What We Do

Wells

Well_open_4814  Well_parapet_MKS2010
Open well   Well with parapet

 

When Wells for India started, digging new wells was an effective way to make water available, for farming and drinking, to the poorest rural communities. Nowadays, however, all across the developing world, water is being taken out of the ground more quickly than the aquifers can be replenished. This is unsustainable, and the reason why we now place such a strong emphasis on rainwater harvesting, which recharges groundwater supplies on a renewable basis.

Today, our work with wells is less about digging new wells than maximising the efficiency and safety of existing wells. Many wells in rural India are just rough holes in the ground. People, especially children, and animals can easily fall in, injuring themselves and contaminating the water. When the rains come, mud is easily washed into the well, contaminating the water and silting up the well, thus reducing the amount of water available in the well. Building a parapet around a well solves both these problems at once.

Water

Water_ripple2012_1140

We cannot live without water. To ensure our basic needs, we all need 20 to 50 litres of water free from harmful contaminants each day.Lack of water, poor water quality, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene, contribute to death and disease, especially among children. Water and sanitation affect health, livelihoods and access to education. Lack of water and lack of sanitation are now recognised as key factors in causing and perpetuating poverty.Investing in water and sanitation makes economic sense. The World Health Organisation estimates that the return per £1 invested ranges from £5 to £28.

India’s rapid economic development means that finite water resources are being over-exploited. Water is being extracted from the ground in unregulated and unsustainable ways.

Wells for India proposes sustainable, equitable alternatives to current practices:

  • renewable water supplies which are relatively secure through rainwater harvesting;
  • water which is conserved and used as efficiently as possible;
  • water which is managed by local communities and families, including the poorest people, for their own benefit;
  • water which is of an appropriate for its intended use.

Rainwater harvesting

Rain is a great, renewable, source of water, even if rainfall levels are low – provided you know how to handle it. People in the drylands of India survived through the ages by knowing how to make the most of their water resources. The methods they used are still relevant today. Small-scale, low-cost, locally-managed water management methods are highly effective. The term rainwater harvesting (also known as rainwater catchment) is used to cover a wide range of methods for capturing, storing and managing water in different situations.

Surface water capture and storage

These are large reservoirs or ponds (known locally as talabs or naadis) that catch rain. They are shared by communities. People fill their water pots and bring their animals to drink. Sometimes they are linked up to irrigation systems. These water sources gradually silt up and lose capacity, so every few years they need to be drained and the silt dug out (see picture below). Planting trees around the edges of these reservoirs can strengthen the banks and reduce the amount of water lost through evaporation.

Artificial catchment plus storage tank

Catchments are non-porous surfaces that slope, so when rain falls the water runs into a storage tank. The water passes through a filter before entering the storage tank, which is usually completely or mainly underground. The two main systems that we support which use this method are taankas and roof rainwater harvesting systems. They are usually built at household level to collect and store water for drinking and domestic use, though we have also supported large-scale systems in schools.

Taankas

Taankas are an effective way of making water available for most of the year close to home, saving women and children the time and effort of walking long distances to fetch water. Taankas are a good solution for capturing rainwater in the desert.

 digging-out-a-taanka_h200 An underground storage tank is built by digging a hole and lining it with stone and concrete.
Taanka top cover The top cover and filters are completed.
 Creating the taanka catchment area A catchment area is created by compacting the ground around the tank. Its surface is smoothed with clay, which is re-laid after each monsoon.
 Women taking wter out of a taanka with buckets and pots The monsoon usually provides enough water to last most of the year. At other times, the tank can be used to store paid-for deliveries of water.

Roof rainwater harvesting

 RRWHS-tank A covered storage tank is built.
Roof rainwater harvesting gutter Gutters are set up along the edge of the roof to catch the rain. The roof does not have to be perfect for the system to work!
 Roof rainwater harvesting system pipes The gutters channel water into a pipe system, which leads into the storage tank. When the rains come, the roof is cleaned. The first water to fall washes away dust and debris. This water is allowed to flow away. After that, water is channelled through the pipes and filter into the storage tank.
 MKS_RRWHS_handpump_0239 Water is taken out of the tank using a bucket or handpump. As with taankas, the monsoon usually provides enough water to last most of the year. At other times, the tank can be used to store paid-for deliveries of water.

