Water Harvesting: Addressing the problem of drinking water

More than 50 million people in India are facing a severe drought this year. The response of the central government so far include release of funds from National Calamity Relief Fund to the states, announcements of food for work programs and debating over whether drought management is a state or central responsibility! The absence of any coherent drought management strategies at the center or the state is a result of short-sighted planning and political inertia.

In this grave situation, promise of a new water supply source of the Sardar Sarovar Dam may seem crucial. But what benefits, if any, will the people living in the arid regions of Gujarat receive from the project is highly debatable. Studies indicate that 10% or less of the water from the SSP will ever reach Saurashtra and Kutch. And only after the complete canal gets built which could take 10-20 years. There is also a big question on maintenance and management of the canals and pipelines in the long term. However there are some villages in this dry region which have plenty of water not only for  people and animals to drink, but also to irrigate. All this in the middle of the worst drought year in the last 100 years! And no, they have not discovered hidden springs or dug deeper wells. These are communities that have acted with foresight with help from non-governmental organizations and/or local government initiatives. Adoption of watershed management measures such as rainwater harvesting, tree planting, soil conservation has transformed these villages. The depleted groundwater table is being recharged and in many areas seasonal rivers are again perennial.

Many examples of such community and/or government driven initiatives can be found all over India. These are smaller in scale, community managed and maintained, financially feasible and environmentally sustainable. They offer viable alternatives to large-scale centralized water supply schemes. They may not be the entire solution to all the water problems in India, but they definitely constitute a large and important part of it. 

This section explores some of the alternative watershed management practices in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Many of these traditional practices have been revived by local communities with help of NGO's and state government programs. Other traditional practices are under threat.

 Alwar District, Rajasthan

Revival of old and building of new water harvesting structures coupled with formation of gram sabhas for equitable water distribution has transformed the people of this semi-arid, drought prone district
Awarded the "DOWN TO EARTH-JOSEPH C JOHN AWARD" for India's most outstanding environmental community

Banni Grasslands
Kutch Dist., Gujarat

A complex rainwater harvesting system developed over centuries by the Maldharis of Banni grasslands is threatened by natural factors and man made interventions
Jhabua District, Madhya Pradesh MP state government's emphasis on participatory management, transparency and decentralization in implementing watershed development programs sets an example that could be replicated all over India 

Thunthi Kankasiya & Mahudi, Dahod Dist.

Surendranagar District

Devgadh, Junagadh District

Villages in Gujarat that have taken watershed management measures have enough water for drinking and even irrigation in the middle of the most severe drought of this century


This page has been developed with the assistance of Shruti Mukthyar
Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison.