Rajeev Goyal was in the Kavre district of Nepal when the April 25 earthquake struck and has been involved in relief work since then. He and his team quickly mobilized and have distributed 2,000 waterproof tarps. When the second earthquake struck on May 12, he and his team were in the city of Kattike Deurali. They are all safe and intend to continue their relief efforts. Their goal is to give out 10,000 tarps to families hit hard the most in Kavre. Right now more than 40,000 families have lost their homes. More than 8,000 Nepalese have lost their lives.
The destruction of homes and deaths reminds Goyal of the terror of the Maoist War in Nepal. In 2001, the Peace Corps deployed him at Namje, a remote village in the eastern hills of Nepal, as a volunteer translator during the conflict. He chronicles his experiences in The Springs of Namje. The passage below recounts the harrowing environment he encountered when he arrived in Gaur, a town at the border of Nepal and India.
The moment the landing skids hit the ground, we were in a cloud of twirling dust. When the blades finally stopped whirring, it was so quiet that I imagined we were in some desolate location, but outside a thousand dark-skinned men, fresh after the kill, stood motionless, staring at us. Normally the site of a UN helicopter in a village would bring all the schoolchildren out, cheering and howling, but not on this day. We had landed at the site of unspeakable crimes in a Terai town, with the unfortunate name Gaur (pronounced like the English word gore), just a few kilometers from the Indian border.
“I hope you’re ready for this,” Lena Sundh whispered in my direction as her cloth shoe met the warm ground. As the country representative for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), she had more than a vague sense of the horrors that lay ahead. The men parted and allowed her to pass as she made the slow walk toward the Gaur hospital. I zipped up my blue and white vest and scurried after Lena.
Today is World Water Day. Observed every March 22nd, World Water Day reminds people around the globe about the importance of freshwater and urges them to advocate for the sustainable use of freshwater resources.
This year’s theme is water cooperation, a rallying cry to recognize water as a resource that we are all entitled to and for which management responsibility is shared. On the surface, coming together as a global community for the good of water sustainability seems simple. But freshwater is becoming a scarce resource—one that is not evenly distributed around the world. And, with climate change shifting growing seasons and sea levels, our understanding of water’s boundaries and availabily is becoming even more muddled. To ensure a viable future, water must be a shared, not bought and sold to the highest bidder, not polluted and ignored at the detriment of our communities.
In addition to the small steps towards water conservation that people
can take each day, World Water Day asks us to look toward the future,
understand the realities of the water crisis that we as a planet are
facing, and take steps to change it.
At Beacon Press, we have published a number of books over the last decade that explore water usage and sustainability concerns from a variety of perspectives. Below are six titles that focus on the many ways access to water affects our lives, and uncover how the lack of collaboration by individuals, corporations, and government agencies has put us on a perilous path towards international water shortages.
The first book to call for a national water ethic, Blue Revolution is a powerful meditation on water and community in America. The book combines investigative reporting with solutions from around the globe to show how local communities and entire nations can come together to stretch vanishing water supplies and protect themselves from increasingly devastating floods. Barnett challenges the conventional wisdom that the United States can build its way out of water crisis and argues that no solution would be more powerful than an ethic for water—embraced not only by citizens, but by government and major water users including the energy and agricultural sectors.
Journalist Brad Tyer moved to Montana looking for big skies, clear waters, and change of scenery. But, soon after he arrived he discovered that “the treasure state” had buried secrets. Opportunity, Montana explores how a century of copper mining devastated the Clark Fork River, which runs through the state of Montana, as it took on the bulk of the pollutants and industrial waste. In the 1980s the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated the river as a Superfund site in need of environmental clean-up—one of seventeen in the state. It took twenty years for the EPA and the responsible parties to agree on what to do about it, and another ten before any change would be seen. How do you fix a broken river, Tyer asks? The financial implications, estimated to be 1.3 billion dollars, were just the beginning. First, 400 acres of toxic sediment had to be dug up and disposed of, and as Tyer discovered, mining waste doesn’t go away, it just gets moved and covered up. For the second time in Montana’s copper history, that burden would fall on the small town of Opportunity.
