PUNE, India — Thousands of young Indians have joined a water conservation movement led by popular Bollywood actor-producer Aamir Khan to fight drought using methods originally advocated by a Swiss-born Jesuit.
Ucanews.com reported more than 150,000 college students from drought-prone western Indian cities joined Khan in early May to dig trenches ahead of monsoon rains in more than 100 villages across 24 drought-prone districts of western Maharashtra state.
Saurabh Vishal, a student from Symbiosis International University in Pune, said he was proud to be helping.
“It was like doing something for the nation, for the village and our people,” said Vishal, who assisted digging of trenches in Savargaon.
“I felt honored to join villagers in their hard work to make their village drought-free,” the 25-year-old told ucanews.com.
Khan, 53, said his movement originally planned to enroll 100,000 university students to offer free physical labor to help remote drought-prone villages. It’s all a part of the actor’s nonprofit Paani (water) Foundation, which he established in 2016.
Khan said it takes about 45 days to prepare a drought-prone village for water conservation. The method requires digging trenches to allow rainwater to collect and seep into the earth, where it will help replenish over-exploited ground water sources.
The work was to be completed in May, ahead of the June-September monsoon season. The water percolation and collection will make the village self-sufficient in water for the following summer.
The Paani Foundation works with the Watershed Organization Trust as its “knowledge partner.” The trust provides both technical support and training to the foundation, Khan said.
The actor-producer said he appreciated the pioneering water conservation work carried out by Swiss Jesuit Father Hermann Bacher who founded Watershed Organization Trust with Crispino Lobo, a former Jesuit priest, in 1993.
The trust was established to help villagers fight drought in arid regions and is now active in eight Indian states.
The idea of seeking free physical labor for water conservation “was conceived and implemented by Father Bacher in (the) 1980s, which inspired the other volunteer groups to follow suit,” Lobo said.
Jesuit Father Joe D’Souza, director at Jesuit-run Social Center at Ahmednagar, which helps empower marginalized farmers, said Bacher “foresaw water crisis 50 years ago when he launched a drilling team in 1966 to dig wells” in Ahmednagar district to collect water.
In Maharashtra, more than half of its 43,665 villages were declared drought-stricken in 2016, reported ucanews.com.
“Our dream is to make Maharashtra drought-free in five years,” Khan said.
“We found that wherever the water issue had been solved,” he said, “the solution lay in people’s collective efforts and labor.”