Nearly 600 million Indians face acute water shortageand about 160 million people don’t have access to clean water. Water bodies like ponds and lakes have been the life line of our villages for centuries and people depended on these bodies for their daily need of water.However, due to decline in agriculture and allied activities andmisgoverned urbanization in the past decades, has led to neglect of available natural water resources. Illegal encroachment has created illegaldumping yards in villages. In place of clean and healthy water bodies, what is visible now is ugly garbage and filth in place of ponds. Water scarcity is becoming even more acute as water table is receding and the underground water available through hand pumps, wells or boring is contaminated with pollutants and harmful substances, thereby deteriorating both quantity and quality of water.
Poor access to water not only deprives poor people of the vital resource, but also leads to poor hygiene and sanitation. Especially now, the way the Covid-19 situation has been evolving and it appears that this fight is going to be a prolonged one, water shall be the basic need, as it assumes a critical role in ensuring recommended hygiene protocols related to hand wash and clean drinking water. This has created an additional demand for water and put pressure on the already scarce availability. The need for efficient water management can be dovetailed as a critical agenda for post-Covid-19 reform.
AROH Foundation has addressed the water related issues in more than 300 villages across the states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Meghalaya and Uttar Pradesh. The interventions include provision of safe water through solar water lifting pumps, rain water harvesting to augment water resources, building farm ponds, group wells, irrigation channels, check dams, and reviving and rejuvenating dead ponds and water bodies in villages.
In the last two years, the Foundation has revived more than 50 ponds in Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh. The exercise has created a deep impact and multiple benefits for the communities served. Under a well-planned, strategic approach, ponds were identified, pond profiling was done, encroachments were demolished, soil and water testing were conducted before starting the work. The ponds were cleaned anddesilted and deepened to increasing the water holdingcapacity. Given its downward penetrating root system, perennial compost composition was used as a natural bund-strengthening and stabilizing agent. The overflow from the ponds was designed to flow into the irrigation channel which irrigates fields in and around the village.
The intervention resulted in an augmented water rechargeof about 1 billion cubic mtrs of ground waters.
The revived ponds have also created better and sustainable livelihood options through aqua culture, fishery and duckery taken up by the local communities.
Besides, the exercise has served to help in climate control, benefiting nearly 60,000 people in these villages.Areas around the ponds were dressed up with fencing, plantations, installation of benches, staircase to reach ponds, because of which these water bodies also serve as ornamental spaces in the villages.These massive drives of water conservation and augmentation were also aligned to JalShakti Abhiyan.
The newly rejuvenated ponds have proven to be a boon for people and communities, especially duringCovid crisis, where the effort has not only countered water crisis,but has also given alternate livelihood opportunity through composite fish and duck farming in the ponds. Committees of landless poor men and women were created and registered under Fishery SHGs, extensive trainings were conducted for the members demonstrating Pond Rejuvenation, Water Testing, Fishand Duck Farming and ensured with forward and back linkages.Financial LiteracyWorkshopswere conducted in addition to build in the capacity of Banking, Savings and Smart Spending within the SHG members. During these COVID times, fishery could support villagers with their food and nutrient supply and also helped them sustain with some income as they were selling it in the local communities.
Story of change and survival is narrated by a landless, farm laborer Ramesh on how during unprecedented covid crisis, their fishery SHG could not only provide food andnutrient supply to their own families, but also helped them with extra earnings. He says, “Our Fishery SHG was life saving for us. We could not only eat fishes in the times of no food situation during Corona, but fed and earned through fellow villagers too.”
AROH promotes the approach of reviving existing water bodies, revamping water conserving structures as an effective and fast measure in the water conservation drives. It also serves as a booster of economic activity in the communities. A thoughtful alliance of people, resources, systems and policy makers can come together in mission mode to mitigate the water crisis. We as a planet are already blessed with abundance on water with us. Just forethought and small efforts can help us mitigate water crisis at various levels and can create ripple effect towards the mission of water conservation.
The nationwide lockdown had hit the villagers in Uttar Pradesh as they were not even allowed to visit their farmlands and were disconnected from other essential services. They were mostly dependent on rain-fed farming and animal husbandry. Farmers had long struggle as the water made available to them was coming at huge cost. And with no wages in hand, survival was getting difficult.During this pandemic, we witnessed how the ponds developed by us earlier provided resilience to people and communities and helped them tide over the financial crisis.