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Indian Villagers Look to Sky for Water Supply

  • Aru Pande

Turning on a tap to get clean water is not an option for Bilkish Bano.

The mother of four, like many others villagers in the Mewat district of India’s northern Haryana state, pays up to $20 every two weeks to buy water from a private tanker.

“It’s a big problem for us," Bano said. "Most poor people do not have a choice, even if they can not afford it, they have to buy water for their whole family.”

The United Nations says more than 780 million people worldwide, or 11 percent of the population, do not have access to drinking water sources that are not "improved," or protected from outside contamination. In places like Sub-Saharan Africa, at least 40 percent of people do not have improved drinking water.

India has made some progress. Some 522 million people gaining a safe drinking water supply between 1990 and 2010. Still, the United Nations says the world's second most populous country has about 97 million people living without access to improved water sources. Tens of thousands of villages remain disconnected.

Harvesting rainwater

Residents in Bano’s village say authorities built a 100,000-liter tank, and the necessary infrastructure, about a decade ago, but they have yet to see a drop of water flow through the pipelines.

Bano’s house sits just across the road from an area where villagers have dug holes in order to collect water during the hot, dry months that precede monsoon season.

The Gurgaon-based Institute for Rural Research and Development is encouraging villagers to return to traditional rainwater harvesting during the monsoon season.

In the last three years, the non-governmental organization has helped install pipes, 20,000 liter tanks and filters in at least 15 homes, along with one 100,000 liter tank to serve the needs of the entire community. IRRAD says some 250,000 people in the area are benefiting from collecting and filtering rainwater from their rooftops.

Samedin Khan works with his fellow villagers to install the systems in homes. He gestures to the pipelines as he describes how rainwater harvesting has drastically improved people’s lives.

“They have benefited a lot. During monsoon season, they used to have to buy water. Now for five months [out of the year], they don’t have to buy any water," said Khan. "They use this for drinking, cooking, everything.”

Traditional ways

IRRAD CEO Jane Schukoske says traditional methods need to be revived to provide low cost, sustainable access to safe water. Especially as scientists warn the majority of the world’s estimated 9 billion people will face severe water shortages within two generations due to climate change and pollution.

“What we see in India is replicated in places around the world," said Schukoske. "People are finding the water tables are getting deeper and there is much more contamination of water.”

The impact of the rainwater harvesting system can be seen at the local school in Mewat district’s village of Khanpur, where teacher Mohammad Sarfuddin says enrollment is up, particularly for girls, who no longer have to walk up to 3 kilometers to get water for their families.

“It’s made a difference,” he said as he looked out over his classroom. “The children in Mewat are learning and more kids are coming to school. Out of 265 students, some 180 are girls.”

Although they remain keenly aware of the uncertainty associated with the natural water source, the villagers in Mewat district hope they can count on the monsoon rains to refill their tanks each year.

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