Rajendra Singh, known as the “water man of India,” believes that critically depleted aquifers around the world can be revived with community effort. For the past 32 years, through his NGO Tarun Bharat Sangh (Young India Organization), Singh has led community-based water harvesting and water management initiatives in the Alwar district of Rajasthan, an arid, semi-desert state in the northwest of India.In 2015, NASA’s satellite data revealed that 21 of the world’s 37 large aquifers are severely water-stressed. With growing populations, and increased demands from agriculture and industry, researchers indicated that this crisis is only likely to worsen.
In that time, he has been credited with transforming the landscape and the climate of the region. Seven rivers have been rejuvenated and more than 250,000 wells replenished. Once-parched fields are now fertile. In the process, he has rehabilitated more than 1,200 communities that had been displaced due to water scarcity. As he says, “when the water comes back, the people come back.” For his work, Singh was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership in 2001, and the Stockholm Water Prize in 2015.
Policy Innovations spoke with Rajendra Singh and his global partner Minni Jain, director of The Flow Partnership, over Skype and email. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.