TED Talk of the week: Anupam Mishra and ancient ingenuity

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The wit and wisdom of Anupam Mishra’s TED Talk is not just a compelling watch – it’s also a pertinent discourse on water conservation, especially considering today’s shortages. In this talk, Mishra explores and expounds on the various ways that indigenous Indians harvest water with wells, filter ponds and catchment systems. Sound easy enough? It’s not. He focuses on the inhabitants of the Golden Desert – think sand dunes and camels – which receives only 9 inches of rain a year. Yet despite the aridity of the region, the inhabitants still manage to skillfully build a thriving city on nothing more than the area’s natural supply (that is, no aqueducts — just desert). The talk is entitled “The Ancient Ingenuity of Water Harvesting,” and although Mishra is difficult to understand at times, it’s definitely worth checking out this talk. You’ll be amazed by the skill and craftsmanship with which these people have built their cities, and you may even walk away with hope for our future’s water supplies. You can watch the video here, or you can check out our breakdown of the talk below.

It’s possible to get water from just about anywhere, and that’s reassuring. The Golden Desert is arid in every sense of the word — it’s hot, sand stretches for miles and the only underground sources of water are saline. Yet despite the desert’s inhospitality, indigenous Indians have built and maintained centuries-old cities right in the middle of it. What nature has withheld in amenities, people have counteracted with ingenuity. Some water basins harvest more than 6 million gallons of water per season, and what’s more, these systems are more than 400 years old. If that’s possible in the middle of the desert, what’s holding us back from better water practices elsewhere?

Caring for something means respecting it. For the inhabitants of the Golden Desert, regional water is a source of life — there is no Colorado River to serve their needs (by the way, thank you, Colorado). Hence, their systems are built with the utmost care, and maintenance of these systems is a matter of life or death, and that’s not being melodramatic. This attitude is visible, too — Mishra shows a picture of a 400-year-old water canal next to a modern road, and while the road is decrepit and broken, the water structure is pristine. Generations upon generations of inhabitants have been maintaining these structures because of their importance.

Mishra’s TED Talk ended on a hopeful note: Chris Anderson, the curator of TED Talks, came up and asked whether these lessons are universal. Mishra responded by saying that he believed that these techniques could be used by any number of people in any place.

Image Source: Vasudev (Vas) Bhandarkar under Creative Commons

Contact Griffin Mori-Tornheim at [email protected]