Two recent and virtually simultaneous events, one in Rajasthan and the other in Karnataka, offer hopeful signs. In a nation where floods and drought continually cause havoc in different regions, both events have involved citizens and media to bring resolution to an acute water crisis. In both cases, local language media efforts (one in print and the other traditional) showed that from the brink of acute shortage, citizens were willing to reverse direction on the backs of organized support from people of capacity.

Rajasthan first. The state's largest circulated Hindi newspaper, the Rajasthan Patrika, ran its own 'Water is nectar' statewide campaign in May-June. Driven by the never-ending acute shortage of water, and buoyed by a smaller success last year, the newspaper began publishing a series of articles across the state on the need for citizens to get together to restore weeded and silted ponds and wells, instead of waiting endlessly for government departments to supply piped water. Citizens responded in large numbers. Nearly 155,000 people are reported to have voluntarily cleaned up 388 discarded ponds, wells and other storages. As the first rains fell in June, some of the reservoirs started receiving fresh water.

What is different about these two campaigns is their scale, and also their non-partisan nature.
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Also in June, a drought-stricken district in Karnataka saw another awareness campaign setting the climate for local change. Bagalkote district has been reeling without rain for the past three years, and farmers as well as agricultural labourers have been forced to migrate. It is a low literacy area without much reach for print media. Also, despite the dry conditions, villagers here have not been very interested in harvesting the little rain that comes each year. This season, however, K S Prabhakar, the District Collector, an avid proponent of rain water harvesting, worked with experts, his taluk officials, and a team of street-play artists to run a water procession through 120 villages in 12 days. The trained artists demonstrated and dramatised local water harvesting and its significance for self-reliance. The campaign had its impact; at the final meeting of the procession, nearly 800 people from the district were present to take things forward.

Rajasthan receives the least rainfall in the country, and has recently witnessed violent conflicts over water for irrigation. Bagalkote district receives the least rainfall in Karnataka, and the state itself has a history of conflict its equally water-challenged neighbour, Tamilnadu. The successful campaigns in both places demonstrate that media - print as well as non-print - has a key role to play in development. One, we are reminded again that media can mobilise citizens for serious change, just as well in regions of the country that could get written off in cynicism, as in others. Two, the purposeful work of responsible government officials and large media organisations is itself a second force. Three, our citizens do want to seek out platforms that give them a real and greater say in their local affairs, even as the larger imbalance of our development -- not just access to water -- is being written about and talked increasingly at the highest levels - from the United Nations to New Delhi.

Talk of water harvesting itself is not new to the country. Environmental groups and grassroots media organisations have been advocating and providing proof of its relevance for years. Stories of discarded natural reservoirs coming back to life have been trickling through the media from different parts of the country. What is different about these two campaigns is their scale, and also their non-partisan nature. These may be both signs and seeds of a more progressive movement taking root. Coming at a time when an otherwise bleak scenario is emerging worldover on the imminent 'wars over water', this could well be the beginning of change for the better.