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Let These Bundelkhand Communities Be Your 101 On How To Conserve Water

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It is well known that water is life and managing water is essential if the world is to achieve sustainable development.

Climate change can affect the quantitative and qualitative status of water resources by altering hydrological cycles, systems and through changes of water quality via chemical and biological pollution.

Water security for communities, economies, and ecosystems, is critical for poverty reduction, green energy transformation, and creating a buffer from natural disasters.

The Center for Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (CECCSD), IMPRITarun Bhagat Sangh, India Water Portal, and Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan came together, to organise a lecture on Water Security in a Changed Climate: Lessons from Decentralised Community-Based Approaches in Bundelkhand.

The speaker of the session was Sanjay Singh, waterman of Bundelkhand and secretary, Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan, Jhansi. The moderator for the day was Dr Indira Khurana, a senior expert in the water sector, and the vice-chair was Tarun Bharat Sangh from Alwar.

Pani Panchayat And Jal Saheli

Dr Singh expressed his concerns over the uncontrolled urbanisation in India, and how environmental degradation has been occurring very rapidly.

It has caused an acute shortage of housing, increased squatter settlements, worsening water quality, and problems in the disposal of solid wastes and hazardous wastes.

He enlightened everyone us with a pioneering model for water security. A pani panchayat (water council) was formed to facilitate water security in villages and for managing and protecting the water resources.

The members met in sample villages to work on putting forward their demands and having them met.

With jal saheli (friend of water), Parmarth promoted women cadre from each gram panchayat (village council), for spreading this approach into the entire region and facilitated community action as well as initiatives.

These demanded benefits from government schemes and programs.

The jal sahelis were provided with training, for their capacity building on different issues. This was done so they could discharge their roles and responsibilities in effective ways.

Taking Water Planning To Communities

He expounded upon a water use master plan WUMP), a planning tool and process similar to a participatory rural appraisal, using some of its instruments. It focuses on water, its sources, and uses, and applies an integrated water resources management (IWRM) approach.

WUMP is a tool that has been developed based on a series of experiences and it can be adapted to different contextual situations. The end goal is effective, efficient, and equitable use of water level on a local level.

The goal of developing a WUMP is to delegate water planning and management to the community level, to ensure water resources are used rationally and shared fairly within communities in a sustainable way considering all the different needs.

He then delved into the history of the Chandelas and the Bundelas, the two major dynasties in the region, which took a keen interest in conserving water to support the livelihood and development of the region.

Chandela tanks have lately been on the receiving end of several problems as siltation of their beds, encroachment of their catchment, illegal occupation of the tank bed, and gross neglect by the governing bodies.

“Adaptation is a dynamic social process: the ability of societies to adapt is determined, in part, by their ability to act collectively,” said Adger (2003).

Integrated Water Resource Management

In 2011, Parmarth started the IWRM project with the support of the European Union and an NGO by the name of Welthungerhilfe. The villagers were organized through community action plans as well as several meetings.

The plan unequivocally emphasized on restoration and development of the Budhsagar tank so that the loss of water due to seepage could be stopped. The reverberation of these tiresome efforts was that the tanks are now full of water, and act as the fulcrum of villagers’ daily lives.

Water-related responsibilities are generally left to the women of the household in rural areas. Representational image. Photo credit: Free Press Journal.

Bundelkhand’s history has many women figures in positions of leadership, and they are shown as brave warriors in several folklores. On the ground, the women today are only involved in homely chores.

Their toil begins when the sun rises and continues even after it sets.

Low levels of literacy, poor conditions of health, and rudimentary mindset exacerbate the poor situations. To alleviate these ills, women-folk are nudged to get involved in the tasks for environmental conservation too.

Model Of Bore-Well Recharge

All water bodies depend upon catchments and being in the open, get water from direct rain, surface run-off, and topsoil water retention. But due to mindless exploitation of the same, natural replenishment does not occur.

Excessive digging of new bore-wells and overuse of existing ones has resulted in severe depletion of groundwater levels rendering many bore-wells dry.

By renovation, the system has revived more than 50 dried bore-wells. In the direct recharge method, an open well of manageable size, say up to 10 feet deep and diameter, is dug around the casing pipe. In the innovative approach, most of the water flows from the catchments and directly reaches the hard-rock aquifers without any losses.

As a result, the dried hand pumps are revived and thus helping in drought mitigation. The efforts deployed were also extremely cost-effective, as only natural resources and manpower were compiled for reserving naturally filtered rainwater.

Revival Of Traditional Irrigation Systems

Farm ponds also serve various purposes, with an average water conservation rate of 4000 cubic meters per farm pond, like aquaculture, irrigation of rabi crops (crops which are sown in winter and harvested during spring) , groundwater recharging.

The average costs of building the same are about ₹2.5 lakh.

For water conservation by traditional practices and modern technology, land binding of 54,357 meters farm was done with the active participation of the community. This ensured land area treatment, soil erosion checked, and moisture retained.

With village-level organisations, more than 100 check-dams were built, which recharged surrounding irrigation wells and drinking water sources.

Strengthening Local Communities

The people at Parmarth also formed a nadi ghati sangathan (river valley organisation) to protect and rejuvenate the tributaries of Betwa and Yamuna rivers. Through this formation, the local community is being sensitised and actions mobilized to protect the rivers.

Empowering local communities is an important part of water conservation. Representational image.

Regular workshops, training, and awareness generation sessions are being organized at the grassroots level and stakeholders are being engaged.

Climate Change And Water Are Closely Linked

Dr Kumar gave his insights on the ramifications of the constant concretisation of water bodies. Birendra Singh from the audience brought everyone’s attention to the small and marginalised farmers.

A public-private liaison is needed to provide adequate training to the small-scale farmers on how to prepare for extreme weather, maximise the crop yields and negotiate for viable prices in the markets. There were discussions over nutritional security too.

Dr Mehta questioned the ways of navigating around the challenges of working with government officials and the issue of fund diversion.

Dr Singh concluded by saying that climate change and water are closely linked.

Climate change impacts have direct consequences for water security and hence, adaptation actions such as developing or adapting drainage or water storage, whether with built-in or natural infrastructure, should be implemented by involving community-based approaches.

Acknowledgment: Priyanshi Arora is a Research Intern at IMPRI

Indira Khurana, Simi Mehta, Ritika Gupta, Amita Bhaduri

Featured image, featuring the jal sahelis of Bundelkhand, is for representational purposes only. It has been taken from Flickr.
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