Livelihoods

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We use the term livelihood to cover the sources of income and goods that enable people meet their basic material and social needs.The communities we work with usually rely on a combination of small-scale farming and ‘labour work’ (low-skilled, low-paid, seasonal or occasional work), either for private employer, or for the national welfare-for-work scheme. Too often, poor families have little choice. They may have to send their children to work, or men may have to put their lives at risk by working in dangerous conditions.

Our work enables people to farm more productively, and to diversify their sources of income, so they can have a more stable, secure future without relying on outside help.

Farming

SAH_Dieter_RWH69_1140
Most people in poor, rural communities in Rajasthan practise rain-fed, subsistence farming. This means that they rely on the monsoon to grow crops once a year. They also keep animals such as goats, sheep, cows and buffalo. There is little, if any, mechanisation. Farming in drylands is challenging, but with the right inputs it can be productive and a source of food and income. Our projects enable villagers to farm more productively with respect for the environment.

Water for farming

Rainwater harvesting makes more water available for productive use, during more of the year. Farmers can grow crops two or even three times a year, with better yields in each crop, and pastureland can be developed to feed livestock. Typical crops include wheat, maize, pearl millet, mustard, gram and other pulses, and alfalfa/lucerne.

Growing fruit and vegetables

We encourage villagers to diversify into fruit and vegetable production. This enables better nutrition and access to new markets.

Nilgai (Blue Bull)Nilgai

The Nilgai can often be seen in farmland across India and is the largest Asian antelope. They are sacred animals, and cannot be harmed, and yet these graceful herbivores can also be a pest. One way to protect crops from being eaten by wild animals is to create natural high hedges, however, this won’t deter the Nilgai – it can jump over hedges more than 6ft high.

 

Training

Many of our projects organise training in various aspects of farming, and organise field trials to test new (non-GM) varieties of seed.

Animal husbandry

Livestock improvement programmes help animals to survive, and to remain healthy and productive, in drylands conditions.

Getting veterinary care for animals in remote locations is very challenging. Our projects organise ‘vet camps’, when vets take their expertise and treatments to villages. Some villagers receive training to become ‘paravets’. They are then able to ensure a basic level of care without a fully qualified vet.

Equipment such as feed mangers and chaff cutters ensure that animals can get maximum nutrition from their fodder.

Alternatives to farming

MSS_tailoring1140
While we aim to support poor farmers to work as productively as possible, and firmly believe that farming must continue to provide a significant part of household incomes, farming is not a complete solution to ensure adequate, secure livelihoods for everyone.

Our work focuses on the poorest people, many of whom have little or no land of their own. If they do own land, it may be unsuitable for farming. Some of the communities we work with have no tradition of farming.

Our projects therefore support the development of alternative sources of income that can be practised in a rural setting. These include forest-based produce; tailoring; soap-making; food processing; masonry; shop-keeping.

Microfinance and self-help groups

JG_MSS2010_1100
The debt problem

Almost everyone in the villages where we work has incurred some level of debt, often just to meet basic needs. The debt is owed to private moneylenders who charge very high rates of interest. As a result, the poorest people get caught in a debt trap. Small-scale, self-managed savings and credit groups offer a way out of this trap.

Microfinance through self-help groups

Most of our projects set up self-help groups (SHGs), or develop existing ones. SHGs are groups of 10 – 20 people, usually women, sometimes only men, sometimes both men and women. They have office-bearers (president, secretary, treasurer) who ensure meetings are held regularly (e.g. once a month) and that records are kept. Members contribute an affordable amount (e.g. 20 rupees a month) to a central ‘pot’. They can then borrow small amounts at better rates than are available from the moneylenders. Typical reasons for borrowing include: buying medicine, school costs, livelihood costs such as buying seed, or social costs such as weddings.

SHGs may also work on communal projects such as developing pastureland.

Once the SHG has records to prove it’s been operating properly for a certain period, it can access a government-backed credit scheme. This allows the group to take out a small bank loan, which can be used to develop livelihood activities such as goat breeding. When the group pays back its first loan, it becomes entitled to a larger amount of credit.

Sanitation & hygiene

Beeda_sanitationblock1140
Working in areas where water is so scarce, it’s easy to see water availability as the main, life-or-death challenge. Over the years, however, we’ve come to understand that sanitation and hygiene play a crucial role in preserving life, and increasing health and wellbeing. We support the provision of sanitation in schools and at household level; and hygiene education in schools and communities.
Click on the menu items below to find out more.