In the last decade, the inventory of dams in the United States has been reduced by nearly 500. Though many of those have been small, privately-owned ventures, the positive impact has led to proposals for larger dam removal projects nationally. In Recovering A Lost River, Hawley advocates for the removal of dams and the restoration of the rich and thriving environments that can be found in and around free flowing water. Assessing the current state of freshwater ecosystems nationally, he reports that a third of freshwater species are threatened or endangered, forty percent of freshwater bodies in America are too polluted for swimming or fishing, and half of the nation’s wetlands are gone. This book is a call to action for overcoming corporate and federal obstacles in order to restore free flowing waterways and reinvigorate long suffering wildernesses.
In 2007, When the Rivers Run Dry was a groundbreaking exploration on the state of water sources around the world, and the looming possibility of a world-wide water shortage. It is now considered to be required reading for anyone looking to understand the water crisis.
In 2012, Fred Pearce revisited the issue of water sustainability in The Land Grabbers, exploring how the need for abundant water in industrial agriculture has resulted in wealthy countries and powerful corporations in need of water seeking to obtain it, while impoverished countries with access to water are looking to profit from it. These practices have led to the exploitation of vulnerable land, people, and water, with the potential for devastating consequences.
In 2001, at the age of twenty-two, Rajeev Goyal joined the Peace Corps. Assigned to teach English in Nepal, he found himself in the remote mountain town of Namje where villagers spend most of their day walking to and from a far-off stream to fetch water. Goyal sets out to create a water project that would pump water directly into the town, in hopes of improving every part of village life, from health and prosperity to education. With the support and dedication of the villagers, the mission is successful, but the long-term consequences of development go beyond anything Goyal could have imagined. The Springs of Namje explores how water can hold back or propel a community forward.
A Peace Corps volunteer's inspirational story about the power of small change
In 2001, Peace Corps volunteer Rajeev Goyal was sent to Namje, a remote village in the eastern hills of Nepal. Brimming with idealism, he expected to find people living in conditions of misery and suffering; instead, he discovered a village full of happy, compassionate people. After organizing the villagers to build a water-pumping system in the midst of the dangerous Maoist war that had gripped the country, Goyal learned how complex rural development truly is. He also witnessed how the seemingly lowliest villager can hold profound power to influence not only his or her own village but also the highest rungs of government.
Years after this experience, Goyal applied the lessons he learned in Namje to his work on Capitol Hill. Approaching Congress as if it were a Nepalese caste system, Goyal led a grassroots campaign to double the size of the Peace Corps. His unique approach to advocacy included strategically positioning himself outside the men's room of the capitol building waiting for lawmakers to walk out. As a result of his determined bird-dogging, Goyal managed to make allies of more than a hundred members of Congress and in the process, he ruffled the feathers of some of the most powerful figures in Washington. But due to his efforts, the Peace Corps was granted a $60-million increase in funding, the largest dollar-amount increase in the organizations history.
On this path to victory Goyal endured a number of missteps along the way, and, as he reveals, his idealism at times faded into fear, anger, and frustration. In this honest and inspirational account of his life as an activist, Goyal offers daring ideas for how the Peace Corps and other organizations can be even more relevant to our rapidly changing world. He urges environmentalists, educators, farmers, artists, and designers to come together and contribute their talents. Filled with history, international politics, personal anecdotes, and colorful characters, The Springs of Namje is a unique and inspiring book about the power of small change.
Rajeev Goyal, a graduate of Brown University and the New York University School of Law, is a lawyer, activist, rural-development worker, and former Peace Corp volunteer. Since 2008, he has served as the national coordinator for the Push for Peace Corps Campaign. He leads environmental and sustainable agriculture initiatives in eastern Nepal through several NGOs.