The University of Arizona

Water Works in India

Roopali Phadke


India's water problems have long been portrayed by the international media as crises of poverty, desperation and corruption.  Drawing an analogy to the "peak oil" discourse, "peak water" adherents express an impending dystopia through images of overpumped aquifers in the world's breadbasket regions, excessive irrigation that is rapidly depleting rivers and deltas, neglected pollutants that are poisoning return water flows. This focus on global water scarcities overshadows the real gains in water governance that have been achieved at local and regional scales. This is particularly true in India, where over the last three decades watershed development has significantly matured as a concept, method and technology for improving livelihoods. This article describes a set of empirical cases from the region of Maharashtra that define and demonstrate how watershed development is working to meet vital ecological and socio-economic goals.  The focus is on how one particular social movement is tackling the most vexing issues faced by watershed planners: equity and landlessness.

Key words: participatory watershed development, Maharashtra, social justice, ecologies of hope, India.

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