We’re in an Indian field covered in dirt up to our elbows, and we feel great. We’ve left ample rich Indian soil behind to nourish the native trees we are planting on the banks of the River Narmada. We’re here on a joyful day as part of The Nature Conservancy’s project to restore riverside lands for livelihoods, water, and climate benefits.
River Narmada is the lifeline of central India. It flows 1,312 kilometers through Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Gujarat before meeting the Arabian Sea on India’s west coast. The river supports 50-million people, meeting drinking water and irrigation needs. The river is compromised by dams, industry, and more. Settlements along the Narmada doubled in the last three decades while agricultural areas increased nearly 50 percent.
The river has deep spiritual meaning and is considered sacred. Each year, thousands of pilgrims circumambulate the river for up to 2700 kilometers. One glimpse of the river is said to absolve a person of sin and guarantee salvation.
Conserving River Narmada is a national priority, an important consideration as we strive to take pilot projects to scale. The government has launched two people-driven conservation campaigns. To start, The Nature Conservancy has been invited by the government to work on two sites spanning 24-hectares to demonstrate a scientific restoration model. The areas encompass two villages with 300+ families who depend on agriculture labor for their subsistence.
We will scale interventions from two to 56 sites. Doing so will provide jobs in ecological landscape restoration, security for farming families, and stabilize aquifer levels. The improvements will better support the pilgrims that take refuge along the river for food and meditation.
From providing physical to spiritual sustenance, the River Narmada is essential to India. And our work for the Narmada rolls up into much larger pan-India goals. The country aches for water security. By 2030, India’s water demand is expected to be twice the available supply—a projection bringing sharp focus to the imperative for river preservation. Lands alongside the river are degraded by climate change. Our goal is to achieve greenhouse gas mitigation of over 10 million tonnes of CO2e annually through landscape restoration and forest protection.
India is changing at a stunning pace: by 2030, half of India’s development will be new. To create a green future, our work is positioned to support the government’s stated goal of “development without destruction.” The country increasingly recognizes the connection between environmental and human health and has committed to build back better after Covid. To help people and nature thrive, The Nature Conservancy is charting a path forward that is guided by science and a deep commitment to creating a bright future for India.
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Anita Nagpal Schwartz is India’s Development Director for The Nature Conservancy, whose mission is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Partners for River Narmada initiatives include India Grameen Services, Jan Abhiyaan Perishad, Government of Madhya Pradesh, and village members.