World Water Day 2013: Aabid Surti-Saving water,one drop at a time


392830_550620378302083_769212999_nOn World Water Day 2013, let’s join Aabid Surti in saying, “Save every drop or drop dead”

What will happen if there is no water left on Earth? Yes we will die. Aabid Surti reminds us about this with six simple words that spell out the harsh reality, “Save every drop or drop dead” .

77-year-old Aabid Surti is a National Award winning author, artist, cartoonist and playwright. The problem of water scarcity bothered him so much that he decided to do something about it. Since the past seven years, on every Sunday he fixes leaking taps in the houses of Mumbai.

It could be estimated that he has single-handedly saved at least 5.5m litres of water till date.

Here is his complete story:

A few years ago when he was invited to meet the President of India to receive a national award for literature at a ceremony in New Delhi,he had politely declined. Absorbed in writing the first draft of his new novel, he cited the reason that he did not have time. But he does take out some time every Sunday for seven years now, for going door-to-door in Mira Road, a suburb of Mumbai, with a plumber in tow, asking residents if they need their tap fixed for free!

What made him take up the water scarcity problem so seriously?

He says that he read an interview of the former UN chief Boutros Boutros Ghali, who said that by 2025 more than 40 countries are expected to experience water crisis. He had seen people fighting for water in the ghetto he spent his childhood in . He felt that shortage of water is the end of civilized life.

Around the same time, in 2007, he was sitting in a friend’s house and noticed a leaky tap. It bothered him. When he pointed it out, his friend, like others, dismissed it casually: it was too expensive and inconvenient to call a plumber for such a minor job – even plumbers resisted coming to only replace old gaskets.

A few days later, he came across a statistic in the newspaper: a tap that drips once every second wastes a thousand litres of water in a month. That triggered an idea. He would take a plumber from door to door and fix taps for free – one apartment complex every weekend.

How did he implement his idea?

As a creative artist, he had earned more goodwill than money and the first challenge was funding. “But,” he says, “if you have a noble thought, nature takes care of it.” Within a few days, he got a message that he was being awarded Rs.1,00,000 ($2,000) by the Hindi Sahitya Sansthan (UP) for his contribution to Hindi literature. And one Sunday morning in 2007, the International Year of Water, he set out with a plumber to fix the problem for his neighbors.

He began by simply replacing old O-ring rubber gaskets with new ones, buying new fixtures from the wholesale market. He named his one-man NGO ‘Drop Dead’ and created a tagline: save every drop… or drop dead.

Every Sunday, the Drop Dead team – which consisted of Aabid himself, Riyaaz the plumber and a female volunteer Tejal – picked the apartment blocks, got permission from the housing societies, and got to work. A day before, Tejal would hand out pamphlets explaining their mission and paste posters in elevators and apartment lobbies spreading awareness on the looming water crisis. And by Sunday afternoon, they would ensure the buildings were drip-dry.

By the end of the first year, they had visited 1533 homes and fixed around 400 taps. Slowly, the news began to spread.

In 2010, Aabid Surti was nominated for the CNN-IBN CJ ‘Be The Change’ Award. In the same year, a television crew from Berlin flew down to follow him on his Sunday rounds which continued come monsoon or shine.

It’s hard to say how much water he has saved with his mission, given that the faucets he fixed could have continued leaking for months, and maybe years, had he not rung the doorbell one Sunday morning. But conservatively, it could be estimated that he has single-handedly saved at least 5.5m litres of water till date.

As he rings another door-bell on yet another Sunday in Mira Road, seven years into his one-man mission, he says: “Anyone can launch a water conservation project in his or her area. That’s the beauty of this concept. It doesn’t require much funding or even an office. And most importantly, it puts the power back in our own hands.”

About World Water Day:

World Water Day is held on 22nd March every year.It is an initiative from the United Nations to help get sanitation and drinking water to those who need it most.It celebrates its 20th anniversary today.

Leads to this article were sent by our regular reader Aayush Lakhotia. If you too know about such amazing Indians, write to us at


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