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. In recent decades 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. The rapid expansion of Indian cities has been similarly dependent on the construction of private and public tube wells.
With so much water being extracted from the ground, in many locations throughout the country, groundwater levels are going down, and traditional shallow wells are drying up. If the current indiscriminate use of tube wells and rate of water extraction continue, the country will be facing a severe water shortage crisis within the next half century.
There have been many attempts at ‘solving’ India’s water problem, often involving major construction projects such as canals and damming major rivers. Schemes continue to be developed such as the massive plans to link the rivers flowing from the Himalayas. Unfortunately, such projects do not always fulfil their original expectations. They often displace people from their homelands and bring little benefit to the poorest sectors of society.
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 the amount of water that falls has usually drastically 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. Occasionally, as in 2006, severe storms 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. Sadly, with the promise 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 groundwater is heavily contaminated with naturally occurring minerals such as salt and fluoride. Rainwater harvesting collects the cleanest, most renewable source of water – rain - capturing it behind small dams so that it sinks into the ground for crops to be grown over an extended period, and filling surface water ponds and reservoirs and underground storage tanks 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 enabling the poorest people to manage their own water supplies in a sustainable way.|