Why sanitation and hygiene are important

Janadesar_handwashing
A lack of sanitation and hygiene contributes to a range of health and environmental problems. The resulting sickness causes suffering, and loss of opportunities to earn a living or gain an education.

No sanitation means open defecation

India has the highest rate of open defecation in the world (WHO-UNICEF, 2010). People who have their own land have space to practise open defecation. The poorest people, however, who own little or no land, often have to walk for miles each day to access relatively safe and private open space. At the very least, this is a huge waste of time, effort and human potential. For the more vulnerable members of communities (women, pregnant women, children, and sick, elderly, or disabled, people) fulfilling their basic human needs can be a dangerous and degrading ordeal. Defecation near water sources and where food is being grown can spread disease.

We support projects to encourage whole communities to build toilets in every household and improve their hygiene practices.

No sanitation means life is worse for girls

Lack of sanitation facilities in schools is a major factor in girls not attending school. We have supported a number of projects providing sanitation facilities and hygiene education in schools.

Household sanitation & hygiene

OPS_THJBF2012_1140
We encourage people to change the habits of a lifetime in their daily lives, taking care of the hygiene of their drinking water and food preparation, washing hands, and using toilets. We do this by working at community level, training women to act as ‘change agents’, and by supporting awareness-raising work in communities and schools.

Before toilets can be used, they have to be built. We make it easier for families to build toilets in their homes by providing technical advice, and ensuring that the materials needed are readily available at wholesale prices in local shops. We train local skilled workers such as masons and metal workers (who make the doors to the toilet rooms).

Through our projects, people learn about the importance of washing hands with soap. We support training in soap-making, which can also provide a valuable source of extra income.

Usually when people fetch water, they filter it in a basic way through a cloth. Following on from this, simple steps, like keeping water pots covered, in shade and off the ground, and using a ladle to take water from them, can reduce the risk of contamination after water reaches the home.

Sanitation & hygiene in schools

schools_hyg_san_training
Our hygiene and sanitation work with schools has two main elements: encouraging the provision of sanitation facilities; and providing training in hygiene and sanitation through schools.

Sanitation facilities

Many schools in rural India do not have sanitation facilities at all. In some schools, sanitation blocks have been built to meet official targets, yet they contain no actual facilities! Having no toilets is uncomfortable and impractical for everyone at school, but it is known to affect girls in particular. The result is they miss school or stop going altogether. We have supported projects to set up sanitation facilities, and water harvesting facilities, in schools. These are accompanied by educational programmes so that children understand the importance of sanitation and hygiene, and practical steps to improve hygiene.

Hygiene training

Our schools programme is ensuring that a new generation of children learns good hygiene practices to pass on at home. Effective, appropriate educational resources are essential, and we’ve supported the design and development of games, models and flip charts. One of the most popular games is a floor-sized version of snakes and ladders. Children compete by going up a ladder if they land on a good hygiene habit, and descending a snake if they land on a bad habit.

Snakes-and-ladders

Women & girls

Women & girls

JBF_RIPL_TH2012_1140

Women and girls in India are systematically disadvantaged. Development work provides opportunities to improve the position of women and girls, both within the private family context and in wider society. Our work can contribute to this by relieving drudgery, increasing access to and control of resources, increasing participation in decision-making, and improving access to education.

Women and water

Women have the main responsibility for many tasks within a household. Fetching water is an essential task. Women in drylands typically spend hours each day walking to a water source and carrying heavy pots full of water back home. The water available may be of poor quality. When water is scarce, women suffer from anxiety about whether they will be able to find water.

Making water safer, and available closer to home, relieves women of stress and anxiety. They can spend the time they would have spent fetching water on other activities, including taking part in self-help groups and income-generating activities, and taking better care of themselves and their families.

Women and decision-making

Women have to be involved in decision-making in all our projects. Our partners work with men and women to make this happen. Women are encouraged to take an active role in village development committees and, in some places, stand for election to local councils.

Access to education

People in our project villages are encouraged to value education for girls as well as boys. If girls no longer have to spend time helping to fetch water, they have more chance of going to school. Another major barrier to girls attending school is the lack of sanitation in schools. We support projects to provide water and sanitation in schools.

