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Water Photo Essay

Do you know where your water comes from? And I don't mean the kitchen faucet, outdoor spicket, or well. The real source of your drinking water is actually a nearby river or creek. If you live in the City of Winchester, Virginia, chances are it comes out of the Shenandoah River. If you live the Washington, DC, area it comes out of the Potomac River.

That's right. You're drinking river water!

The most effective and efficient way to ensure our drinking water is safe is to protect the lands that drain into it. Our waters are only as healthy as the lands that surround them. 

What's unique about the private lands Potomac Conservancy protects is that they all have tree-lined streams. Naturally vegetated or forested strips along waterways are called riparian buffers. These buffers help make our creeks and streams swimmable, fishable, and drinkable by stopping pollution before it enters the water.

Scroll through the images below to see how protecting private lands protects your drinking water and improves our quality of life. Some of the benefits might surprise you! Plus check out these other great photo essays in our series, Everyone Benefits from Land Preservation:

It’s nearly 5 on a sultry July evening and the residents of Jagdamba Camp in south Delhi’s Sheikh Sarai are preparing for what has become a daily ritual. Every conceivable plastic container has been brought out of homes and arranged neatly near a much abused water pipe. The containers previously held a range of liquids: paint, aerated drinks, yogurt, oil or milk. Now they function solely as vessels to collect and store water as soon as the taps sputter to life.

Suraj (who uses only one name), a class XII student, has grown up in this urban slum which, like most others in the Capital, is home to solid-waste dumps, open drains and sewers. On this particular evening, the 17-year-old spends a couple of minutes persuading a woman sitting near the tap, filling up a 2-litre bottle, to agree to being photographed. The middle-aged woman mumbles her disapproval. “But aunty, I live in this area and I am taking these pictures to show people the problems we face,” he says.

Just minutes earlier, the teenager had hurriedly changed out of his school uniform, grabbed his digital camera, aptly named “Rebel”, and rushed out to hunt for subjects to photograph. It’s the best time of day for the task since a large number of women gather near the taps or handpumps.

Suraj has now trained his lens on Anita Bahor, a long-time resident of Jagdamba Camp, who is attempting to bring some order to the scene in front of the handpump by arranging the plastic containers in a line. The small area around the handpump often sees quarrels among the women living in the camp.

There are few men to be seen. “The men very rarely come out to help us fetch water. They can’t be bothered fighting over it,” says Bahor.

Suraj is part of a weekly media club run by a Lajpat Nagar-based non-profit, Kid Powered Media (KPM). This is where he learnt photography and was assigned “Rebel”, the camera he uses to pursue “special assignments”.

This year, KPM conducted a special five-day workshop at the Indira Camp in Okhla Phase 1, also in south Delhi, to make children aware of environment issues. In June, Suraj, an intern at KPM, was roped in to help with the photography session; he spent time teaching children how to tweak the knobs of a camera and take environment-related pictures in their own surroundings. Just like he had learnt to do.

KPM has been running media camps in slums in Sheikh Sarai, Tughlakabad Extension and Okhla Phase 1 for four years now. It has examined themes ranging from the safety of girls to hand-washing/hygiene, education and gender inequality.

“Every year, we pick a theme, and this year it was environment. We have been working with the kids to help them learn more about how it affects their daily lives,” says KPM’s programme director Jessie Hodges. “In both Jagdamba Camp and Indira Camp, we found that water was a central issue, particularly the nallah (drain), the flooding, the smell, the presence of it was very central to the way people live.”

Nearly 30 children in the 10-18 age group took part in the workshop. Over five days, they learnt about the different kinds of pollution, such as air, water and noise. They also mapped their communities, pointing out key spaces affected by pollution. One of the five days was dedicated to photography.

“This was the first time I handled a camera and it was very exciting for me to learn how to use one,” says 11-year-old Karishma Kumari, who shot “‘Pigs run around sewers in Indira Camp” (above). “Now I realize how important it is to keep my neighbourhood clean and I often tell my parents to use the dustbin and not dump waste on the streets,” she says.

The more the team from KPM spoke to the children, the more they understood the nuances of how communities deal with water. “We sent the children out and had them identify and photograph issues around water. We then went through the pictures with them and got them to write stories around these issues,” Hodges says. The pictures here are a sample of the effort.

Suraj himself came up with the idea of focusing on water at his camp. “The nallah runs along the area and it sometimes overflows and enters people’s homes, spreading diseases,” he says.

A doctor in his neighbourhood, Umesh Paswan, who works from a hole-in-the-wall in the heart of the area, agrees. “The only way things can improve around here is if the nallah is covered on all sides,” says Dr Paswan, who often refers patients with symptoms of dengue or malaria to the government hospital nearby. “Water can cause all kinds of issues,” he says, carefully cutting out a couple of tablets from a strip for a woman who is suffering from a stomach upset.

“We eventually want the kids to take action on these issues and really kind of motivate community change from within, driven by kids and their perspectives,” says Hodges.

Elsewhere, one of Suraj’s young neighbours empties the last few drops from a plastic bottle on to a pig that is scuttling through the slimy nallah. The child is soon whisked away by a parent for a bath. All while the water lasts.

First Published: Fri, Jul 31 2015. 07 44 PM IST

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