World Water Day: In Alwar, community-based water management, recharge key to solving crisis

The water crisis has limited the farming season to just a few months

By Jim Kasom
Published: Tuesday 22 March 2022
Solving water crisis: In Alwar, groundwater recharge, community-based water management key Photo: iStock

Out of sight, under our feet, groundwater is a hidden treasure that enriches our lives. Almost all of the liquid freshwater in the world is groundwater. The World Water Day reminds us that with increasing impact of climate change, we cannot neglect the importance of preserving and recharging groundwater. 

Let us appreciate the efforts of some villagers in Rajasthan who have understood the importance of protecting the invisible groundwater and are making visible changes to conserve it.  

Kanu’s village is at the foothills of the Aravalli Range in Rajgarh block, Alwar. The village is on the periphery of a valley, which was once a water reservoir. Now, the concrete walls look like one of the many ruins dotting the landscape in Rajasthan. 

What was once a reservoir, is today a parched farmland. Kanu is three years old and is yet to understand the impact of the water crisis threatening his home. His father Narayan Singh, 25, lives and works as a daily labourer in Jaipur, around 200 kilometres from the village, to provide for the family. 

The water crisis has limited the farming season to just a few months, at the mercy of nature. Farming is not a viable livelihood any longer, and the younger generation is moving away from that profession. 

Read more: Jodhpur blues: How the Indira Gandhi Canal has robbed the desert citadel of its character

Water dictates life around here. “Water crisis is the biggest problem here,” said Kanu‘s mother Pinky Devi. Alwar is a semi-arid region, and except for the monsoon season from June to August, the area remains dry. “During the dry season, I collect water 3-4 times a day, often spending a lot of time at the bore well as there are always more than 10 people waiting in the queue,” she added. 

“It used to rain more when I was younger, and the wells were always full,” said Kanu‘s grandmother Laxmi Devi, 43. They would collect water from the open wells, she added. “Today, the wells are dry and we have borewells to get water.”

The average annual rainfall in Rajasthan has increased to 492.4 millimetres in the last 11 years (2009-2020) from the normal of 419 mm, according to The Monsoon Report, 2020 (Rajasthan) by India Meteorological Department. The report debunked the popular belief that rainfall has decreased over the past years. 

The report, however, showed that rainfall fluctuates and follows no pattern because of global warming and climate change. The impact is even more prominent in a place where the crisis was already looming. The gradual but perpetual decrease of groundwater level is a big concern and poses a big threat. 

The groundwater level is in a perpetual decline. A detailed study of pre-monsoon water level data from 2002-2011 showed that groundwater in Alwar has been declining by 25 centimetres per year. The district’s total annual groundwater resources and net annual groundwater availability have been estimated to be 869.51 million cubic metres (mcm)and 794.82 mcm, respectively, according to a 2009 joint report by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) and Ground Water Department of the Government of Rajasthan.

The annual groundwater discharge for all uses is estimated at 1,323.87 mcm, and the overall stage of groundwater development is 124.1 per cent. The groundwater recharge is not at the same rate as discharge, and therefore the groundwater level keeps declining every year. 

Gopal, 29, and his family had farmed their land for generations, but the water crisis poses new challenges. He said: 

We don't grow any crops during the hot season. We have stopped growing wheat and corn. They require more water. We don't have water for irrigation. We have just enough water for drinking. 

Another challenge springing from it is malnutrition among children. Kanu was diagnosed with Severe Acute Malnutrition a few months ago. The water crisis is affecting what they eat. 

A 2016 report by the Indian parliamentary committee on restructuring the Central Water Commission and the CGWB stated: The growing dependence on groundwater has taken the form of unsustainable over-extraction, which is lowering the water table and adversely impacting drinking water security. 

India extracts more groundwater than any other country in the world, according to the World Economic Forum. India accounts for 25 per cent of the world’s extracted groundwater. Its share is more than that of China and United States combined. These two countries are the biggest users of groundwater after India. 

World Vision India has been working in Alwar district since 2009. The first watershed project was initiated in 2013 to tackle the region’s water crisis. World Vision India dug ponds to channel the rainwater from streams and creeks to restore the balance of the depleting groundwater and raise awareness among locals. 

In 2020, World Vision India in partnership with We Are Water Foundation, the corporate social responsibility wing of ROCA India, an international bathroom furnishing company, renovated, deepened and did bunding work of five ponds in the villages of Ramsinghpura, Deoti, Sitawat and Khariyawas in the Alwar district, Rajasthan. Alwar has no perennially flowing river basin, and therefore, groundwater recharge is of utmost importance to maintain the water balance in the area.

“The water crisis has worsened over the years, but we were not doing anything to change it. Now, with support from World Vision India, we are working towards solving that,” said Ramesh, president of the Water User’s Management committee formed under the initiative. “We educate the villagers on water management and are planning to plant more trees.”

The ponds recharge the groundwater and are also sources of water for our cattle and wild animals, he added. 

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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