Self-help groups

Our projects support self-help groups, which enable women to manage money more effectively, and eventually to access credit to develop their livelihoods. The groups also provide opportunities for women to share problems, work together towards common goals, and gain access to training.

Microfinance and self-help groups

JG_MSS2010_1100
The debt problem

Almost everyone in the villages where we work has incurred some level of debt, often just to meet basic needs. The debt is owed to private moneylenders who charge very high rates of interest. As a result, the poorest people get caught in a debt trap. Small-scale, self-managed savings and credit groups offer a way out of this trap.

Microfinance through self-help groups

Most of our projects set up self-help groups (SHGs), or develop existing ones. SHGs are groups of 10 – 20 people, usually women, sometimes only men, sometimes both men and women. They have office-bearers (president, secretary, treasurer) who ensure meetings are held regularly (e.g. once a month) and that records are kept. Members contribute an affordable amount (e.g. 20 rupees a month) to a central ‘pot’. They can then borrow small amounts at better rates than are available from the moneylenders. Typical reasons for borrowing include: buying medicine, school costs, livelihood costs such as buying seed, or social costs such as weddings.

SHGs may also work on communal projects such as developing pastureland.

Once the SHG has records to prove it’s been operating properly for a certain period, it can access a government-backed credit scheme. This allows the group to take out a small bank loan, which can be used to develop livelihood activities such as goat breeding. When the group pays back its first loan, it becomes entitled to a larger amount of credit.

Research & Development

r_and_d
We aim to develop effective methods and approaches that can be replicated and shared regionally, nationally and internationally. We facilitate links between researchers, policy-makers, practitioners in the field, and village communities. Examples of activities we have supported include:
  • Installing water level recorders and rain gauges in projects, and training villagers to use them.
  • Establishing a partnership with the Indian National Institute of Hydrology to monitor groundwater recharge.
  • Working with a local partner non-government organisation to develop a more efficient design for taankas.
  • Analysing satellite photographs to assess the effect of rainwater harvesting interventions on vegetation cover across a wide area.
  • Using geographical information systems technology to improve the accuracy of data gathered during village surveys.
  • Presenting action research at international conferences.
  • Co-organising (with a local partner) a national-level conference on rainwater harvesting.

Please note that we do not provide direct funding for students or organisations wishing to undertake research.

If you represent an organisation that would like to explore a research and development collaboration with us, please get in touch with our India office (for organisations based in India), or our UK office (for organisations based outside India).

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Emergency relief

Jaisalmer_flood_2006_1140

The focus of our work is long-term development, increasing vulnerable rural communities’ resilience to the effects of climate. We are not a relief agency. Yet there are times when the results of years of development work and investment come under threat, usually from drought or flood.

Drought is a common occurrence in Rajasthan. Our development work is highly effective in increasing rural communities’ resilience in the face of drought, but it takes time to build up water-harvesting structures and other measures such as fodder storage banks. When drought hits, people can still find themselves caught in a desperate situation.

Of course, people need water to drink. They also need to keep their livestock alive. When there is a drought, the price of fodder soars. People find they can no longer feed their animals. If they try to sell them, they find that the market price has fallen. For poor farmers who have spent years striving to improve the quality of their herds or flocks, losing their animals is heartbreaking, as well as economically devastating.

When necessary, in villages where we have already supported development work, we support drought relief work – usually by distributing water and fodder.

Flooding is the other major climate-related disaster that may affect areas where we work. We may choose to support flood relief efforts, but only for communities where we have already invested in development projects.

Please note that we do not respond to requests for aid in areas where we have not already supported development work.

What difference we make

DT_SS2011_1140

The work we support is  designed to bring about positive, lasting changes in people’s lives. Our projects bring benefits in the short, medium and long term. Although our work is based primarily on water and sanitation, we support projects that are designed to lead to positive outcomes in most or all of the following areas:

  • Water security and safety
  • Livelihoods 
  • Gender relations 
  • Wellbeing / quality of life 
  • Health 
  • Environment / ecology 
  • Education 

Measuring change

At the outset of our projects, we agree specific objectives, and ways of measuring the project’s success, with the local partner carrying out the work. Once a project is underway, our own India team makes regular visits to monitor progress. At the end of the project, an independent evaluation is carried out.