Holding their own

Villages which have harvested rainwater are faring quite well in the face of drought

Published: Saturday 15 January 2000

Holding their own

Water harvesting systems have certainly benefited a large section of society in the Saurashtra and Kachchh regions. There is no way better than such systems to optimally tap water resources," says R C Trivedi, former chairperson of Gujarat Pollution Control Board, who lives in Ahmedabad.

Manibhai Padmabhai Patel of Dhoraji village in Rajkot district, says: "After I started recharging my well, not only can I cultivate crops even during drought but the crop production has also increased several times over." Mohanbhai, also of Dhoraji, started recharging his well ten years ago. Since then, his total cropped area has doubled. Another resident, Dayabhai Premjibhai Patel, says his crop area more than tripled after he began recharging his well four years ago.

According to Shamjibhai Antala, who has done yeoman's service in creating awareness about recharging of wells in Saurashtra, "The farmers today realise that the government will do nothing for them. So, farmers are now building water harvesting structures on their own." Antala recalls picking up the idea of recharging wells from a vigilant Dhoraji farmer, named Ramjibhai Manjibhai: "From 1985 to 1987, there was scarcity of water. In 1998, the rains were good. This farmer made efforts to divert rainwater from a nearby stream into his dry well. The experiment was successful and Ramjibhai's well was the only one which had water in the summer."

"Preliminary reports from Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh show that in areas where watershed management ( wm ) measures have been taken, crops and the groundwater table have not been affected as adversely as areas where no soil-water conservation measures were taken. The number of handpumps and wells that have dried up in wm villages is definitely lower than in non- wm areas," says Rajora.

To investigate the impact of the drought, the district administration randomly selected 25 samples each of areas where wm activities have been undertaken and areas where these have not been adopted. "We found that the loss of kharif crop in non- wm areas is around 40 per cent, as compared to just 10-12 per cent in wm areas. I think moisture control [in the soil] has played a role in mitigating the damages," he says. Preliminary reports say the situation is much the same in Jhabua district. "Nearly 20 per cent of the total area of Jhabua, which is covered under wm projects, is in a better position in terms of water availability. Crop loss has been 10 per cent less in areas with such projects," says Sachin Sinha, additional collector of Jhabua who is also the chief executive officer of the zila panchayat (district council).

The impact of the wm measures can be assessed in terms of seasonal migration for employment (see table: Staying put! ). "The migration rate has not reached the proportion that were expected. In October, nearly 274,986 children received polio vaccination. This month again, we have reached very close to this figure. Normally, a family takes along its children when it migrates. As the number of children receiving polio vaccination this month is nearly the same, it indicates that the rate of migration is not high," says Wasim Akhtar, collector of Jhabua. He adds that in areas where stop dams are successful, in Jhabua tribal people are reaping crops of 40 quintals per hectare, making them the second highest wheat producers in the state.

"We have taken up micro-watershed projects in around 40 villages in the past 4-5 years. We found that wherever water harvesting works have been carried out properly, the drinking water problem has been solved to a great extent," says Anil Shah, chairperson of Development Support Centre ( dsc ), an ngo based in Ahmedabad.

"This year's drought has worked as a catalyst in increasing awareness about the importance of rainwater harvesting to deal with water scarcity. The people are realising the importance of wm . In fact, villages that do not have wm projects are demanding such projects now," says Rajora. "We have received many applications from non-watershed villages to bring them under watershed projects now," says Sinha. Mohan Singh, sarpanch (head) of the Umari panchayat in Jhabua district, says after suffering severe crop damages and drinking water crises, people in Umari are demanding wm projects. Down To Earth takes a look at some villages that are shining examples today.

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