Every drop counts

Citizens of Tumakuru constructing a water harvesting structure.
Highlights: 
This project is situated in the cultural concept of shramdaan (voluntary labour).

This is a story of how a few like-minded people came together from different walks of life to harvest rainwater on a hill. A community project, called the Jala Dasoha, was launched on June 5 this year, on World Environment Day. Spearheaded by a group of people belonging to a wide range of professions with a common goal of conserving natural resources, it mobilised people living in the area to construct trenches on a hill to harvest rainwater.

How did it begin 

“This idea was conceived in last December and we quickly got into action,” says Mallikarjunaiah Battarwadi, a key group member. The group conducted a survey of the average rainfall in the area and its pattern in the last two decades to understand the water requirements and the issues that required immediate attention. 

Groundwater stress in and around the district is critically high because its aquifers are overexploited, hence the need for the project. This area used to be green with lush fields, but now it is a barren landscape and the hills are scarred due to mining and the topsoil here has eroded,’’ he adds. The cause of the problem is unprecedented mining and commissioning of a large number of brick factories in and around the region. In Huliyar hobli alone, there are over 150 brick factories, points out H H Manjunath.

The group feels that the coconut and areca nut plantations, which are primary sources of income for the farmers have been badly affected. “At the same time, the land has lost its fertile soil due to unscientific desilting. Water gets accumulated here instead of getting soaked,’’ explains Mallikarjunaiah. 

That apart, the residents do not find water even after drilling beyond 1,000 feet. It’s not only the water shortage that has raised concerns, but the poor quality, too. Also, the health of the people living here is adversely affected because of the contamination of groundwater with arsenic and fluoride. This is one of the reasons for people to migrate to cities in the last two decades. “So, we chipped in and vowed to do something to solve the water problem,” C Yathiraju asserts. The team’s survey has indicated that 650 mm rainfall was sufficient for the region for farming and drinking.

After some deliberation, the group decided to build watersheds and soil conservation structures such as earthen dams, loose boulder structures and deep continuous contour trenches and compartment bunding on a hill to check the flow of water.

They chose Mallikarjuna Swamy Hill for the project because of its strategic location. “There are no canals in the vicinity of the hill, hence no water projects will come up here. It is an isolated hill and is spread over 80 acres of land,” says Mallikarjunaiah. This initiative is slowly catching up with people from all walks of life, from farmers to government employees, everyone does their bit. The construction work mostly happens when the people have the time, on weekdays and weekends. The tools that are used in the construction work are kept in the temple on the hill and sometimes the residents bring their own tools.

This project is situated in the cultural concept of shramdaan (voluntary labour). “Social mobilisation is the linchpin of success. It unites people and builds the social capital of a community to address water issues. Hence, we are depending on voluntary labour,” says Mallikarjunaiah.

Apart from C Yathiraju and Mallikarjunaiah Battarwadi, H H Manjunath, agricultural scientist; Nagendra, natural farmer; Indiramma, principal; Ramakrishna, headmaster and, a social activist, are the other members that form the Jala Dasoha team. 

Social effort

To mobilise more people for the initiative, the group has been holding meetings in about 20 villages in the surrounding areas. “In these meetings, we discuss community development and we also put forth the idea that we want to make this region a better place to live. All of this is explained in simple terms and the participants disseminate the information across villages. Thus, we are able to encourage community-level discussions,” he adds. 

“Many of them have realised that only people’s collective effort can solve man-made condition of drought. Our work has a transformative impact on them. We are hopeful of seeing unity in action too,” Manjunath points out.

The team was able to restore confidence and hope among the local residents and is confident that it has created enough awareness to act on time and help conserve natural resources. “Once the work is complete, rainwater won’t drain, but it will get collected in the bunds, trenches and artificial lakes.  This will revive the water table and sustain farming. If such efforts are replicated, it can save the region from chronic drought which has wrecked lives here,” Yathiraju adds. That said, given the enormity of district’s water issues, encouraging single village to revive and protect its own watersheds can seem a feeble response to a crisis. However, this initiative is set out to prove that a careful grass roots effort to manage water locally is a sensible and sustainable move.

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