In India, approximately 1,500,000 children die each year due to water contamination. Many women must travel long distances to find water and school aged girls are not able to attend classes because of their water fetching duties. In times of drought, these conditions worsen as people must search out more remote water sources to survive. If families are unable to find water they must either pay thousands of rupees for a water tanker or they are forced to migrate into city slums.
Rajasthan is a particularly drought prone state in India as it contains 5% of India’s population, but only 1% of its water. On average it takes 50 L of water to provide adequate sanitation and drinking water per person while livestock consume over 20 L of water each per day. This puts a heavy burden on the depleting aquifers as rainfall is unpredictable and often insufficient. For these reasons, water security is at the forefront of GRAVIS’ efforts in the Thar Desert. With modern techniques draining aquifers, GRAVIS has set out to promote more traditional methods of water security including taankas, naadis, and beris.
Taanka (drinking water storage tanks)- This method for collecting water consists of a covered cylindrical tank with the capacity to store between 18,000 and 20,000 L of water. Water is gathered in one of two ways: either a rooftop catchment which pipes water into the unit, or a groundwater catchment area where water pours in through a grate on the side. Previously, these taankas were open to the air and were easily contaminated. In order to keep the water clean and safe to drink, GRAVIS has installed secure lids to keep out animals and insects. The first taanka built by GRAVIS was in 1985. Since then, GRAVIS has built 5,952 taankas which are maintained by locals. One taanka can support a family of 10 for 4-6 months of the year.
Beri (percolation wells)- These large underground water storage percolators are covered with a concrete top and gather ground water during monsoon season. These wells can store up to 500,000 L of water and do not require a pump, making them easy for villagers to fix and maintain. This traditional method of water gathering uses no artificial catchment and holds enough water to sustain a family of 10 all year round. To date, GRAVIS has built 563 beris, providing many villagers with a stable source of water.
Naadi (village ponds)- These village ponds are natural collections of rainwater which provide an open source of water to entire villages. Unfortunately, if not kept up properly the ponds can become silted and unusable. In order to remove silt and debris, we have been building short loose rock structures in the water pathway to the naadi to keep gravel, sand, and other material from entering the pond. Local materials are used and much of the labour is done by villagers voluntarily. These rocky borders also help to replenish the soil outside the naadi with moisture and fertile topsoil. Natural vegetation grows easily in these areas and helps to further reduce soil erosion and silting of the naadi. To date, GRAVIS has worked to desilt 253 naadis.
Village Bunds- As the village pond, or naadi, is used be the community for both bathing and drinking water, it is important to keep contaminants out of the water. As many villagers live near the naadi, there is a serious potential for household waste to seep into the naadi. In order to avoid contamination, GRAVIS works with villagers to plan and construct bunds around households to redirect unclean water away from the naadi.
Toilets- As many villagers do not have bathing or toilet facilities they lack both privacy and sanitation. GRAVIS has begun building toilets which contain waste and allow villagers the privacy they deserve.
Bio-Sand filters- This technology uses local materials to filter and clean drinking water. A concrete box about 1 m tall is filled with a layer of course gravel, finer gravel, and a larger layer of sand which filters the water. Above is a liquid layer containing micro-organisms which consume pathogens in the water. On top is a diffuser which protects the filter contents when water is poured in for filtration. After the water passes through all these materials it flows out of a tube and into a sealed water storage unit. This technology costs between 500 and 1,000 rupees and our goal is to install a filter with every taanka and beri.
Discussion with community members- As community members know their village best, GRAVIS always includes the knowledge and opinions of villagers before constructing. Community members are happy to be included in the discussion and offer wisdom and logistical knowledge to the project, without which projects would not be nearly as successful. For example, when a bund to redirect waste water from naadis is built, GRAVIS employees discuss with villagers the most appropriate placement and height of these bunds in order to suit the layout of the village.
Food for Work - Many of the naadis, taankas, and beris are constructed through the Food-for-Work programmes. Rural labourers are employed to build these drought proofing mechanisms and are provided with food and other resources in return for their work. In one year, GRAVIS organizes a large number of workdays of employment . This provides employment and creates an infrastructure for water security which will benefit the community for generations to come.
Floods- In the August of 2012 the Thar saw unprecedented rainfall and many areas flooded. Jaipur, Bikaner, Dausa, and Baran all saw damage and many homes were entirely swept away while others remained in tatters. Thousands of people were displaced and with time, people began to develop water-borne illnesses due to the standing water. During this disaster, GRAVIS rehabilitated over 1,560 families by rebuilding homes, constructing crucial rainwater harvesting systems, setting up health camps, and caring for livestock.
Drought relief- While GRAVIS has made many efforts to make villages drought-proof, at times circumstances are so extreme that villagers are still unable to provide for themselves. GRAVIS staff distributes drinking water, food, and animal fodder to the communities in times of extreme need.