Fixing Taps to Save Water In India

Author and painter Aabid Surti may have won awards for his writing and art, but he has also made a mark in another field: water conservation. For the last seven years, the 77-year-old has spent his Sundays going to apartments in Mumbai, and volunteering to fix leaking taps.

The Alternative, a Bangalore-based website seeking to chronicle and support social development in India, is currently running a campaign on sustainable water conservation called Catch Every Drop (#catcheverydrop). At The Alternative, Kirti introduces us to Aabid Surti's work:

The 77-year-old celebrates Sunday like none else, picking a building in Mumbai’s far-flung suburb Mira Road and, with his plumber and a volunteer in tow, searching it for leaking taps to plug. Free of charge. His reward? “A lot of water saved. And sometimes, an offer for lunch,” he says simply. Surti’s non-governmental organisation, Drop Dead, has just one employee – him.

Aabid Surti, by Aalif Surti (CC BY-NC 3.0).

Aabid Surti, from Aalif Surti's blog (CC BY-NC 3.0).

Aabid Surti's son Aalif Surti (@SuperAalif) has told the story of how it all began:

“I read an interview of the former UN chief Boutros Boutros Ghali,” Aabid recalls, “who said that by 2025 more than 40 countries are expected to experience water crisis. I remembered my childhood in a ghetto fighting for each bucket of water. I knew that shortage of water is the end of civilized life.” Around the same time, in 2007, he was sitting in a friend’s house and noticed a leaky tap. It bothered him. When he pointed it out, his friend, like others, dismissed it casually: it was too expensive and inconvenient to call a plumber for such a minor job – even plumbers resisted coming to only replace old gaskets. A few days later, he came across a statistic in the newspaper: a tap that drips once every second wastes a thousand litres of water in a month. That triggered an idea. He would take a plumber from door to door and fix taps for free – one apartment complex every weekend.

Of course there was the issue of covering costs:

As a creative artist, he had earned more goodwill than money and the first challenge was funding. “But,” he says, “if you have a noble thought, nature takes care of it.” Within a few days, he got a message that he was unexpectedly being awarded Rs.1,00,000 ($2,000) by the Hindi Sahitya Sansthan for his contribution to Hindi literature [an award from the government of Uttar Pradesh]. And one Sunday morning in 2007, the International Year of Water, he set out with a plumber to fix the problem for his neighbors. He began by simply replacing old O-ring rubber gaskets with new ones, buying new fixtures from the wholesale market. He named his one-man NGO ‘Drop Dead’ and created a tagline: save every drop… or drop dead. Every Sunday, the Drop Dead team – which consisted of Aabid himself, Riyaaz the plumber and a female volunteer Tejal – picked the apartment blocks, got permission from the housing societies, and got to work. A day before, Tejal would hand out pamphlets explaining their mission and paste posters in elevators and apartment lobbies spreading awareness on the looming water crisis. And by Sunday afternoon, they would ensure the buildings were drip-dry. By the end of the first year, they had visited 1533 homes and fixed around 400 taps. Slowly, the news began to spread.

Not only does the project help save water, it empowers the community:

As Aabid rings another door-bell on yet another Sunday in Mira Road, seven years into his one-man mission, he says: “Anyone can launch a water conservation project in his or her area. That’s the beauty of this concept. It doesn’t require much funding or even an office. And most importantly, it puts the power back in our own hands.”

Pappu (@bhanchik) praises Abid's efforts on Twitter:

@bhanchik: Heads bow down for Mr Aabid Surti for his one man mission to preserve water in these trying times when 11 districts are drought hit.Wakeup.

Now Aabid Surti would like similar initiatives to be started in others parts of India, so that as much water as possible is saved.

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