Water Seekers Fellowship 2021: Urban Waterscapes

Call to Contribute

The Living Waters Museum and the Social and Political Research Foundation invite young researchers interested in exploring urban waterscapes in India to apply for six short-term visual research-cum-policy-analysis fellowships. India’s rapid urbanisation has thrown up many challenges over the last two decades.

By 2050, half of our population will be living in urban and peri-urban areas. This will put immense pressure on available water resources across the urban space, much of which has limited infrastructure for water management. The Water Seekers’ Fellowship 2021 seeks to understand the diversity of this challenge and address it through visual narratives, case studies and policy research.

Specifically, the fellowship will address the following themes: 

•  Watershed management and environmental flows in urban areas  •

•  Fluid heritage, tangible (built) and intangible (practices, rituals, cultures)  •

•  Equity and access to water in informal settlements  •

•  Wastewater management (sewage, faecal sludge, toxic effluents)  •

•  Public health and WASH (from everyday vulnerability to pandemics)  •

•  Disaster risk management (urban floods, water scarcity and the poor)  •

•  Hydropolitics (citizen action for sustainable and just water governance ) •


Case study (upto 1000 words)

Visual narrative (1500 words)

Policy brief (1000-1200 words)

An in-depth look at an individual or a community or a collective or an organisation relevant to the context or issue or geographical area selected by the applicant as part of their proposal. The case study shall specifically look at how a particular issue affects an individual or a community and whether there are localised responses to mitigate the same.  

Data visualisation is core to communicating our water challenges from an interdisciplinary lens. The visual narrative can be in the form of a photo-essay with original or archival photographs, or art-work, graphics, a short film or other multimedia. Both the text and the images tell a story about our changing urban waterscapes.

Borrowing from the case study, the policy brief will give a bird’s eye view of the current state of affairs and what they could look like through policy interventions. It comprises a brief analysis and explanation of policy issues/ challenges and recommending policy options or solutions to the gaps identified. Essentially, it will bring together what is and what can be.


  1. Graduate or Postgraduate degree in social sciences, water management, development studies, environmental science, sustainability and other relevant disciplines.
  2. Keen interest in communicating stories and research surrounding the urban water landscape in India.
  3. Self-motivated, proactive and responsive to dynamic situations.
  4. Strong writing and communication skills in English (other languages will be considered for translation and communication to local communities, but the primary output should be in English).
  5. Access to the internet and a computer to effectively work from home. 
  6. Must have prior experience of internet-based research. 
  7. Fellows from the previous edition of the Water Seekers’ Fellowship are not eligible to apply.

The applicant must be an Indian citizen between 21 to 35 years of age. Women and individuals from marginalised communities are particularly encouraged to apply.

Duration of the Fellowship

Application Process

Application Deadline

15 October 2021 – 15 December 2021

Round 1 – Submit your application through the google form

Round 2 – Applicants selected in the first round will be contacted for a detailed proposal

29 August 2021 – Midnight IST  (Sunday)

Mentoring and Remuneration

The selected researchers will be co-mentored by team members from both SPRF and LWM, who will provide support in terms of literature review, formulating questionnaires, public policy overviews and design and conceptualisation of the proposed visual stories. 

Selected researchers will be provided with a total stipend of Rs 20,000 for a maximum period of 8 weeks.  

