Indian NGO leader presented top World Water Prize in Stockholm ceremony

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), an influential Indian non-governmental organization under the dynamic leadership of Sunita Narain, was honored with the 2005 Stockholm Water Prize during a gala ceremony at the Stockholm City Hall. New Delhi's CSE and Sunita Narain, a dynamic advocate for water and the environment, human rights, democracy and health, received the $150,000 and a crystal sculpture from the hands of H M King Carl XV1 Gustaf of Sweden...

STOCKHOLM, Aug. 26, 2005 -- The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), an influential Indian non-governmental organization under the dynamic leadership of Sunita Narain, was honored with the 2005 Stockholm Water Prize during a gala ceremony at the Stockholm City Hall yesterday.

CSE, in New Delhi, and Sunita Narain, a dynamic advocate -- nationally and internationally -- for water and the environment, human rights, democracy and health, received the $150,000 Prize, and a crystal sculpture, from the hands of H M King Carl XV1 Gustaf of Sweden. The ceremony was a part of the ongoing World Water Week in Stockholm (www.worldwaterweek.org).

The Prize has been awarded for efforts made by Sunita Narain and CSE that include fighting powerful, top-down bureaucratic resource control, empowering women in water and rejuvenating traditional rainwater harvesting.

In her acceptance speech, Narain said, "I accept this award on behalf of thousands of water engineers and water managers all over the world, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America. These people are discounted in the formal knowledge system of the world."

Narain has been with the CSE since 1982 and is currently director of the Centre, director of the Society for Environmental Communications and the publisher of the widely-acclaimed environmental magazine Down to Earth.

"CSE's own work and belief has been based on the imperative of change," Narain said. "It is also based on the arrogance that we can bring about change because we are working our democracy."

She added that it is 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.

"Water is not about water," she said on Thursday. "Water is about building people's institutions and power to take control over decisions."

The world faces a critical challenge to improve the productivity of rain-fed 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 Stockholm Water Prize recognizes 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.

"Water will define if we remain poor or become rich," Narain said.

The Stockholm International Water Institute (www.siwi.org) is a policy institute that contributes to international efforts to find solutions to 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.

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