Small steps to win the big battle against water scarcity

India water portal.

Small steps to win the big battle against water scarcity.

Communities across India have created many initiatives to tackle water scarcity. While costing lesser than govt programmes, these measures have also created a bigger local impact.

The recentWorld Water Development Report by the United Nationshas projected that India's demand for water is likely to surpass availability by 2050. The analysis is based on the fact that the country's per capita availability of water has declined by three times over the past six decades- the per capita water availability, which was 5000m3in 1951 has reduced to 1600 m3in 2011. Given this alarming scenario, the report has also recommended promoting water-efficient technologies in agriculture, domestic and industrial sectors.

While campaigning for the ongoing General Elections, many candidates realizing the priority and importance being given to water, promoted themselves citing big projects such as river interlinking, irrigation, water privatisation and so on but how much of an impact do such cost-intensive projects create, especially since local communities are so far removed from such schemes? Aren't there better ways to battle water scarcity?

There are, and these smaller scale initiatives that local communities have undertaken over many years are the focus of this story. These programmes have created an impact in their immediate environments and have not only benefitted people with surplus water but they have also come without any cost. Cost does not refers to direct financial costs, but the indirect cost associated with bigger projects such as the displacement of people, of using rural water to quench the thirst of urban areas and other such costs, which are largely unknown to the public.

Villagers create water in Himalayas

This is the story of two villages in Uttarkhand that tackled their water woes through patience, wisdom and local water knowledge. One story is set in Ufrenkhal in Pauri Gharwal where villagers transformed a dry ravine into a river and the other story is set in Gauna village in Almorha, which became self-sufficient by harvesting rainwater.

Some 40 years back Ufrenkhal was in a firing range but today this region iscovered with lush green forests and has been endowed with the Gad Ganga. The forest and stream is a result of the villagers' efforts for nearly 30 years. With the help of Sacchidanand Bharti, a teacher by profession, villagers dug small percolation pits on slopes and planted grass immediately downhill of the pit to protect its edges. These pitsPercolation pits surrounded by grass helped in retaining water and preventing soil erosion.

Percolation pits surrounded by grass helped in retaining water and preventing soil erosion.

This system called chal-khal, helped the retained water infiltrate into the soil, replenished the groundwater and created a river. Through this system, once a dry ravine has been transformed into a perennial river that discharges water at the rate of three liters per minute at the source. The method is still practiced in the region and nearly 40 villages have adopted it and have benefitted.

Before 2003, life was a bit tough for people in Guana village, especially for women, who had to walk 3 km down through the steep terrain to fetch water from a spring. Moreover, only three pots of water per household were allowed as the spring was the only source of water for the villagers. However, post 2003the villagers have started harvesting rainwaterand have transformed their lifestyle.

The village is quite steep and therefore, the rain falls and flows towards the plain, making it difficult to replenish the springs. Thus, rainwater harvesting was the most feasible approach for the villagers to adopt. Water is harvested using rooftop rainwater and surface run-off. Through rooftop rainwater harvesting, water is collected in a cemented closed tank, which can be later used for drinking and domestic needs, while the surface run-off is collected via channeling and diverting into the open tanks. This water is primarily used for irrigation and livestock. Today, nearly 155 rainwater harvesting tanks have been installed in Guana and its neighboring villages, where such systems have now now become the norm.

Community revives Sikkim's drying springs

A spring in Sikkim

A spring in Sikkim

Springs are dying in Sikkim due to environmental and anthropogenic reasons. Owing to the steep topography of the region, 85% of the rainfall goes down the mountains without recharging the spring catchment. But now with the help of Dhara Vikas, an initiative by the state government, communities have constructed trenches with a dimension of 6X3X2 feet at distance of 20 feet uphill and 8-10 feet downhill. Water channels have also been excavated to direct the rain water to these trenches. This arrangement isa way to store the rainwater and replenish the springswithout disturbing the source. Now, the region has become self-sufficient in water and Dhara Vikas is continuing its efforts to revive the many dying springs in Sikkim.

Revival of the Meghal river in Junagadh, Gujarat

In Junagadh located in Saurashtra, Gujarat,farmers revived the Meghal river with the help of the community,without taking any support from the state government. Once a perennial source of water, the Meghal dried up due to excessive use. The water crisis of the village was further aggravated during the droughts of the 1980s and 1990s that left dry the borewells, tubewells, tanks, handpumps and dipwells in the village. With no scope of agriculture left, farmers started to migrate to cities in search of employment.

To tackle this situation, several villagers joined hands and through community action built check dams to store large quantities of water that could cater to the needs of the village year-round. In addition to this, the farmers have adopted sustainable ways to conserve water by using drip irrigation and sprinklers to irrigate their farms.

Bringing back to life traditional water systems

Magadh Jal Jamaat is a group of progressive citizens, who havesuccessfully revived over a dozen traditional water systems, ahar pyne in Gaya, Bihar. From conduits of wastewater and dumping grounds of solid waste, the ahar pynes have been transformed into their original forms. Pynes are the diversion channels to lead the floodwaters of the rivers into the ahars , a reservoir with embankments on three sides. Likewise, Dilasa, a Yavatmal-based voluntary development organization,has been reviving and promoting the phads or diversion-based irrigation systems in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra.

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