May 31 2021

Water issues in India: a response adapted to each village

For many years, Karuna-Shechen has been developing the programme Small money, big change in Northern India – Bihar and Jharkhand. Its aim is to improve the daily lives of people by offering them individual and sustainable solutions so that they can provide for themselves. This way, the populations we help grow more resilient, because we work side by side to implement solutions adapted to their daily life. We provide villagers with the tools and knowledge they need to sustainably manage local resources and concretely contribute to the well-being of their community.

Social mapping, construction, training of monitoring committees, creation of bank accounts – to each village its solution. This year, the majority of these projects focus on one major issue: water.

 

Overcoming water challenges

 

If water is the common factor that unites some of India’s villages in their need, there are many issues surrounding it. As public authorities offer few support for facilities and infrastructures, each village faces a new challenge.

Agriculture is an integral part of water concerns. On the one hand, the monsoon can cause flooding, damage crops and endanger the population. As time goes by, these rains become shorter and more intense, leaving insufficient room for villagers to plan and create spaces to contain the risk. In Pachhan, Gaya district, villagers struggle to get to their farmland during the monsoon. They have to make their way through the water, often in a dangerous way.

 

On the other hand, water shortages are increasingly frequent and feared by farmers who see their land drying up and not producing enough food. With global warming, weather conditions in the Northern regions of India are becoming more and more extreme, causing the soil to dry out significantly. Temperatures in the period from March to June reach at times 40°C and the days can go on without rain. This is the case in the village of Sundarkumhari in Bihar where agriculture is the main activity of the community. In recent years, the region has not received sufficient rainfall, forcing many of the villagers to abandon agriculture and migrate to the cities in search of alternative livelihoods. Unfortunately, the pandemic led to job losses and forced young people to return to their home villages. The same problem has affected other villages such as Kurmawan.

 

Dineswar, a 65-year-old farmer, had decided to abandon farming because of the recurrent water shortage in his village in recent years. He relates: “But the pandemic taught us that agriculture may be the only means of sustenance in times of crisis. So, in order to resolve the problem of irrigation we villagers came to the conclusion that we urgently needed a water body.”

 

The need to travel to fetch water or its rationing in order to have enough water to cook and maintain daily hygiene have an impact on the quality of life of the people. Many villages in our intervention areas face these problems: due to the lack of means to undertake sustainable works, the inhabitants are confronted with a daily struggle to obtain water and meet their needs. The village well is the only significant source of water for the community, but often in very poor condition and not providing sufficient water.

 

Working hand in hand with villagers

 

The actions we carry out aim to improve the quality and conditions of life of the populations. By allowing better access to and management of water in the villages, we facilitate the daily tasks necessary for the proper functioning of the community: agriculture, food, hygiene, etc.

 

Together, we built facilities to deal with the monsoons that cause flooding. We supported 350 villagers in Pachhan, Gaya district, by installing drainage channels to contain the water. The culvert makes agricultural fields accessible during the rainy season and allows tractors to reach farms without difficulty, facilitating ploughing and other agricultural activities.

 

Numerous retention ponds have also been dug in villages in response to the growing concern about drought. These facilities provide better access to drinking water. This is the case for the pond in the village of Kurmawan with a population of 625. The pond should enable the community to escape the water shortage it faces for most of the year, especially during the dry summers. It meets individual domestic water needs as well as subsistence needs, including agricultural irrigation and fish farming.

 

Dineswar, a villager, says: “Karuna has given us a new pond that will solve our irrigation problems. Now the villagers have enough water, even in summer, to do their household chores. This makes me very happy!”

 

Shersingh is the father of a family of six. As the sole breadwinner, he was a daily worker in the city. Today, back in the village of Kazibigha, he tells us about his experience: “At the beginning we were all worried but the Karuna-Shechen staff were constantly there to guide us. They organized meetings with the whole village and I was able to really get involved in the implementation of the project. I learned a valuable lesson: there is strength in unity. We, the community members, along with the Karuna-Shechen team, worked together to make the pond project a reality.”

His testimony demonstrates our local approach within the Small Money, Big Changes programme.

 

In order to improve water management in some villages, we have rehabilitated facilities that had become obsolete. For example, the village of Koikala and its 75 inhabitants have benefited from the repair of their well. The entire distribution of drinking water as well as the cultivation of vegetable gardens is now possible again. 

 

 

Difficult travel, gatherings but also the teams’ fear of the new particularly deadly wave of the pandemic were obstacles. Despite the challenges, we managed to organise ourselves to meet health standards without abandoning the important work in the field. Shamsul Akhtar, Karuna-Shechen India’s Director of Operations, relates: “This year we have managed to undertake significant community development work despite the second and more deadly wave of Covid-19. We have already built four ponds and one well under the Small Money, Big Changes programme. We have been able to adapt to keep up the efforts!”

More than ever, our teams are taking action in the field by redoubling their efforts. In these difficult times, every gesture of solidarity counts.