This 83-Year-Old Man Is Saving Mumbai’s Water

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THIS 83-YEAR-OLD IS SAVING MUMBAI’S WATER

In 2016, 33 crore people or 25% of the Indian population was hit by drought. This year, 37% of the villages in Maharashtra risk being tagged as drought affected. Crop production fell from 169 lakh tonnes to 133 lakh tonnes. As much as 40% of Mumbai’s water goes into the sewage due to leaking pipes and wasteful behaviour.

Aabid Surti, founder of the Drop Dead Foundation, is a water warrior for the city. On Mondays, his volunteers meet housing society secretaries. If the secretaries agree, a Save Every Drop or Drop Dead poster is put up. On Saturdays, they send pamphlets to each home to explain what Drop Dead Foundation does. On Sunday, he goes with a plumber from house to house, fixing leaky taps.

In 2007 and 2008, the foundation visited 1,666 houses, fixed 414 taps, and saved more than 400,000 litres of water. The foundation is credited with saving more than 20 million litres of clean water over the years and counting… Aabid Surti is a one-man army against water wastage in the face of scarcity for this city.

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Over lunch at a friend’s house, Aabid Surti heard the distinctive dripping of a leaking tap. He requested his hosts to get it fixed. They joked about his concern for a few drops but assured him of action. When he went over again a few weeks later, he could still hear the dripping. He decided to get a plumber and repair the tap that same day. This was the beginning of the Drop Dead Foundation, Aabid’s unique one-man NGO.

“I had no intention of starting an NGO,” says Aabid. “It happened organically.” As someone who had witnessed his mother standing in queue for hours to procure water and violent fights near the community water tap, Aabid already felt quite strongly about the issue of water wastage. “Then, I read in an article that if a tap leaks one drop per minute, 1000 litres of water go down the drain every month. That hit me. I realised I could easily save this water by hiring a plumber.”

For the past 11 years, Aabid has been visiting housing societies in Mira Road every Sunday with a plumber and a female volunteer, offering to fix leaking taps in people’s apartments. He has saved millions of litres of water over the years, and his model has been adopted by other environment enthusiasts in the country.

Aabid also conducts talks and sessions, but they aren’t always successful. When he realised he wasn’t reaching 99% of his target audience, he decided to link social messages to religion. He came across a quote by Prophet Muhammad: “Even if you are sitting on a river bank, you have no right to waste water.” He designed and printed posters with these words and put them up in the local mosques. Three months later, a Maulana reported that the amount of water used at his mosque had dropped by 66%.

A sprightly 83-year-old with the gait and attire of a teenager, Aabid is bursting with ideas and solutions. He has organised flash mob events to raise awareness about water wastage. He has written to the BMC suggesting a solution to the problem of overflowing tanks. He has made posters depicting Ganesha appealing to his devotees to save water for visarjan. “I have enough ideas to last me two lifetimes,” he says.

At a time when most people are jaded even before they hit mid-life, how does he find the inspiration for so many ideas? “The most important thing is to keep an open mind,” says Aabid. “We need to keep clearing our cluttered heads to make space for new ideas.”

Aabid has been advised to seek sponsorship and has even been offered funding to expand his NGO, but he is certain he doesn’t want to scale up operations. “I want to concentrate on spreading the message of saving water,” he says. “I have set the ball rolling with my ideas. Anyone can pick it up from here. Everyone can become a part of the movement by just turning off a leaking tap.”