July 06, 2020

Water - A Key to Prosperity

In Vadnagar, Gujarat, ongoing excavations by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have revealed an elaborate water harvesting mechanism. The water bodies helped agriculture thrive and facilitated the township to remain prosperous through centuries of trade, despite unfavourable climate conditions. To date, the ASI has excavated at least 54 water bodies in a 10 Km radius around the town.

Traditional Wisdom & Water Harvesting

A Taanka in Rajasthan

Nadis, Khadins, Kunds, Taankas, Kuhls, Johads, Baolis, Talabs - History testifies that India's tryst with prosperity has always been dependant on these traditional water harvesting systems. While floods & droughts wreaked havoc to the country's numerous kingdoms, it was this valuable wisdom that made people resilient to the vagaries of nature. It helped communities address both drinking water & agricultural water needs in an effective manner.

Take, for instance, the Taanka. A traditional rainwater harvesting technique of Rajasthan, this cylindrical paved underground pit can store sufficient water to last through the dry season for a family of 5-6 members. The Khadin, another exemplar method from Rajasthan, allows for collection of surface rainwater & subsequent use for farming.

The Drudgery of Collecting Water - An Opportunity Loss

Many of these traditional methods served another critical role: that of avoiding the drudgery of water collection from far off places. Conventionally, women & girl children have always borne the brunt of water scarcity, trekking large distances of anywhere between 2 - 20 kms in a day to fetch water. As per WHO guidelines, water sources even within 30 minutes/1Km constitutes Basic Access and is not optimal.

The time lost in fetching water can translate into prosperity for the family - with women also contributing to household finances and by avoiding expenses that accompany the backbreaking work of trudging across large distances with heavy pails of water. Availability of clean & safe drinking water, in fact, has health implications for the entire family. Children miss fewer days at school, men & women are more able at work. As per the Composite Water Management Report of NITI Aayog, each year, 2 lakh people die due to lack of access to clean water and nearly 600 million people in India face high to extreme water stress.

For the girl children the clear opportunity cost is education. Spending time at school clearly has more positive economic implications for the family. Having a viable water source nearby also avoids dependence on tanker water, which can be a significant expense.

No wonder then that whenever ACF has approached rural communities in Gujarat & Rajasthan to assess needs, women profess access to water as the single most pressing demand.

Women travel long distances for water

Managing Water Usage

Water, as is implied, then, holds the key to prosperity in large swathes of rural India. While traditional wisdom holds one part of the key, namely supply, what also needs to be addressed is the effective usage of available water or the demand side of water. The biggest failing of agriculture in India, arguably, is the use of flood irrigation for crops where hardly any water reaches the roots and excess water simply evaporates. To manage this colossal demand for water, groundwater is extracted & with free electricity available, the extraction is unrestrained. 25% of globally available groundwater is extracted by India and just irrigation itself consumes over 80% of India's water.

This is where technology and innovations in irrigation can help. Farms using managed irrigation such as drip irrigation and sprinklers see an increase in crop productivity of between 20-50% while Drip irrigation specifically can reduce water consumption by 20-40%, leading to significant savings. It also allows farmers to safeguard themselves financially against drought and move to higher productivity seeds, making them prosperous.

Drop Irrigation & Micro Irrigation can help farmers prosper

Enabling People to Manage Water

Whereas the supply and demand sides of water together constitute the key to prosperity, the key itself needs to be managed properly. Good water governance is vital to ensure equitable water distribution & this is where communities themselves can play an essential role. Participatory Water Management Programmes make villages self-reliant and responsible for their own water resources, thereby making the entire exercise sustainable. This sustainable approach is the cornerstone of ACF's approach to water.

ACF's Work & Impact in Water - Enabling People & Prosperity

Through awareness and knowledge dissemination gatherings, ACF educates farmers and communities on better ways to both harvest and consume water. Using a blend of traditional wisdom and modern-day technologies, it then enables communities to either restore traditional water structures or build and manage water resources of their own, ensuring equitable access of water to all. Partnerships with the Government, Corporate foundations & other grant making institutions are instrumental in multiplying the effect of transformation.

Not surprisingly, ACF's projects in water have a strong & measurable social impact in the surrounding regions. For instance, ACF's Daseran watershed project in Darlaghat with NABARD delivered a Social Return on Investment of Rs 8.44 for every Rs 1 invested.

ACF's work with water in Darlaghat

Over the years, ACF's long standing commitment to water & the communities it serves has paid substantive dividends through:-
  • 57.87 mcm of added water capacity
  • 2-12 meters increase in groundwater levels
  • Improvement in farm yield using soil moisture mechanisms in 27319 hectares of land
  • Interlinking of more than 72 kms. of river and water bodies
  • 9922 rooftop rainwater harvesting structures
  • Coverage of 7945 hectares under micro-irrigation
  • Declining migration to towns & cities
  • Reduced drudgery for girl children & women
Access to Water, as outlined by SDG 6, will play a crucial role in determining India's vision to become a 5 trillion-dollar economy. At this very moment in time, a raging pandemic is emphasising the need for safe water in each Indian's home. The sustainability of India's ecosystems, the well-being of its people & economic growth is clearly dependent on how the country manages its water resources.

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July 06, 2020

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