editor: Christiana Donat
Water Harvesting against Droughts in Indian Villages
by Rainer Hoerig
Take 1: Jyoti Amle B 208 (Marathi)
„What shall I say? We depend on mother nature for our survival. In our fields, just about one hectar, we grow millets, vegetables and fodder for our cattle. My husband occasionally earns some money as a painter. But it is never enough to make ends meet.”
Every day Jyoti Amle has to walk for miles to the next village to fetch water. She returns with two heavily laden pots on her head. Two pitchers of water for a family of four – that is just enough for cooking and drinking. Even when temperatures rise beyond 40 degrees celsius, to have a bath is near to impossible. Jyoti Amle wipes sweat off her face and expresses hope that the new watershed-development project in her village Ambewadi may put an end to her curse.Bald ranges of hills, covered only with dry grass and withered shrubs stretch from Bombay eastwards into the hinterland of India’s Union State of Maharashtra. Here it rains just for a few weeks during the monsoon, hardly more than 300 mm per year. Even in normal years many wells fall dry during summer. During the last big drought in 1972 peasants and herdsmen fled in hundreds of thousands across the hills to the coastal areas or to their city-based relatives. There was no question of working in the fields, so farmers doused their sorrows in illegally brewed liquor. Drinking fostered quarrels and cheating in the villages, the community got poisoned. Many people resigned to apathy.
The six hamlets of Ambewadi are situated in a steep depression carved out of the bone-dry highlands by several rivulets. Huge, dark bolders lie around in the lightbrown savanna as if strewn around by Cyclopes. A dash of colour at one hillside attracts attention. A group of village women clad in colourful saris shovel up a knee-high earthwall that stretches along the hill at right angles to the slope. This is “shramdhan”, a voluntary work-exercise, they explain with a smile. Since Ambewadi has joined the watershed development scheme, every family contributes with voluntary efforts like this one. By digging shallow ditches and small dams, precious rainwater will be collected and saved for the scorching summer. Dhaulat Wable, a respected and experienced farmer supervises the work.
Take 2: Dhaulat Wable A 478/500/520/534 (Marathi)
„Sixty years ago, when I was still a small boy, there was forest all over the hills. But because the population increased, agricultural areas had to be expanded, at the cost of forests of course. If anybody needed money for a marriage party or a hospital treatment, he just went to the forest, cut a tree and sold it. But we have payed dearly for the sins of our parents. For years drought haunted us, we went hungry, because harvests failed. Only after the whole village opted for watershed development did our life become secure again!”
“Watershed development” means digging of contour trenches along hill slopes, blocking of culverts by a series of small earthen dams, the installation of small reservoirs in rivulets near the fields. These cost-effective waterworks slow down soil erosion and help to arrest precious rainwater, so that it can percolate into the soil thus enriching underground water reserves. A ban on free grazing is effected by the village community, saplings are planted near the trenches on the slopes. The landscape is being greened again.The effect is visible even after one rainy season. The more this kind of ecological restoration progresses, the more water collects in the wells. Soon fields can be irrigated again and an additional harvest be brought in. As with many development projects the more effluent amongst the village folk would harvest most of the benefits. But the project authorities, a voluntary organisation founded by Jesuit fathers in the nearby town of Ahmednagar pay special attention to the landless by providing jobs to them in the construction of check- dams and in afforestation.
Atmo 1: voices in the village 19/98-A-245
Voluntary helpers have erected a colourful open tent in the centre of Ambewadi. Nearly a hundred women from different villages are sitting in its shade to take part in a rural seminar. They also enjoy an occasional joke. Some hold babies in their arms and breastfeed them, others admire their neighbour’s new ear-rings. A young woman emerges from the crowd, steers towards a white clipboard and shyly fixes a large paper she has brought along, a plan for village-development. Occasionally slackening, she reads out from the lines written in the local Marathi language announcing to the gathering what the women of Ambewadi have together deliberated upon: setting up their own flour mill, buying bycicles for girls so that they can attend school, planting roadside trees.
Take 3: Jyoti Amle B 106/165 (Marathi)
“We have put up this plan after long discussions within our self-help group. There are altogether 13 such groups in our village. Ours has 15 members. We regularly pay some money into a common account from which small credits are given to members. We also work as a team in the watershed project. Each one puts in work worth 50 Rupies per month.”
Rural self-help groups provide women with opportunities to discuss their day-to-day affairs. With the help of small credits many of them are able to open up new income opportunities, through marketing of home-made products, for instance, or by setting up small shops. With solidarity experienced in the group many women feel much more confident to deal with their problems themselves. This pays off also during the discussions within the village water council where the watershed development work is planned and overseen. Interests of different groups have to be balanced against each other within the council, decisions have to be taken on whose land for instance the development work shall be executed.
At the end of the Eighties Father Hermann Bacher, a Jesuit priest from Switzerland who has made India his home, recognised that the economic mess in the villages aroung Ahmednagar had its roots in ecological poverty. Frequent droughts came in its wake. Father Bacher won support from the Indian as well as the German government and set up the “Indo-German Project for Watershed Development” in 1989. A new NGO, the “Watershed Organisation Trust”, in short called WOTR, was founded in 1993 to coordinate between the sponsors in New Delhi or Berlin and the local actors, that is NGO’s and village water councils. The German Government’s contribution, adding up to 37 million DM so far, are managed by the “Bank for Reconstruction” KfW and get disbursed in India through the office of the development bank NABARD. The German Development agency GTZ as well as the catholic relief service “Misereor” support WOTR’s work in the preparatory phase, when villagers are familiarised with the functioning of the scheme and when village water councils and self-help groups are formed. Today WOTR in cooperation with 62 local NGO’s is greening more than one hundred watersheds, which occasionally might encompass several villages. Altogether 8707 village women have enrolled in 577 self-help groups.
Take 4: Dhaulat Wable 7/98-A-404/B-079 (Marathi)
“Earlier we depended on the government water tankers for four months in a year. After a spate of bad harvests most families were highly indebted. By now most of our fields can be irrigated and produce one additional harvest every year. Today no one is forced to seek employment outside the village, all families have a secure income. We have not had to call water tankers since many years!”