New Delhi: 21-year-old Garvita Gulhati from Bengaluru founded ‘Why Waste?’ – an organisation to sensitise people about the water crisis in India. Garvita, who started actively supporting environmental causes since she was13 yearsold, learnt that the half-drunk glasses of water left by customers in restaurants lead to almost 14 million litres of water wastage, every year globally. She talks to Team Banega Swasth India during an intraction with fellow young climate warriors recognised by United Nations.
NDTV: You started very young, at the age of 13 and spoke about water crisis in India. What pushed you to talk about water conservation and eventually start your organisation “Why Waste?”
Garvita Gulhati: When I trace back there were a lot of things. I grew up In a family that was incredibly conscious and always thinking about finishing the food on their plates and water in the glasses. And a couple of instances pushed me over the edge. I was on a trip to Ahmadabad with my family and we were visiting one of these step wells as we were navigating and enjoying the scenic beauty of a step well which is completely dry, a little girl ran up to me and I thought she would ask me for money or food but she asked me for the water bottle in my hand. That moved me to my core, I started reading more about the water crisis and this was the first time I realised that this is something there is a lack of. Water is the universal elixir of life and yet today there are so many people who lack it. I started reading more about the problem and didn’t know where to start because water crisis in itself is humungous. That’s when my environment education teacher at school taught me that 14 million litres of water get wasted every year due to water, we leave behind in our glasses at restaurants. I was immediately reminded of that little girl for whom a few sips of water absolutely changed her day, something that we so callously waste. That was the beginning and trigger for me.
NDTV: Tell us about your mobile application ‘Why Waste App’ and how does that help an individual in their daily life?
Garvita Gulhati: When I heard about water being wasted at the restaurant, I thought what can we do to empower every single individual to be a part of the solution when it comes to solving the water crisis. We wanted to change people’s mindset, we wanted everyone to think that they could make a difference when it comes to water crisis. That led to the launch of glass half full at restaurants. For us as young people we felt that this is the first tangible step that we can take. When the pandemic hit, a lot of the work we were doing at the restaurants had to be paused because restaurants were no longer functioning. That made me think – how can we continue to make people a part of the solution? After talking to a lot of people I realised that often the reason they are not a part of solving the problem – be it water crisis or changing the habits, is simply because they don’t know that they are a part of the problem. They don’t know the amount of water they are consuming. So, the first goal is to be able to get them to calculate their water footprint, that’s what the app does. It takes you through a very quick 2 min quiz that tells you what on an average daily water footprint could look like. Then teaches you some easy methods that are not difficult but just different habit changes that you can build in your life and save hundreds of litres of water.
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NDTV: NITI Aayog in June 2018 had mentioned that India is undergoing the worst water crisis in its history and nearly 600 million people are facing high to extreme water stress. As UN’s young climate leader, you are championing Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6), clean water and sanitation for all. What steps do you think are needed right now to tackle India’s water crisis?
Garvita Gulhati: That’s a very big question and the answer is the work that is required to solve this is equally big. It is going to be big by forces coming together, not by the volume. It is the need for all of these forces in the ecosystem, to come together to do their bit. Today when I think of the largest consumers of water, I think of businesses. A single pair of jeans that you might be wearing can take upto 4000 litres of water to manufacture. Then you start to realise that every single thing around us including the device we are communicating through right now, has consumed thousands and thousands of litres of water to manufacture. Most of these are in a place that are already stressed in water. The goal is to think of ways, innovatively, about how can we produce more consciously. Not just for water, but everything that we buy today, not only comes with a price tag, but also comes with a water tag, with a carbon tag, the cost of the product is much larger than what we actually see or bear. The goal here is to get those ecosystems together. I am always reminded of the example of how we as community were able to ban plastic straws. Plastic straws obviously consumed so much water and resources to manufacture but by us refusing to use it, we made businesses rethink and then govt created policy. It is that collaborative ecosystem that we need to build, where everyone is doing their bit, obviously someone is going to push you first, but there has to be this collaborative effort that needs to come together especially when it comes to conserving water. Second this is around the narrative of water. Today, when we think of water being wasted, we are always thinking of scarcity of water, we are always thinking of people in rural communities walking miles to get water. But no one talks about why they are in that situation. This is because we in urban communities have overused the water. Till the time we don’t change the narrative of not what the problem is, but why it is being caused, we’re not going to be able to take that first step.
NDTV: You recently published “The Sustainability Stories”, a collection of stories that talk about environmental issues and inspire children to be the change. Take us through one such story – and the environmental problem and challenges it talks about.
Garvita Gulhati: I have had a childhood that has incredibly pivoted me to where I am. Very conscious household, I think I have celebrated more birthday with kids in orphanages than having parties, and I have realised that those experiences really pushed me into being a little more mindful, wanting to go beyond and doing something. In today’s world, everyone needs to think like that. By just giving small example and stories and simple ideas at a young age, we can shape someone’s mindset. Our stories, I like to call them new age fables that allows young people to just think a little differently. The same stories you were reading with animal characters but simple in a new setting.
There’s a creature cafe and people parlour. The people’s parlour is overusing the water, so the creature cafe doesn’t have any. So, the young animal at the cafe question this – why do I not have access to water. And learns that it is due to people’s parlour overusing and overconsuming the water. Then very smartly and creatively realises that I can actually make a difference towards this. He comes up with a way to share water amongst the two places. That’s the goal – to make people realise that can make the difference.
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NDTV: You work with UNICEF on their Youth Climate Strategy. What climate strategy do you think India needs to adopt at this point in time to address climate change and to meet the SDG goals of 2030?
Garvita Gulhati: When I think of strategy, it’s not just one thing. Multiple things come to mind. Today what I see missing is the need for everyone to have a role that they play. When I think about climate education, I am not thinking about a degree or subject that is dedicated to the environment. I’d rather say something that can be more powerful and more pivotal is that every subject has at least one chapter dedicated to the environment or sustainability. Imagine if every engineer, lawyer, designer, and artist was studying one chapter on sustainability, that’s how they will start living. That’s how they will drive to work, that’s how they will drive corporations, governments. As we are the people who are at the end of the day running these organisations and ecosystems, if we learn a little bit differently, we can make a large change. It is the involvement of every individual that is missing. The day we have that, whether it is NDTV having the conversation and doing their bit, every ecosystem doing their bits, that’s what’s going to get us there and is the missing piece in the dialogue.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.