Water in India
India is one of the many developing countries in the world where improvements in health and prosperity are inextricably linked to the supply of clean water. Over the past 40 years the ‘green revolution’ in India has changed the country from a net importer of food to a net exporter. This has been achieved by a dramatic increase in crop irrigation, the water being supplied from millions of deep bore tube wells. Also the rapid expansion of Indian cities has been similarly dependant on the construction of both private and public tube wells.
With so much water being extracted from the ground, in many locations throughout the country ground water levels are going down and traditional shallow wells are drying up. There are fears that the country will be facing a severe water shortage crisis within the next half century if the current indiscriminate use of tube wells and rate of water extraction continues.
There have been many attempts at ‘solving’ India’s water problem, often involving major construction projects such as the Indira Ghandi canal and the damming of major rivers. Schemes continue to be developed such as the massive plans to link the rivers flowing from the Himalayas. Unfortunately as in most cases with such projects throughout the world such projects involving dams and pipelines do not always fulfil their original expectations. In addition they frequently displace people from their homelands and bring little benefit to the poorest sectors of the communities.
The Indian Monsoon
India receives most of its rainfall during the months of July, August and September. The monsoon starts in the south and travels northwards often giving very heavy rainfall on the east side of the country causing severe flooding and loss of life. By the time the monsoon rains reach Rajasthan in north west India in normal years the quantity of rain has rapidly diminished. In most years between 100 and 500mm of rain falls in Rajasthan, but in some years the western desert areas receive practically no rain and occasionally, such as in 2006, severe storms which caused flooding and loss of lives and homes.
The Role of Water Harvesting
There are many traditional ways to conserve and store water in arid areas such as Rajasthan. Unfortunately with the promise in the future of piped water, traditional ancient structures such as step wells have not been maintained and the techniques are gradually being forgotten. In Rajasthan there is the additional problem that ground water is contaminated with naturally occurring minerals such as salt and fluoride. Rain water harvesting is aimed at capturing the cleanest source of water– from rain, capturing it behind small dams so that it sinks into the ground for crops to be grown over an extended period, and filling village ponds (naadis) and underground storage tanks (beries and taankas) for domestic and animal use. Wells for India supports a range of water harvesting techniques throughout Rajasthan often bringing a secure water supply where previously there was none, and allowing the poorest people to manage their own water supplies in a sustainable manner.