Thursday, 29 August 2013

My write-up on the Water Integirty Forum, Netherlands published in a regional UNDP Newsletter

The 1st Water Integrity Forum was a very interesting experience for me. I participated as a speaker on Day 1 and represented the Sri Lanka Water Partnership (SLWP)who have been doing some great work in curbing sand mining along two major rivers - Maha Oya and Deduru Oya. SLWP has been instrumental in building a robust platform for information exchange and interaction between hitherto isolated sectors. Thanks to SLWP and NetWwater (Network for Women Water Professionals), today there is an active exchange between the regulator GSMB, the STF - a paramilitary arm of the police, many universities, community organizations and other NGOs on the sand mining issue. Although it is in a nascent stage,There is much that other countries can learn from this science-policy-industry interface in Sri Lanka. More on that later.

Anyway, was invited to write a short article about my experience at the Forum for a regional UNDP Newsletter. I'm happy to see that it was not edited in any way before being published. Here is the link

Friday, 9 August 2013

My interviews on the Water Channel

Some of you may have found this blog through the videos but those of you who just landed here through other ways might be interested in viewing these videos on the water channel where I speak about my research on sand mining and why it is so crucial that we give this topic the attention it deserves.

While academic papers are important, very often they lie in a half-forgotten realm and do little but collect dust. Unless of course the author is a hotshot academician in which case, many want to read the latest research findings even before they can complete the paper. Videos such as these help bring home the importance of such issues to daily life, to everyone who does not necessarily have access to academic journals but is keen on learning more. Abraham Abhishek from the water channel has done an excellent job at creating these videos. Full credit goes to him for making the topic so much more accessible to all. Here are the links :


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Link to my older blog

Hi everyone,

I realised that I had I started blogging with blogger primarily because it allowed me to use a widget from a third-party that wordpress wouldn't allow unless I paid extra. But in making the transition, I may have lost a great of continuity and richness that was part of my earliest inspiration. So if you care to, take a peek @

Yours truly

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

My (not so) new love and our escapades ;)

London has a fantastic public transport system. Once you learn how to use it, you can plan your travel fairly accurately. The underground and its call to 'MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIND The Gap!' is legendary and the buses are not far behind either. Many bus stops have boards that display which bus is due next and the time it is expected to take. But the tubes can sometimes be stuffy and it is an awkward journey when you're stuck amid people who are ALWAYS in a rush, who will not smile or indulge in petty conversations. Besides being expensive, the tubes also have another downside. I've spent about 2 and a half years in this place now and I'm ashamed to confess that I can hardly recognize places. I know the tube map pretty well and  have no problems getting from point A to B but I just don't know how these places look on the outside! That's a shame considering how rich the architecture and heritage is and how much there is to see out here. The buses give you the opportunity to get to know the city better but if you'd really like to know the city intimately, there is no alternative to cycling. 
While I like leading an active life, I'm hardly the sporty type who can run a marathon or cycle across town in a heartbeat. Was it worth investing in a bike I wondered? Especially since I'd heard that bikes in London get stolen very easily. It was a culture shock when I heard that bit for the first time. My reasoning of course was quite simplistic. I had imagined that things like bikes could get stolen only in places like India not in supposedly 'developed' countries like the UK! I wondered why people would bother stealing bikes when they could steal cars instead.  LOL. Another factor that I had to really think long and hard about is that while it is definitely safer to cycle on London roads than Indian ones, London is not as cycle-friendly as perhaps a Berlin or Paris. Well, I decided to take the plunge anyway! I shopped around for a bike that I would feel good about. I found one that is so me! It arrived in a box but it had to be partially assembled. I hadn't a clue how to go about it! 

