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India’s water warriors are transforming parched lands

#Indias #water #warriors #transforming #parched #lands

As monsoon storms descend on India, a dedicated group of women hopes that after years of arduous work, water shortages will not leave their village dry.

The world’s second-most populous country is struggling to meet the water needs of its 1.4 billion people — a problem that’s getting worse as climate change makes weather patterns more unpredictable.

Few places have it harder than Bundelkhand, a region south of the Taj Mahal, where water shortages have driven desperate farmers on the plains to abandon their lands and take on precarious work in the cities.

“Our elders say this stream used to be full all year round but now there isn’t a single drop,” Babita Rajput said while guiding AFP past a bone-dry crack in the earth near her village.

“There is a water crisis in our area,” she added. “All our wells have dried up.”

Three years ago, Rajput joined Jal Saheli (‘Friends of the Water’), a voluntary network of around 1,000 women working across Bundelkhand to rehabilitate and revitalize disappeared water sources.

Together they carry rocks and mix concrete to build dams, ponds and embankments to catch the fruits of the June monsoon, a season that accounts for about 75 percent of India’s annual rainfall.

Agrotha, where Rajputs live, is one of more than 300 villages where women are making plans for new watersheds, reservoirs and waterway revitalization.

Rajput said their work has helped them hold back monsoon rainwater longer and revitalized half a dozen bodies of water around their village.

Though not yet self-sufficient, Agrotha’s residents are no longer among the roughly 600 million Indians who a state think-tank says face acute water shortages on a daily basis.

The women’s efforts offer a rare glimmer of hope as national shortages worsen.

Water utilities in the capital, New Delhi, cannot meet summer demand as trucks regularly drive into slums to supply residents who cannot get water from their taps.

India’s NITI Aayog Public Policy Center predicts that around 40 percent of the country’s population could be without access to drinking water by the end of the decade.

– “Government has failed” –

Erratic rainfall patterns and extreme heat have been linked to climate change in Bundelkhand, which has suffered several long dry spells since a drought was declared at the turn of the century.

Civil society activist Sanjay Singh helped women in Agrotha collect and store rainwater after drought left the surrounding land parched.

In doing so, he helped the village rediscover knowledge that had been lost decades earlier when water transitioned from a community-managed resource to a government-managed resource.

“But the government has failed to bring water to every citizen, particularly in rural areas, and has urged villagers to return to the old practice,” he told AFP.

Before Agrotha’s irrigation project began, women had to walk miles every day in a desperate and often unsuccessful search for a well that wouldn’t dry.

In India’s villages, fetching water has traditionally been the responsibility of women, several of whom have faced violence from their husbands after being unable to find enough for their households, Singh said.

He added that the drought has brought about major social changes in the region, pushing men to move to the cities and leave their families behind.

But since its inception in 2005, the Jal Saheli Initiative has helped more than 110 villages meet their own water needs and helped reverse the outflow of people.

– dust bowl to the oasis –

In nearby Lalitpur district, the elderly Srikumar has witnessed the initiative transform her community from a dust bowl into an oasis.

She heard about the volunteer group a decade ago after years of suffering water shortages that ended with all wells and hand pumps running dry in her village of 500 people.

Most farms in the area had become barren due to a lack of irrigation, and dehydrated herds of cattle were dying in summer temperatures nearing 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

“The villagers have suffered a lot these days,” Srikumar said. “Farming was impossible and men fled their homes to the cities to earn a living.”

With the help of Singh’s charity, Srikumar and a dozen other volunteers dug a football field-sized reservoir near the village that will hold up to three meters of water once the monsoon rains arrive.

The village now has enough water reserves to meet its year-round needs and replenish the soil that was parched prior to their intervention.

“Things have changed for the better. We now have enough water, not only for our homes but also for our livestock,” she told AFP.

“Without this pond, our lives would have been miserable,” she added. “It would have been very difficult to survive.”

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#Indias #water #warriors #transforming #parched #lands

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