Rajat Sharma

How to conserve water and avoid water crisis during summer

rajat-sirAs most parts of northern, western, eastern and central India face scorching heat due to an early onset of summer in the first week of April, villages in many states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand are facing acute shortage of water. The water scarcity situation is acute in Vidarbha region also. Women are walking long distances to collect water as most of the wells have dried up and the water table has gone down.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Wednesday night, we showed visuals from Metghar village near Tryambakeshwar near Nashik in Maharashtra, where the only water source is a well, and every day, women descend 50 feet deep into this well to collect water. Since the water table has gone down, women are using long ropes tied to pails to collect water. Many women in this village walk two kilometre distance daily to fetch water from another well that is 35 feet deep.

The video clearly shows women risking their lives by clinging on to tiny steps to enter the well and collect drinking water. When India TV reporter contacted local authorities, they said there were three wells in and around Metghar village, but villagers were collecting water only from one well, and are not going to the other two wells. Leena Bansode, chief executive officer of Nashik Zilla Parishad said, the water crisis will be resolved soon.

Nashik is not an arid region. In the last ten years, the Godavari river flowing near the city was flooded at least four to five times and last year there was 476 millimetres rainfall in this area. Maharashtra water supply minister Sanjay Bansode told India TV that he had seen the video of women entering well to collect water. He promised to bring a permanent solution to the water problem and as a short-term measure, he said, water tankers will be sent to the village.

The water supply minister claimed that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s government is trying to achieve its target to provide 55 litres of water daily to every individual in rural areas. The bitter ground reality is that people are hardly able to get even two litres of water every day.

The situation is acute in Vidarbha region too. Villagers living near Nagpur have complained of acute water scarcity. India TV report visited Godhni village, 15 km from Nagpur where the population is nearly 17,000. Most of the villagers the reporter met complained of water scarcity. In one well, villagers have inserted 50 to 60 pipes to collect water.

Local authorities have set up four to five ‘water ATMs’, but most of them have become defunct after providing water for roughly 10 months. These ‘water ATMs’ have now become mere showpieces and are locked. Local villagers are questioning why government spent crores of rupees on these ‘water ATMs’ which are now defunct.

The problem is, whenever acute water crisis occurs, local bureaucrats parrot the same arguments about water conservation. The executive engineer of Nagpur Zilla Parishad said, water conservation shafts are being installed to ensure that the water table stays on a higher level. Scientists say, unless the state government and local villagers join hands for water conservation, no tangible result can emerge.

Vidarbha and Marathwada regions of Maharashtra have been facing water scarcity for several decades. There is less rainfall and the water table has gone down in most of the areas. Several small dams have been built but they are now dry due to lack of water. Most of the water is being used for irrigation, leaving less quantity of water for domestic consumption.

The scene is the same in Jharkhand, MP and Rajasthan. People living in Chirudih Upertola near Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, are being forced to drink hilly ‘nullah’ (drain) water. Due to scanty water, most of which is dirty, people are using ‘thali’(plate) and ‘katori’ to collect water in pails. Hand pumps and ‘jal minar’ installed in this area are now defunct. The local village Pradhan blamed villagers for not giving money for maintenance of ‘jal minar’ (water storage).

People facing water water scarcity should learn from Dewas in Madhya Pradesh, where the water table which had dropped below 800 feet several years ago, has now come up to 50 feet. Several years ago, India’s first ‘water train’ was run from Latur (Maharashtra) to Dewas (MP) which was then facing water crisis. But now the situation has changed, for the better.

This was possible due to the untiring efforts towards water conservation by Unakant Umrao, an IAS officer who is popularly known as a ‘water crusader’. When he became the Dewas district collector from 2006 till 2007, he motivated villagers to conserve water by launching a movement called “Economics of Water”.

Under the Reva Sagar Bhagirath Krishak Abhiyan, farmers built ponds in their fields and named them ‘Reva Sagar’. Reva is a local name for river Narmada. The name Bhagirath stands for the mythological man who brought Ganga to the plains. Hundreds of ‘Reva Sagars’ were built in Dewas district alone during the first year and soon it spread to Sihore, Shajapur, Ujjain, Harda, Khandwa, Raisen, Dhar, Vidisha, Bhopal and Hoshangabad, all in Madhya Pradesh.

Banks were persuaded to give loans to farmers to build ponds and these loans were later repaid. Rainwater collected in ponds had more soluble nitrogen compared to ground water. This water was good for growing rabi crops and local farmers prospered due to increased production.

When the ponds went dry during summer, the fertile soil was collected for growing crops, and after the crops were harvested, the soil was again used in the ponds. By this, soil fertility increased and there was less land erosion. In short, Reva Sagar scheme was basically storage of surface water, and it helped farmers during summer.

Umakant Umrao is now the Panchayat and Rural Development secretary of MP government. Other states should learn from this experiment and work towards water conservation so that people must not suffer from water scarcity.

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