According to estimates, India will face a water shortfall of almost 50% by 2030 if the country’s current pattern of water usage continues. India extracts over 25% of the world’s groundwater – more than China and the US combined. Excessive groundwater extraction has led to a state wherein 60% of our districts are already water-scarce or plagued by water-quality issues.
As the demand for this scarce resource becomes even more pressing, on this World Water Day 2020, we ask ourselves, how can we be purpose-led, future-fit?
Through the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP), we are responding directly to several macro forces. A number of our USLP targets directly address the risks and opportunities in our markets, including water scarcity that’s caused by climate change. The water pillar of our USLP contributes to a number of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), primarily: Clean water and sanitation (SDG 6); Responsible consumption and production (SDG 12); Climate action (SDG 13); and Partnerships for the goals (SDG 17).
In 2010, we set up the Hindustan Unilever Foundation (HUF), a not-for-profit organisation to anchor water management related community development initiatives of Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL). HUF’s ‘Water for Public Good’ programme, has made a difference with efforts focused on empowering local rural community institutions to improve and manage their water resources and enhance farm-based livelihoods through adoption of judicious water-use practices. Over the last nine years, HUF has supported grassroots interventions in 53 districts with 23 NGO partners across over 4,300 villages in India.
In 2019, the cumulative and collective achievements delivered through partnered programmes of HUF resulted in:
Over the years, HUF has been recognised for its stewardship on water by sector and industry bodies; it has won the United Nations Innovative Practices Award for addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (2019), Confederation of Indian Industries Award for Excellence in Water Management (2017, 2019) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry Corporate Social Responsibility Award (2016).
By 2024, HUF aims to create an additional water potential of 1.5 trillion litres of water for India. To achieve this, we will continue to engage with our partners to drive programmes and remain committed to safeguarding water resources.
As a young girl, Priya’s father encouraged her to study and have the same aspirations as her brother. Life changed when she was married into a conservative family. Her in-laws could not accept her working in their fields. She persisted in convincing them and negotiated patiently - first to buy a tractor instead of renovating the house; then to join the group to learn improved farming practices till finally they relented and let her farm. Seeing her success as a farmer, Priya’s father-in-law and husband consult her on all critical farming decisions. She’s also sought after as a speaker at local fairs to present her progressive solutions with farmers from across the State.
“I feel proud to be known as a successful woman farmer. Difficult times have come and gone, but I have learnt to stay strong. I am my role model. To all women, I would stress the importance of grit and patience to bring about a change in their families and communities.”
Hemalatha overcame the trauma of a childhood accident, moved away from her family, worked hard for professional education and even took up a corporate career in Bangalore. But she felt she was missing something. She quit her job and began working with rural communities on water issues in Madanapalle area of Andhra Pradesh. She’s an expert at conducting simulation games in villages where farmers learn how their crop choices will impact water availability in the future. This prompts them to take collective action which they otherwise would have resisted. Hemalatha’s family may not approve of her choice, but she’s an independent spirit and her zest for water consciousness has found her a place where she belongs.
“I come from a conservative family. I left a corporate career to do this work, knowing that it will come with a fair share of challenges, and yet I love what I do. My extended family of farmers and the work I do for them fills up the void in my life, and I want to continue doing it.”
Neetaben experienced deep, degrading poverty as a child. Borrowing clothes from the neighbours and working barefoot on farms as a labourer marked her young years. Yet, she strived to study and graduated in a programme on rural studies with the help of her supportive parents. Her own experience has been her driving force to dedicate her career to helping rural communities find their way out of poverty. As a professional working with a reputed development organisation in Gujarat, Neetaben’s work on water conservation and women empowerment have reached over 30,000 people – a mark of her life’s commitment to the cause of restoring dignity to the poor.
“I knew that marriage would pose a problem with the kind of work I wanted to do. I am independent and had I been a man; I wouldn’t be questioned for working late or expected to take permission for looking after my parents financially. I wanted to establish that a woman can lead a life of her choice too, so, I never married. I want to continue helping people solve their issues and be a role model for young girls.”
Madhuben has lived with water scarcity throughout her life. She stood in queues for hours to source drinking water when she was a child, borrowed money for a borewell that never yielded water and could cultivate only one acre of her total landholding. When she had grandchildren, she realised that agriculture could no longer sustain her family. The canal in their village gave four months of erratic supply. She mobilised women farmers to petition to the canal authorities to get more extended access to canal water. She then motivated a group of enterprising women to start a vermicomposting business. It helped farmers cut down the water required while adding to their earnings. Madhuben believes that her village is her family. Working together is the only way to overcome their challenges.
“Our experience in a group has made us more self-reliant and aware. The group has become one unit, and we think of our growth as a village, never as an individual or a family—the village benefits from our values of trust, honesty and togetherness. Whenever any young woman joins our group, that’s the first lesson I speak about. Without our values, no one will ever help others in times of need.”