In stepped my rock star friends Ana and her husband Rodrigo. They, btw are the sporty types who have run a marathon and they also cycle everywhere they want to go. So while Ana and I busied ourselves preparing a nice dinner, Rodrigo, the bike enthusiast fixed the bike for me in no time! I was dying to try it but my maiden voyage had to wait a few days until it stopped raining! Yes I know it is London and it is always windy and rainy but I wasn't going to let the rain soil my lovely new bike on its very first ride now, was I ? So I waited and in a couple of days was able to take it for a short spin. Visited a friend and her baby. On my very first ride, as I stood at a traffic signal beside a bus, the bus driver looked at me and my bike, gave me a broad smile and a thumbs up sign. I was as pleased as Punch! I wish I could say though that all bus drivers were as friendly but I'm afraid I've also encountered absolute jackasses on the road. One of them even sped up so he could run over my bag which fell on the road. The bag had books, my lunch box, my wallet and even my camera. Even the passersby stopped to ask me if I was okay and comment on how nasty the driver was and how deliberate the act was. I was just happy to be alive and was also thrilled to discover that the camera was safe. The bag itself was beyond redemption though. 
Once I had gotten the hang of riding a bike with gears, I ventured further and further and made some pretty startling discoveries. I found that cycling to Richmond and Kew gardens took me only about half an hour while the bus took almost 50 minutes or so. I also discovered that I could travel in a straight line right from Hammersmith to Strand. I was amazed that it was just one straight road that passed by Earl's Court, Victoria and Albert Museum, Hyde Park, Leicester square and even Covent Garden. It never seemed that way when I took the bus! It has been lovely so far. I still try and avoid peak hours because i would like cycling to be pleasurable instead of stressful. I've taken my baby to some interesting events. One was a free bike registration event sponsored by TFL where the Police registered the bike frame number and other details. The idea is that bike theft is significantly under-reported and even if recovered, the Police usually have no way of finding the rightful owner. It was a very helpful event. They got cyclists like me to mount the driver seat in a MASSIVE truck so we could see the blind spots for ourselves. Very very useful! If you have a bike in London, I'd recommend that you register. See this website for more details. I also signed up for a Bike Maintenance course, again sponsored by the local council. The workshop was pretty hands-on. We were asked to bring our bikes along and we tinkered with it and learned really basic stuff like how to remove a wheel, fix a puncture, adjust and align brakes etc. There were only 4 people in the workshop so we had plenty of time to ask questions too. So if you have a bike in London, look up your council's website and you're sure to find such offers. Here are a few pictures from the workshop where my friend and I had a blast despite my focused face pictures where I look dead serious. It was also pretty cool that the mechanic was a woman ;) I also made sure I learned how to lock both wheels and the frame to the stand. I was tempted to buy a chain that would be long enough to go through the basket too. But that would be a bit much! So my (now not so) new love and I are trying to make the best of the London's "Summer". Wish us luck!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Sand Wars - an investigative documentary film

It's been quite sometime since I wrote. So much has happened since. What I'm most happy to share is that I was finally able to make use of my Masters dissertation when I was interviewed for an investigative documentary film called 'Sand Wars'. The Director Denis Delestrac is a highly accomplished person and I couldn't be happier that he found the inspiration for such a film while he was lounging on a beach a few years ago. He has interviewed many experts and shot footage at many production sites to make this movie a compelling watch. I still haven't seen the complete version. Waiting with bated breath for the DVD he has promised to send me. In the meanwhile, an excerpt of the film with my interview can be found here . (In case you have trouble with the link, search for 'Le Sable, enquĂȘte sur une disparition' in facebook and look at the video titled UN EXTRAIT DU FILM - 1)
The trailer of the movie can be watched on

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Namaste Nepal!

Earlier this year, I spent one whole month in Nepal. It was an unforgettable experience and I look forward to the day when I will get to go back again. I used to opportunity to take some time off to visit majestic Elephants and Rhinos and their friends in Chitwan, indulge in paragliding in Pokhara, to relish the local cuisine, to also verify recommendations from the lonely planet (tell you more about this in a bit),visit a Toastmaster's meeting, participate in the thriving salsa scene in Kathmandu and the best part, work with a local NGO for sometime. Unlike neighbouring north Indians, Nepalis are mainly rice eaters. The traditional Dal Bhat is simply delicious and is definitely worth a try and so are the momos slurrrp,slurrrp. At the NGO, they cooked fresh and healthy food for their employees everyday and I gorged on it shamelessly as long as I was there. As you can tell by now, food is a very important part of my life and I happened to also taste 'the world's best Lemon Merengue Pie' at the Moondance Restuarant in Pokhara. Let's just say it lives up to its reputation!!! If you ever go to Pokhara, try it and let me know what you think.

