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The real value of water is not measured in dollars

Rajendra Singh, upon receiving the Stockholm World Water Prize, 2015.


Many people likely have not heard of Rajendra Singh, winner of this year's Stockholm World Water Prize. I had not until I attended the award ceremony this year.

The Stockholm World Water Week Prize committee stated that Singh won this year’s prize for his “innovative water restoration efforts, improving water security in rural India, and for showing extraordinary courage and determination in his quest to improve the living conditions for those most in need.

“Today’s water problems cannot be solved by science or technology alone. Singh’s life work has been in building social capacity to solve local water problems through participatory action, empowerment of women, linking indigenous know-how with modern scientific and technical approaches.”

Referred to as the “Water Man of India,” Singh lives and works in the Indian state of Rajasthan and he and his organization work with local residents to restore rivers and bring water to a thousand villages through the implementation of traditional water conservation methods such as johads (rainwater storage tanks), check dams and other techniques.

Starting from a single village in 1985, he and his organization have helped build over 11,000 johads and other water conservation structures to collect rainwater, which has brought water back to over 1,000 villages and revived five rivers in Rajasthan.

I bring up Singh not just because of the obvious contribution he has made in water conservation but because of his mindset about water. He understands the economic, environmental, social and spiritual value of water. For him, water is not a commodity, it has a higher meaning.

While at Stockholm last week there was robust discussion on the value of water. For me, it took Singh to really capture the true value of water. In the U.S. we are focused on “the drought,” the impact of increased water prices and how to fund investments in water infrastructure. We miss the real value of water.

I suggest that in the U.S. we greatly would benefit from a more complete view of the value of water, not merely a commodity, but the lifeblood of our economies, businesses and well-being.

On receiving the prize, Singh said,

“I want to thank all in this world who work for water. Today I make a promise to dedicate the rest of my life to water conservation.”

It looks like Singh is just warming up — we may want to follow his lead.


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