Rajendra Singh, from the state of Rajasthan, has been a leading voice for water security, management and conservation in India for decades.
Singh is currently Chairman of environmental advocacy group Tarun Bharat Sangh, which helps local communities in India take back control of their natural resources, as well as pushing for sustainable development.
“Through the Indian wisdom of rainwater harvesting, we have made helpless, abandoned, destitute and impoverished villages prosperous and healthy again,” Singh said.
Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute, called Singh “a beacon of hope,” warning that “we will face a severe water crisis within decades if we do not learn how to better take care of our water.”
“He has literally brought villages back to life. We need to take Mr Singh’s lessons and actions to heart if we are to achieve sustainable water use in our lifetime,” Holmgren said.
Singh studied medicine and surgery, but after relocating to Rajasthan in the 1980s with a plan to establish medical clinics, was told by villagers that their greatest need was water.
He began working to build traditional dams called johads; in awarding the prize, the Stockholm Water Prize Committee said Singh helped build almost 9,000 such water collection devices in 1,000 villages across the state, which restored water flow to several rivers and encouraged the return of forests and wildlife.
“When we started our work, we were only looking at the drinking water crisis and how to solve that. Today our aim is higher,” Singh said.
“This is the century of exploitation, pollution and encroachment. To stop all this, to convert the war on water into peace, that is my life’s goal.”
Singh will receive US$150,000 as part of the prize. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, Patron of the prize, will present Singh with the honour at a Royal Award Ceremony during World Water Week in Stockholm on August 26.