The country faces incredible challenges - infrastructural, political, economic and more. Its location also puts it in a bit of a pickle. It lies between two rising superpowers China and India who sometimes forget to take into account the other party's well-being in their quest to satiate their hunger for resources. Any alliance with one of these neighbours makes the other giant uncomfortable and so Nepal must constantly walk a tightrope in terms of diplomatic ties with its neighbours. I must confess I was ashamed to be Indian when I saw life through the eyes of Nepalis. I spent several weeks living like most Nepalis in sub-zero temperatures during the winter. It was common-place to not have power-supply for 14-16 hours a day! Despite 3 layers of woolens, it was incredibly hard to keep warm at home. Since the timings for power supply varied everyday, it was hard to form a routine for one's day. Life begins to take on a very different meaning in such conditions. You begin to understand the Water-Energy Nexus in a much more powerful way than you ever would when you simply read academic texts. Nepal also imports gas from India and the day before I left, there was major strife in the country because the government has raised the price of Gas by Rs.400 overnight. Gas cylinders which costed 1400 NPR suddenly went to 2000 NPR. It was more than the people could take and they ensured the government was made aware of this. 

Coming to the Water-Energy Nexus, it is rather unfortunate that Nepal, despite having tremendous potential for hydro power due to its perennial rivers and the steep gradient of the country's topography, does not get the benefit of it. This writer says: 

"The first recorded water resource negotiations between Nepal and India occurred between 1910 and 1920 when British India needed to harness the Sarda (Mahakali) river, which formed the western boundary between Nepal and British India, to develop irrigation in the United Province (now Uttar Pradesh). Nepal agreed to the 1920 Sarda treaty, involving an exchange of territory, but not an advantageous one for Nepal. 
India enjoys most of the benefits of the Kosi and Gandak treaties (of 1954 and 1959), leading to the construction of dams primarily irrigating and protecting Indian lands. The outcome was viewed by many in Nepal as a “sell out” of their natural resources (although it was resistance in Nepal that prevented construction of larger dams that would have accrued more benefits to that country). Read more here

In my personal experience, I found the Nepali people to be extremely generous. I wish my fellow country-men would reciprocate such generosity. Anyway, I also wanted to share my personal experience with water supply in Kathmandu.As I shared earlier, the meagre power supply affects every aspect of one's daily life. Having running water in your taps depends entirely on whether there has been power to pump water up to the overhead tanks. Even when you do have adequate water, the quality of water you receive makes you realize how much you take for granted in other parts of the world!

Here is a picture of a bucket of clean water at the house where I stayed. The groundwater in Kathmandu loaded with iron oxides and the locals have devised their own ways to try and purify it. You'd see a filtering mechanism on top of many overhead tanks in Kathmandu. (See picture below)There were days when there was no power to pump up the water and I was forced to re-use the water from the last rinse of my laundry. In normal circumstances I would have gone 'Ewwwwww'. But when you are pushed against the wall, you learn to manage with what you have. It is incredible how such circumstances are completely normal for many while others have never ever experienced anything of the sort in their lives! 

Furthermore, many people in Nepal don't even have the luxury of such tap water at home. They depend on traditional systems of water supply such as 'stone spouts' which date back to 570 A.D. However with rapidly changing land use patterns and lack of ownership, these marvelous systems are swiftly being deconstructed. So that leaves the poorest of the poor in a very vulnerable state indeed. Here are some pictures of one of the stone spouts near the office of ISET-N, the organization where I did a brief assignment.

This stay in Nepal has had a significant influence on my worldview and it makes me even more keenly aware of the disparities that we can see around us. But in a sense, it makes me believe in the resilience of the human spirit against all odds and gives me hope for the future.

Friday, 8 March 2013

My paper will soon be presented at Sweden :)

I'm quite thrilled that the paper I co-authored with Henry Veldhuizen (Strategic Advisor Water Chain, Strategy and Policy Division at the Dutch Water Board) and others has been  accepted as a full paper for the HSM 2013 conference. The conference is the 1st International IWA conference on Holistic Sludge Management. Our paper is entitled 'Wastewater treatment plants in the Netherlands as production facilities of raw materials'. The paper highlights how the current system of sewage disposal is a unidirectional one that needs to be converted into a closed loop system as part of a circular economy. More importantly, it goes beyond mere rhetoric and provides real-life examples of how the Netherlands is demonstrating pioneering efforts to recover materials and other resources from what was considered mere waste until now. Since it is about a real example, the paper shares the vision, the methodology adopted, the challenges and the way forward so that any enterprising municipality / water company can learn from it and replicate the process.  It is a radical concept and I'm so happy to work with individuals who dare to change the system.