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Meet India’s water warrior

Sankalp Sharma aims to put India at the forefront of water conservation and sustainable development

Sankalp Sharma aims to put India at the forefront of water conservation and sustainable development

Being a 16-year-old in India usually means having to worry about tuitions and textbooks with the looming threat of board exams. But Sankalp Sharma is busy taking responsibility for a much larger threat that affects the country, the world and humanity at large.
He is grappling with India’s water crisis and is chosen to represent India at the UN Youth Assembly Conference in New York, which will explore sustainable ways to manage climate change and the world’s water crisis. He is now raising funds to help sponsor his trip to the US, on the crowdfunding platform Fueladream.com and has raised ₹92,301 till date and has nine more days left for the campaign.
This is not the first time he is representing India at a global forum on climate change. He was invited as the youngest member of the Climate Reality Project Training in Houston, Texas under the leadership of Al Gore in 2015.
“It took months of hard work to get into the programme. Before applying I signed up as a volunteer, conducting several activities including signing petitions. It was a big step for me, because I had no hope of being selected. I was just 15 then,” recalls Sankalp, a student of Bengaluru’s Frank Anthony School.
“My interest in water conservation sparked off as part of my extra-curricular programmes, mainly the Children’s Movement for Civic Awareness (CMCA), where we took up projects for environmental conservation such as waste segregation. Teachers also spoke to us on climate change and I started questioning why people were worried about it. After a point my teachers couldn’t answer my questions. Then I took to Google and YouTube for answers until I finally stumbled upon a talk by Al Gore. He was able to answer many of my questions,” states the young man.
That was when he joined the Climate Reality Project as a volunteer. When he came back, he started giving presentations in schools, colleges, corporate organisations and the Indian Army, while meeting ‘influencers’ including Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupati, Sunil Gavaskar, and VVS Lakshman — who could help create awareness on climate change.
Meanwhile the NGO Walk for Water also offered him the position of state head for Karnataka, after which he organised a Grand Water Conservation Walk in Bengaluru, which was attended by over 1,500 walkers.
“Women who live in villages have walked the distance of the equator just to collect water. We have several states fighting over water and the crisis is only worsening day-by-day. When I first came to Bengaluru in 2004, water scarcity was not a problem. Today, it is a leading issue in most cities. It is only when a problem spills out of villages into cities that people start working towards it,” he observes.
He also points out, in his pitch on Fueladream.com, that the next world war, if there is to be one, will be fought over water. He believes there is hope.
“I got to know that the Chilean solar market is one of the best in their world, they exceeded their solar energy targets by 1,300%. China has halted the construction of some coal mines,” he adds.
“I made a global network of friends today. So whenever I am working on a project, I tell my friends — from Pakistan to Africa and the US — so there is a global initiative. We, in Bengaluru, have already restored more than 12,000 dry bore wells. We have an online initiative where citizens can adopt a village or a family and help with water conservation.”
He is now planning to take up larger projects that will tackle the restoration of lakes and the refurbishment of rainwater harvesting systems. He says there are simple things that even children can do at home that will go a long way in saving water.
“One study that I came across said that all if Indians closed their taps while brushing their teeth, instead of letting the water run, we could save one billion litres of water.”
It has not been easy for Sankalp to get people to understand the urgency of the situation. “It’s not easy to make people understand they can’t take me for granted because of my age. The other main challenge is denial. A lot of people, are denying the importance of climate change.”
But his age has other advantages. “When I give presentations to children they they love it, simply because it is by one of them. I feel I can influence not just the present but also the future generation and make them aware that their actions can go a long way in protecting the environment.” (-Harshini Vakkalanka/The Hindu)

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