Your Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is for me to be here in Jodhpur. I am so grateful to His Highness for inviting me to speak. I have taken what interest I can in this whole subject of water conservation and specifically in what His Highness has done through the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation. I accepted His Highnesss's invitation and I was determined to come because I mind deeply about the future of my children and my grandchildren.
As some of you may know, I have had the privilege today of going with Their Highnesses to the village of Artiya to see at first hand the issues that you have been addressing in your conference. Three years ago I visited Bhaonta with Rajendra singh and Bunker Roy whom I have both admired for over 20 years and who show the need to work at the local level. Until you have seen the extraordinary resilience and fortitude of small communities in desert areas, struggling to survive with the most meagre of water resources, you cannot begin to understand the urgency of these issues.
What particularly struck me today was the way in which small community-based projects, helped but not dictated to by the international agencies, can make such a difference. It is in this way that the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation, and other organizations represented here today, have been transforming so many people's lives. I have been enormously impressed by the work that you are doing, and wish you every encouragement with it.
I would not presume in such an erudite gathering to quote the terrifying statistics that underpin the global water crisis. Nobody needs reminding that water is essential to life. The falling water tables, the unreliability of piped supplies, the huge number of communities with no access to clean water and sanitation. For many communities across the developing world, the provision of clean water is the first and most essential step out of a life of poverty. These challenges, coupled with the ever-growing demands of cities, and of our modern lifestyle for ever-increasing quantities of water, are putting a truly unsustainable strain on rapidly-diminishing resources.
I am particularly pleased that you have been addressing the critical issue of conflict over water resources. This, at so many levels, afflicts people's lives – and in my view it poses a very real, and growing, threat to local and even regional security. I spoke at my old university in Cambridge about his subject 13 or 14 years ago. Addressing these conflicts, and addressing the whole issue of conserving and valuing water as a resource, has to start at the micro-level. I have always been so inspired by those struggling at the micro-level - it is worth listening to them.
In the UK and elsewhere I have in my own way tried to empower people at that local level. If villages can work together to address their water needs, districts, states and nations can follow their example. Simple traditional systems such as water harvesting, check-dams, johhads and ponds, can relieve the pressure on the river systems and the ground water from which so many conflicts stem. I do believe more than anything else we need to rediscover traditional wisdom in all these areas. This is of crucial and fundamental importance. People have developed an extraordinary understanding of how to work in harmony with nature. So I make a plea to you here today. Firstly, voluntary organisations working in this field in India and around the world need to come together and articulate with one voice the need of communities such as Artiya, the village we saw today. Together they should also create much greater awareness of the depth and breadth of traditional knowledge and wisdom. Secondly, governments and the private sector need to work more closely with organisations such as the Jal Bhagirathi Foundationin full and listen to their advice. We need to create an environment which fosters and promotes such organizations and schemes. We need to ensure that successful community-led programmes are not negated by the more unscrupulous amongst us without proper recompense and due recognition of such programmes and what they have done to regenerate individual communities.
If our children and grandchildren are to have a secure future on this planet, the proper stewardship of the world's water resources simply has to be continually addressed. I wish you every encouragement with the splendid work that you have been doing, and which you are now taking forward.