About the Fellowship
India’s urban water landscape is as dynamic as the cultures and geographies that constitute what the country calls “urban”. Over the last few decades, as economic prosperity and new opportunities have grown across India, urbanisation and its associated impacts have gone from being mostly concentrated in premier metro cities, to now taking their own colour and shape across peri-urban areas, small towns and large village clusters. This dynamism is especially evident in the way water is accessed, supplied, consumed, disposed, and treated across cities. 
The macro picture of urban water use suggests that water demand has increased due to both, the growth in the share of urban population and the shift in consumption patterns that are associated with the use of ‘modern’ urban household amenities like showers, flush toilets, etc. While domestic urban water demand increased substantially during 2001-11, with a projected urban population of over 800 million by 2050, it may rise exponentially. This would create an alarming scenario considering that India is already a water-stressed country as per the Central Water Commission estimates.
This macro picture is replete with challenges based on the demographic, geographic and administrative situation of a particular city. Potable water access, while available to a median 83 percent of the urban population, is less than 50 percent in states like Rajasthan and Bihar, and less than 25 percent in Assam and Nagaland. In cities like Delhi, 80 percent of the population is dependent on roughly 8 percent of the water supply indicating massive inequality in access and bringing into question the “right to the city” of most of its inhabitants. Supply indicators across cities, except major metros like Mumbai, Bangalore, etc. are below the service level benchmark of 135 litres per capita per day (lpcd) and crumbling water supply infrastructure ensures 25-50 percent of water supplied gets lost during distribution. Besides, much of urban India’s wastewater flows untreated in freshwater bodies with inadequate treatment capacity across the board. Meanwhile, peri-urban areas are increasingly catering to the heightened demand in nearby cities via informal water supply networks. Owing to greater agricultural water use in such areas, groundwater resources are already under pressure and rural-urban conflict is not uncommon. 
Enmeshed within these challenges are the climatic and geographical predispositions of cities. Coastal cities are particularly vulnerable to inundation and sea water ingress affecting their groundwater quality. This is over and above increasingly frequent cyclones that cause flash floods and disrupt access to public utilities. On the other hand, Himalayan cities have seen water shortages in recent years too. While these cities already have a fragile ecology, the natural springs and streams that are essential to their ecosystem services are dying. This has been largely attributed to climate change, urbanisation and tourism, especially in the summer, putting additional pressure on already stretched local resources.
Inter-state river water disputes and waterfront development are among other issues of concern. Twenty out of India’s 22 major river basins are inter-state. Many of them are home to prolonged river water disputes such as those on the Krishna, Cauvery and Mahanadi. With political expediency being a major factor in such disputes, millions of city-dwellers, rural people and even the rivers themselves compete for their rights. Waterfront development, starting from the Sabarmati and Godavari, has become an essential part of urban beautification. Although a viable source of land revenue for state governments and urban local bodies, waterfront projects have been frequently criticised for disregarding environmental flows and flood zones. 
Perhaps a significant change in India’s urban waterscape has been brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, compounded by poor public health infrastructure. There is a lack of conclusive data on the nationwide impact of the pandemic on water. However, one can presume a notable rise in water demand due to frequent hand washing and cleansing. Moreover, increased water-stress may have exacerbated pre-existing inequalities in access. There is also the added risk of freshwater contamination due to a reported surge in the dumping of Covid-affected dead bodies near rivers.     
The common thread that binds these diverse challenges together is the disruptive and uncontrolled nature of urbanisation itself. Often, it leads to the discontinuation of traditional water practices, degradation of the ecosystem services around water bodies, competition for limited resources due to migration, changes in who accesses a settlement’s water resources and who controls its supply. Such processes necessitate the construction of micro-narratives that could aid policymakers, academics, and city-dwellers in understanding their relationship with water better and help formulate context-specific policy responses as part of city plans. 
In its second edition, the Water Seekers Fellowship, a collaborative initiative supported by the Living Waters Museum and the Social and Political Research Foundation, seeks to bring to light such micro-narratives on India’s urban waterscape to provide nuanced and evidence-based policy recommendations. 
About the Organisers
About LWM
The Living Waters Museum (LWM), a virtual museum, was launched in September 2017, to document, curate and communicate the rich and diverse traditions of water heritage and practices in India and build a repository of visualized knowledge, which can commemorate the past, inspire the present and be a source of learning for the future. LWM is a part of the Global Network of Water Museums, endorsed by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Hydrology Program in 2018, as a special initiative to foster greater awareness on Sustainable Development Goal 6, through education and outreach. We are currently based at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune within the new Centre for Water Research.  
About SPRF
The Social and Political Research Foundation (SPRF) is a registered public charitable trust headquartered in New Delhi. We are a young think tank seeking to make public policy research holistic and accessible. SPRF’s key focus areas crosscut five broad themes: Governance, Economy, Human Rights, Internal Security, and Environment. SPRF takes an evidence-based, intersectional and non-partisan approach to issues at the forefront of societal development and policy formulation. Our work has been featured in several mainstream and alternative publications like Hindu Business Line, Mint, FirstPost, News18, ORF online, Business Insider, NewsClick, and Down To Earth.
Terms and Conditions

  • Any form of plagiarism will be dealt with strictly and will lead to the cancellation of the fellowship. 
  • All images taken for the visual narratives need to follow ethical consent guidelines if they involve human subjects. Images of children 14 years or below in age, need to have the consent of their guardians. 
  • The final outcome of the fellowship will be jointly owned by the fellow, Living Waters Museum (LWM) and the Social and Political Research Foundation (SPRF). Thus, all acknowledgement for any content used, whether by its creator or a third party, must be jointly credited.