This one-man NGO is saving water one drop at a time

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Aabid Surti has #FreshPerspectives on conservation. This author and artist visits homes in suburban Mumbai every Sunday...

Posted by Bharti AXA Life Insurance on Friday, September 25, 2015


A drop of water wasted every second results in a loss of 1,000 liters of water in a month.

This statement struck Aabid Surti when he read it in his local newspaper several years ago. "I grew up in a slum watching neighbors fight over every bucket of water, so every drop wasted upsets me," says the octogenarian from Mumbai, India.

Surti noticed how people around him were not disturbed by leaks in their homes. He also found that a large number of people—especially the lower middle-income group—could not afford the services of a plumber, approximately $5 per visit. Families would wait until more damage was done, letting the water drip in the meantime.

Knowing that many people did not understand the negative effects of water waste, Surti came up with an idea.

In 2007, he founded the Drop Dead Foundation, a nonprofit organization that plugs leaky faucets in people's homes. An eminent painter, author, and illustrator, 80-year-old Surti now visits apartments in Mira Road, a suburb of Mumbai, every Sunday with a plumber to fix leaks, and to bring attention to the looming water crisis and how easy it can be to conserve water.

Each Monday, Surti meets with apartment complex managers, explains his goal of fixing leaks, and asks for permission to visit homes the ensuing Sunday. Pamphlets about his organization are slipped underneath the doors each Saturday to make people aware of his upcoming visit. Though Surti started out with just one plumber in tow, one year later, a woman volunteered to join him on his visits, and now they are a team of three.

Once in awhile, he also brings along volunteers who support his work.

Shagufta Sharma had just celebrated her 11th birthday when she accompanied Surti on one of his first few water saving missions. "People were skeptical of our motives when we rang their doorbell and told them we had come to repair their leaky faucets for free," Sharma remembers. "But as they learned about Surti's noble mission to preserve water, they began welcoming him," adds the now 18-year old student from Mumbai. "Now they even offer him tea and lunch."

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During his visits, Surti shares strategies on saving water, hoping to change people's attitudes on conservation. Shoaib Khan, a theater artist, says he never cared about the leaks in his home before meeting Surti. "When Mr. Surti visited my house, he drew my attention to a pitcher that my dripping tap could fill in a matter of hours," says Khan, adding that his home has not had an ongoing leak since.

Rajeshree Modi, a homemaker, brought about several changes in her lifestyle after Surti's visit. "The brilliant job Mr. Surti is doing for water conservation is really encouraging," she says. "Being a stickler for cleanliness, I would wash the floors of my house several times a month, but now I stick to mopping," she says.

In India, 76 million people lack access to safe water. With just 4% of the world's fresh water, but making up 16% of the world's population, India struggles for an adequate water supply. Mumbai demands 4,200 million liters daily but only has access to 3,350 million liters, much of which is lost in a poorly maintained infrastructure. It is estimated that 20 to 50 percent of the water supplied to big Indian cities is lost due to leakage in distribution pipes.

With his simple and low-cost approach, Surti has visited more than 13,000 homes and saved millions of liters of water in eight years. He spends less than $25 per visit and most of the funding for this venture has come through the monetary awards he won for his contributions to Indian literature.

"My most important goal is to create mindfulness about water wastage," he says.

By virtue of his immense popularity, Surti has received offers for expansion of his work from other organizations, but he has always refused. "If I get 200 plumbers to help me, people will stop being inspired," he says. "I want people to understand that my job is easy and doable and anyone who can spare 3-4 hours on a weekend can comfortably help those who don't have the time and money to invest in saving water."

Check out some other efforts to solve the water crisis:

California Learns to Save Water

Related stories on TakePart:
Move Over, Doctors—Plumbers Without Borders Are Coming to the Rescue
Recycling Hotel Soap Is Helping Prevent Disease in India
Go Behind the Wheel of India's Fearless All-Female Taxi Fleet

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