Drought in some parts of the country, notably Rajasthan
and Gujarat, made big news in the months preceding the monsoon. Media was
busy in reporting the gruesome picture of the first drought of the new
century. Some even dubbed it the worst ever in the past 100 years. The
print and visual media were competing with each other in bringing pictures
and stories of this drought. But grass root and community level efforts
which were made to fight the drought, without any government help were not
highlighted in their proper perspective.
A story bigger than the drought itself was, efforts made
by communities and individuals to meet the challenge posed by the drought.
Several innovative, traditional methods of water harvesting saved the day
for a number of villages in the two worst affected states. Deepening
village ponds, recharging dried wells and construction of simple
watersheds successfully, enabled villagers to face the acute water
shortage. Unfortunately, the media largely ignored these efforts, in its eagerness to project the horrors of the 'worst ever drought'.
"Paani Ghano Amol"
An attempt has been made to record such success stories
in a study commissioned by "Charkha" and the National Foundation
for India. The study called "Paani Ghano Amol" (water is too
priceless) is a compilation of some of the extra-ordinary stories of rural
communities devising their own ways and methods of conserving water in
villages of Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Villagers are adopting different methods for water
harvesting and conservation. They have demonstrated that rain water can be
collected in dried up ponds, old village wells can be recharged and ponds
with plastic lining can effectively hold water. The lining also helps
water from becoming saline. In some villages it was found that there was
no water scarcity at all, when other villages in the same area were
passing through a crisis. " This is the last year when we are using
water from the government tanks. From next year we will not need this help
at all", says Jaidev, a proud and confident deputy sarpanch of Adoli
village in Bhavnagar district of Gujarat. The reason for his confidence is
a tank that villagers are constructing near the village - it will have a
capacity to hold 8000 cubic metres of water. He says people in the areas
have learnt the technique of collecting water in tanks with plastic
lining. This will end their dependence on tanker water, for which only
ration card holders are entitled.
The Kharkali village of Kochar Ki Dang in Sawai Madhopur
district of Rajasthan has a similar story to tell. Houses in this as well
as several other drought prone villages used to be found locked during the
summer season. People from these villages would migrate to other villages
from March to June every year, since they had no water to drink during
these months. These villages are located in hilly terrain. But there is no
more migration now. With the help of the active NGO, Tarun Bharat Sangh,
villages from this area have learnt to store water by constructing small
tanks around their dwellings and fields. Stored water in these tanks is
now sufficient for villagers as well as their animals in the summer
months, in some cases up to June.
"Plant a tree and get rain"
The worst-hit Saurashtra region of Gujarat too has its share of success stories. There are crusaders like Premji Bhappa who are
spreading the message of "plant a tree and get rain". Bhappa is
also engaged in making people of the region realise the importance of
preserving ground water. "I realised this four decades back. I have
been telling people that at the speed at which the water levels are
falling, there will be no groundwater left very soon. We can stop this
depletion only when we put back into the ground the quantity of water
which we draw from it", says Bhappa. He has been educating villagers how
to recharge open wells. The first time he recharged a well was thirty one
years ago. In 1992, when there was a severe drought, people took to the
idea of recharging wells. Since then, the message has spread far and wide
in the region.
In Bhenkra village of Sabarkundala taluk of Amreli
district, local resident Chaganbhai has an interesting tale to narrate. He
says his father, Bhagwanbhai, was the first in the village to try out
watershed development in his own novel way. He had blocked the village
water drain by putting mud and stones to prevent water from flowing out to
open areas. Using this experience of conserving water, villagers have
benefited through the years. Now, with the help of local NGOs, a proper
watershed development program is being used to collect rain-water
effectively. Chaganbhai is also engaged in teaching various water
conservation techniques. Villagers recall that thanks to him, six-seven
wells in the village were flowing with water even at the peak of summer
Antala, the reviver.
Aakro village in Dhundka taluka has a population of about
2500 people. But it was never faced with water scarcity even during the
worst drought years. Village elder Mistry Shyamjibhai recalls that for the
past forty years he has not seen the bottom of the village pond. Thanks to
water conservation and constant recharging, even in the month of June, the
pond has sufficient water for the entire village. Due to groundwater
recharging, wells in the village also don't get dried - some of them have
water levels up to 30 feet in summer. In Tatu village in Gadra taluka of
Bhavnagar district, villagers have constructed three check dams to hold
In Saurashtra, yet another silent crusader is Shyamjibhai
Antala,who has taken upon himself the task of reviving dried wells in all
the drought-prone villages. Through the "Saurashtra Lok Manch",
Shyamji has taught the technique of recharging wells to some 1200
villages. He has held Gram Sabhas to train villagers in this technique.
Even the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister has sought his expertise in
bringing about awareness in his own state. Now Rajasthan government is
also keen to utilise the services of Shyamji.
The study has brought into focus, silent efforts of
communities and individuals to help themselves in just two states. There
are several such examples in other states as well. More such efforts are
needed so that the message could spread all over and inspire local
communities to take up similar work in their areas. Instead of looking to
the government for help, people can help themselves.
a stirring profile by Madhu Kishwar, of Mathurbhai Savani of Khopala
village in Gujarat who has led a whole sustainable water-use programme.
are mothers' breasts and river waters, the milk', says Rajendra Singh, an
intuitive folk-hero who brings awareness of sustainable living to India's
villages. Read this exhaustive, illustrated profile of the man.
"A story bigger than the drought
itself was, efforts made by communities and individuals to meet the
challenge posed by the drought."
"Through the "Saurashtra Lok
Manch", Shyamji has taught the technique of recharging wells to some