings scorecard has led to sharpened scrutiny on the activities of the paper and automobile industries.

Building Fact-based Credibility
CSE has distinguished itself in the global crowd of NGOs through its insistence on hard facts before rhetoric. This philosophy has given the Centre considerable social capital within civil society, politics and the media in the push for policy change. CSE's research program on ecosystems and their relation with the human populations they support showed that, in India and elsewhere, environmental degradation leads to human poverty, rather than the converse. This degradation, among other things, burdens women by increasing their daily responsibilities to collect wood for fuel and water to run households. In all that it does, CSE works to build decentralised decision making processes that involve all stakeholders, preferably locally. Rainwater harvesting, managed at the village level by women, is one such example.

Dedication to its core values -- environmental sustainability; respect for science, nature's diversity and traditional knowledge; equity and public participation; education and training, documentation and pollution monitoring -- have also given CSE the credibility to litigate against formidable adversaries such as the soft drink industry. The 2003 CSE study of popular soft drinks and bottled waters, identified pesticides from contaminated groundwater that could cause cancer, damage the nervous and reproductive systems, cause birth defects and severely disrupt the immune system.

CSE uses media outreach and information dissemination effectively to support its advocacy. The Centre produces an impressive and steady output of timely publications and other learning aids, including the fortnightly magazine, "Down to Earth",. The magazine, which critiques current policies has become an important voice of the practitioners of hope and change.

Established in 1980 by environmentalist Anil Agarwal, CSE now has 125 employees.

The Stockholm International Water Institute ( is a policy think tank that contributes to international efforts to combat the world's escalating water crisis. SIWI advocates future-oriented, knowledge-integrated water views in decision making, nationally and internationally, that lead to sustainable use of the world's water resources and sustainable development of societies.


More in Home