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India’s Water Woman – Sunita Narain



India’s most well-known environmentalist, Sunita Narain has been employed with the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based research and advocacy organization. She presently serves as the Center's executive director, the Society for Environmental Communications' treasurer, and the editor of the bimonthly publication Down To Earth. She is an author and environmentalist who advocates for change via knowledge. She had also been selected by Leonardo DiCaprio to conduct an interview for his climate change-focused film “Before the Flood” back in 2016. She was also listed among Time's 100 Most Influential People.


Why must you read about her? Here’s why — she holds the weight of the Padma Shri award from the Indian Government in 2005, The World Water Prize for efforts to collect rainwater and for its impact on policy in establishing paradigms for local water management, and at the Prime Minister's request, she also served as chair of the Tiger Task Force in 2005, which was formed to develop a national conservation action plan in the wake of the Sariska tiger deaths. She pushed for ways to develop a coexistence agenda with neighborhood groups so that the advantages of conservation could be shared. Narain served on the National Ganga River Basin Authority and the Prime Minister's Council for Climate Change.



Her work began as early as the 1980s when she was a co-researcher with Anil Agarwal, a well-known and ardent environmentalist who gave the nation its environmental concern and message. She collaborated on the State of India's Environment Report in 1985, which gave the nation insight into why the underprivileged value India so highly. In 1989, she and Anil Agarwal wrote "Towards Green Villages," which promotes local participatory democracy as a key to sustainable development. They did this by learning from people's successful attempts to manage their environment. She authored the seventh State of India's Environment Report in 2012, titled "Excreta Matters," which offers a thorough study of the water and pollution issues in Indian cities.


However, her legacy does not stop there, Narain still continues to give attention to strengthening the CSE's capabilities so that it could act as a credible, independent institution that influences public opinion and promotes change. With more than 120 full-time employees now, it is actively involved in a wide range of programs, from training to grading industries based on their environmental performance to concerns with water management. CSE has worked on namely 4 objectives: advocacy against air pollution, making water a top priority for everyone, the safety of food and water, and working for a fair and effective system to address climate change.


Advocacy against air pollution

Together with her coworkers at CSE, Narain has been actively involved in promoting the reduction of air pollution. She is of the opinion that we must redefine the Western world's growth paradigm in order to advance technological options and discover new means of accumulating money without harming the environment. The implementation of releasing Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) in India’s Capital, Delhi, is one of CSE’s greatest projects. The said project served a model for the world as it has caused a significant decrease in air pollutants.



Making water a top priority for everyone

Water is without a doubt the nation's most valuable resource. Sunita Narain is very passionate about this topic and spends a lot of time researching and advocating for the need to alter the nation's approach to water management. She started working in this field alongside her coworker Anil Agarwal after learning about the inventiveness of localities across the nation in rainwater harvesting. Their book “Dying Wisdom” and the subsequent book “Making Water Everyone's Business” were both the result of their research. Since then, she has worked to further her grasp of the need of water security, utilizing rainwater collection to increase resources and pollution control to reduce waste.


Safety of food and water

Another milestone set by CSE was that of the research conducted by them that aimed to comprehend the degree of contamination in our food and groundwater systems, and to use this information for reform. The study resulted in the formation of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on soft drinks, fruit juices, and other beverages safety standards and pesticide residues. The parliamentarian's report was essential to creating a new, more dynamic regulatory framework to ensure that pollution of food and water is minimized and does not endanger human health. In particular, Narain's study has influenced the public's significant support for reform in the area of groundwater contamination, which affects millions of people's access to clean drinking water nationwide.


Working for a fair and effective system to address climate change


Narain has conducted research and written articles on a variety of topics related to the climate regime, including negotiating strategies, trading mechanisms, and options for mitigation and adaptation. Early in 1990, she started working on climate change issues. She co-authored the 1991 publication Global Warming in an Unequal World: A Case of Environmental Colonialism, which was instrumental in developing the equity principle in the framework convention on climate change. She participated in the high-level commission on the need for adaptation and its connections to development established by the Swedish government in 2008–2009. Since then, she has worked to promote awareness of and agreement on the necessity of an efficient and just climate change deal.


This kind of realism characterizes not only Narain's point of view but also other aspects of the Indian discussion on energy and the environment, where the beliefs that the nation has the "right to growth" and that the burden of lowering global emissions should fall mostly on the west are widely accepted. She has set the ladder with which the nation may climb for environmental development. In a strange way, the size of the task at hand and the fact that the nation's modernization process is still in its early stages, are positives.


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