Water Management: When teacher is Aamir Khan whole equation of learning changes

Indian film celebrity Aamir Khan is shepherding a very revolutionary campaign – making Maharashtra drought-free in five years. The movie star started the initiative with hopes of galvanising the rural population to go back to fundamental lessons of water management taught by their ancestors
Historians will tell you that an explosion of creativity occurs the moment the world starts complaining that there is nothing left to invent, or that the search for solutions has come to an end.

This explosion is fate’s way of reminding us that there is always something just over the horizon of knowledge. Social entrepreneurs are now using their talent to bring lasting solutions to several entrenched social problems at a time when the world has never needed them more.

Indian film celebrity Aamir Khan is shepherding a very revolutionary campaign – making Maharashtra drought-free in five years. The movie star started the initiative with hopes of galvanising the rural population to go back to fundamental lessons of water management taught by their ancestors.

The government has been purveying the same lessons for long but with little success. When the teacher is Khan, the whole equation of learning and inspiration changes. Maharashtra’s villages are seeing water in their parched lands after consecutive dry years. Aamir’s social revolution is set to surpass the feats of legendary rural reformers like Anna Hazare in Ralegaon Siddhi and Popatrao Pawar in Hiware Village, both in Ahmednagar District

Satyamev Jayate, Khan’s TV show that started in 2012, focused on issues that required social change. The response to the show was phenomenal as people from various walks of showed keenness to make a difference. Aamir’s team believed that if they worked in a specific area on a specific issue, they could be part of a massive social transformation. They zeroed in on the issue of water scarcity and decided to work in Maharashtra, thereby starting their non-profit, Paani Foundation, which aimed to spread knowledge about water management and groundwater

Since early times people have been conserving water for offseason by harvesting, storing, and managing rainfall, runoff and stream flow. But modern policies have made them abandon their native wisdom and they are paying a heavy price as they struggle against crippling droughts.

Ancient Indians had mastery over the art of water governance. Kautilya’s Arthashastra, written around 300 BC, has details of how tanks and canals must be built and managed. The key was to clarify the enabling role of the state, the king, and the management role of local communities. The kings did not have armies of public works engineers; they provided incentives to communities who built water systems and managed them. The British changed all this by vesting the resource with the state and creating large bureaucracies for management. People no longer remained part of the system.

Khan has adopted a unique approach to getting the public interested in his work, with the help of the Satyameva Jayate Water Cup, which has infused a competitive spirit in the participants. The movement started in 2016 with 16 villages and has now spread to 4000 villages across 24 of state’s 36 districts.

The competition is put together by three non-profits—Paani Foundation, Watershed Organisation Trust and Sparsh-Centre for Participatory Learning. Villages are assessed on watershed management and water conservation works for the competition.

Prizes for the Cup include cash prizes of Rs 50 lakh, Rs 30 lakh and Rs 20 lakh for the top three villages. Dr Avinash Pol, known as the ‘paanyache (water) doctor’, is the inspiration for the foundation and has said that 80% of the villages that participated in the competition last year created enough capacity to “bid goodbye to the water tankers they had been dependent on for years.”

The Paani Foundation has worked out a very careful strategy to enthuse half-abandoned villages into battling drought. The secret is Aamir‘s unique charisma that serves as the glue to enthuse and bind the people.

Social mobilisation is the lynchpin of the success. The Paani Foundation has worked out a very careful strategy to enthuse half-abandoned villages into battling drought. The secret, of course, is Aamir‘s unique charisma that serves as the glue to enthuse and bind the people. The entire effort is voluntary and participatory and has the element of the Gandhian spirit of self-sacrifice.

Shramdaan (voluntary labour) is a typical Indian strategy, rooted in its culture, to bring people together; it builds the social capital of a community to address critical local issues. “Unless the community is united, you can’t do this task effectively. The competition is very transparent. The marks card is published on the website. But we emphasise quality, not just quantity.” says Dr Pol.

By providing information, networking with other activists, rallying people to believe in collective action, acting as a bridge to the local administration and fostering community-level discussion through discussion clubs, Satyamev Jayate has lit a powerful spark in the deadwood of lost hopes.

The process commences with Khan writing a personal letter to every gram panchayat, inviting the village to join the water competition. Each competing village then sends five representatives, including two women, for training. The four-day training includes technical trainingas well as environmental inputs.

Upon returning to their villages the representatives help prepare an extensive watershed development plan. They are also expected to mobilise people by organizing gram sabhas(village assemblies) to explain the competition and why everyone must get involved. The Paani Foundation arms the representatives with solid technical resources. Apart from learning to read contour maps, villagers are trained to construct various water harvesting structures, such as earthen dams, loose boulder structures and continuous contour trenches amongst others.

Over 5000 villagers have been trained on watershed works. Dr Pol attends gram sabha meetings and interacts with thousands of villagers via satellite. During each episode a film or theatre personality joins the doctor. A caravan from village to village facilitates this online gram sabha. Aamir and Kiran take keen interest and visit villages from time to time

The Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR), based in Ahmednagar, is Paani Foundation’s knowledge partner. WOTR has trained 40 Panlot Sevaks—barefoot watershed technicians—to provide field guidance with three technical trainers stationed in each taluka.

The Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR), based in Ahmednagar, is Paani Foundation’s knowledge partner. WOTR has trained 40 Panlot Sevaks—barefoot watershed technicians—to provide field guidance. Three technical trainers are stationed in each taluka.

The annual shramdaan extends over 45 days which is however not adequate for the entire exercise. Invariably, earth diggers have to be hired to dig deep continuous contour trenches (CCT), ponds and other water reservoirs.

The foundation’s strategy focuses on community-based approach by empowering stakeholders and motivates them to build a non-political rural leadership. “The pace of work depends on their enthusiasm and motivation,” says Dr Pol.“The main difference in our work is that, unlike the government or the NGO sector, we aren’t giving a single rupee to the villagers. Given the right chance, we believe our villagers can do their work by themselves.”

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has also expressed his support for Khan’s endeavour. Khan’s enterprise and initiative has helped transform the “Paani adva, Paani jive” water conversation slogan of Maharashtra into a people’s movement. Source: ummid.com
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Will AI undermine nuclear stability?

By Andrew J. LohnEdward Geist: Artificial intelligence and nuclear war have been fiction clich├ęs for decades. Today’s AI is impressive to be sure, but specialized, and remains a far cry from computers that become self-aware and turn against their creators. At the same time, popular culture does not do justice to the threats that modern AI indeed presents, such as its potential to make nuclear war more likely even if it never exerts direct control over nuclear weapons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the military significance of AI when he declared in September that the country that leads in artificial intelligence will eventually rule the world. He may be the only leader to have put it so bluntly, but other world powers appear to be thinking similarly. Both China and the United States have announced ambitious efforts to harness AI for military applications, stoking fears of an incipient arms race.

In the same September speech, Putin said that AI comes with “colossal opportunities” as well as “threats that are difficult to predict.” The gravest of those threats may involve nuclear stability—as we describe in a new RAND publication that outlines a few of the ways in which stability could be strained.

Strategic stability exists when governments aren’t tempted to use nuclear threats or coercion against their adversaries. It involves more than just maintaining a credible ability to retaliate after an enemy attack. In addition to that deterrent, nuclear stability requires assurance and reassurance. When a nation extends a nuclear security guarantee to allies, the allies must be assured that nukes will be launched in their defense even if the nation extending the guarantee must put its own cities at risk. Adversaries need to be reassured that forces built up for deterrence and to protect allies will not be used without provocation. Deterrence, assurance, and reassurance are often at odds with each other, making nuclear stability difficult to maintain even when governments have no interest in attacking each other.

In a world where increasing numbers of rival states are nuclear-armed, the situation becomes almost unmanageable. In the 1970s, four of the five declared nuclear powers primarily targeted their weapons on the fifth, the Soviet Union (Beijing, after its 1969 border clashes with the Soviet Union, feared Moscow much more than Washington). It was a relatively simple bilateral stand-off between the Bolsheviks and their many adversaries. Today, nine nuclear powers are entangled in overlapping strategic rivalries—including Israel, which has not declared the nuclear arsenal that it is widely believed to possess. While the United States, the United Kingdom, and France still worry about Russia, they also fret about an increasingly potent China. Beijing’s rivals include not just the United States and Russia but India as well. India fears China too, but primarily frets about Pakistan. And everyone is worried about North Korea.

In such a complex and dynamic environment, teams of strategists are required to navigate conflict situations—to identify options and understand their ramifications. Could AI make this job easier? With AI now beating human professionals in the ancient Chinese strategy game Go, as well as in games of bluffing such as poker, countries may be tempted to build machines that could “sit” at the table amid nuclear conflicts and act as strategists.

Artificially intelligent machines may prove to be less error-prone than humans in many contexts. But for tasks such as navigating conflict situations, that moment is still far off in the future. Much effort must be expended before machines can—or should—be relied on for consistent performance of the extraordinary task of helping the world avoid nuclear war. Recent research suggests that it is surprisingly simple to trick an AI system into reaching incorrect conclusions when an adversary gets to control some of the inputs, such as how a vehicle is painted before it is photographed.

But AI could undermine the foundations of nuclear stability through means other than providing advice to strategists. Sensors and cameras are increasing in number throughout the world; AI’s growing ability to make predictions based on information from these disparate sources may cause nations to worry that the missiles and submarines they depend upon for assured retaliation will become vulnerable. During the Cold War, the superpowers sought crippling “first-strike” capabilities, but this was a perilous strategy—each superpower became convinced that the other might launch a disarming strike against it. With retaliation prevented, whoever struck first would gain a huge advantage. Thus the chances of accidental nuclear war were greatly increased. Such challenges are even more fraught in today’s world. More states are nuclear-armed—and AI technology might lend extra credibility to threats against nuclear retaliatory forces.

In the coming years, AI-enabled progress in tracking and targeting adversaries’ nuclear weapons could undermine the foundations of nuclear stability; that is, nations may question whether their missiles and submarines are vulnerable to a first strike. Will AI someday be able to guide strategy decisions about escalation or even launching nuclear weapons? Such capabilities are off in the distance for now, but the chance that they will eventually emerge is real—as is the need to understand, right now, how AI could reshape the world’s approach to nuclear stability. Source: https://thebulletin.org/
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