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  Water harvesting via the Internet

Let’s say you are bothered about the impending water crisis in India. Despite the enthusiasms of our President and the Hon’ble Supreme Court for it, you are convinced that not only is river water linking a pipe dream or, even if the dream were ever realised, it will not bring water to every hamlet of the country. You are against big dams too: they displace people, serve the wealthy and water for living is a low priority for them. You realise privatizing water is the ultimate crucifixion of the poor and big water schemes need private capital. “Why, oh why, can’t we save all the rain that falls, where it falls?” you moan.

You are probably cut off from your rural roots, are sitting in a far city or town in front of a computer reading this, feeling helpless. You are reasonably well-to-do, but are beginning to wonder how you can make a difference in matters that worry you. Well, here’s one way to start: fund an Oorani.

Oorani is a Tamil word meaning village pond. It is an institution as old as Tamil society. Poet Thiruvalluvar referred to them 2000 years ago. Every village had three water bodies: one for irrigation, one for cattle and an Oorani for drinking water. All three are rain-fed. Many villages have survived centuries because of these catchment bodies.

Ooranis were usually endowed by ruling or merchant princes. Beneficiaries were involved in excavation and maintenance. They developed a sense of ownership. With Independence however, a disconnection has occurred. As government departments took over every realm of village management, Ooranis too fell to neglect. Maintenance and dredging became businesses for contractors.

A classic example of central planning is the one-design-suits-all drinking water scheme under a Rajiv Gandhi Mission. A borewell, an electric pump, an overhead tank and a distribution pipeline with taps was the standard prescription. All that the people had to do was open a tap. An incredible leap indeed, it seemed from having to go fetch water until, in several places, groundwater got scarce, the electricals failed and leaky taps wasted water. No one had planned for recharging the groundwater. Soon it was like old times again, with the additional jeopardy that old ways of rain water harvesting [RWH] had been forgotten. Today in several villages women and children trudge between 2 and 3 km for two pots of water.

This is probably the story across India, but enough now of the ills. Let’s get positive. The focus here is on Tamil Nadu because of an assured opportunity that let’s you participate in RWH by reviving Ooranis.

In the last five years the government here has become very active in RWH. Through a fiat all buildings across the state were mandated to be rigged for RWH. Suddenly water security became a people’s movement. RWH became a buzz phrase. The attention soon turned to traditional water systems. Tamil Nadu has few rivers but 40,000 man made water bodies.

Since governments for all their good intentions are always slow, DHAN in Madurai, took the initiative to do something directly. First they formed village committees known as Vayalagams ["Field and Hearth"]. DHAN works through them to address farming issues. In the last few years, revival or creation of Ooranis has generated much enthusiasm. Projects are executed by a three way partnership: Villagers, DHAN and donors. The works range in cost between Rs.1 and Rs.5 lakhs. Villagers contribute between 20 and 40% by way of money, materials or labour, DHAN’s planning, supervision and reporting amount to an average of Rs.78,000 and donors fill the balance.

 ◊ Athanakurichi
 ◊ Ilantaikulam
 ◊ Kanchiyanenthal
 ◊ Keelakanniseri
 ◊ Keelasirubothu
 ◊ Muthuvijayapuram
 ◊ Nediyamanikkam
 ◊ Parukkaikudi
 ◊ Thattankudiyiruppu
 ◊ Viyasapuram

After a series of discussions between DHAN and GoodNewsIndia, a rewarding proposal has emerged. Go visit this page to learn more about Ooranis. Then visit individual pages to read about each Oorani project now under planning. And write to DHAN with your intention to donate. The person at DHAN who is heading this is Ms. Raghini Mohan []. To keep transaction costs and times low, it is suggested you consider donating at least Rs.5,000.

Donor names will appear in the appropriate Oorani page. Additionally, at the Oorani site, a commemorative plaque will list your name. You can go further: What better permanent memorial to a loved one than an exclusive plaque at an Oorani entirely funded by you? You will receive periodic reports on the status of completion. Photos of the completed work will appear in the web page. If you keep informed of your donation, your name will be listed at this site as well.

It takes less than the price of a car to fund an entire Oorani which will sustainably serve a village of 600 to 700 people forever. It’s a powerful statement you can make and inspire others too. Ruling and merchant princes of old whose munificence built many public works were probably no richer than an average 35 year old professional of today. They however enjoyed the advantage of direct connection with people, that has been severed by changing times. DHAN reconnects you with rural India.

2000 years ago Poet Thiruvalluvar summed up what is being proposed here. First roll your tongue over the lovely Tamil sounds in this couplet [No.215 at this link]:
Ooruni Neer-Niraindha-thatray ulagavaam

Payrari-vaalan Thiru

Freely translated it means, “The wise man knows that when his wealth rises just as water does in an Oorani, it is only to benefit the world at large.”

Write to DHAN

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