Before and after the construction of our rain water harvesting dam in an arid valley in the Wakal river basin
Because millions of the world’s poorest people live in drylands. You might not be familiar with the term, but more than 40% of the earth’s surface is classified in this way. As the name suggests, the land is dry, subject to recurrent droughts. According to the United Nations, over one billion people in the developing world depend on drylands’ natural resources for their livelihoods. Not surprisingly, most of these people are at constant risk of food insecurity and poverty.
The good news is that, even in these challenging environments, there are simple, low-cost ways to make water available on a renewable basis, through the water-harvesting and natural resource management methods that Wells for India supports and promotes.
We choose to work in the drylands of India because the need is great, and so is the opportunity, to create sustainable livelihoods for millions of people
Rajasthan is India’s most water-scarce state. We started supporting projects here in 1987, and Rajasthan remains the main focus of our work.
Rajasthan is in north-west India. It borders Pakistan, and the Indian states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. Rajasthan’s most striking geographic features are the Thar desert and the Aravalli range of mountains. The Aravalli Range, running through the state from southwest to northeast, lies parallel to the direction of the oncoming monsoon winds, leaving the north-western part of the state in a rain shadow.
69 million (2011 census). Around three-quarters of the population lives in rural villages. In the villages where Wells for India works, most people belong to ‘scheduled tribes’ and ‘scheduled castes’.
Rajasthan and the monsoon
India receives most of its rainfall in one go, once a year, in the form of the monsoon. During the months of July, August and September, the monsoon progresses from the south to the north of India, often giving very heavy rainfall on the east side of the country. By the time the monsoon rains reach Rajasthan, the amount of water they deliver 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. Historically, 7 out of every 10 years have been drought years. Occasionally, as in 2006, severe storms cause flooding, leading to widespread loss of lives and homes.
Rural villagers rely on agriculture, animal husbandry and forestry as mainstays of their livelihoods. All these sources of livelihood depend on water and soil. For their water, most rural communities still rely on rain. They are at the mercy of the unreliable monsoon. People supplement this precarious livelihood with ‘labour work’: low-paid work, often exploitative, usually a long way from home.
Rural water availability
Traditionally, rural people survived with very little water. They knew a lot about capturing and storing rainwater. Nowadays, however, the traditional wisdom is dying out as large-scale government-led schemes such as pipelines or water towers promise modern methods of water delivery. Sadly, far from meeting rural communities’ water supply needs, these schemes tend to deliver infrequent, unreliable supplies (e.g. once per month). In the worst cases, they carry the precious resource of water away from rural areas to service growing urban centres.
Our projects aim to revive traditional knowledge and promote rainwater harvesting methods as a cost-effective, sustainable solutions that put villagers back in control of their water resources.
Where we work
We currently work in three geographical areas: the Aravalli Hills, Thar Desert and Sambhar Lakes – each representing different agro-climatic conditions.