Karheda’s Saline Water Produces Salt
“Many years ago, the salt business was flourishing in this area, and a market called Firozepur Namak existed. Over time, things changed, and nobody ever thought of taking up or restoring the practice,” remarked a representative group from Karheda, a small village in Mewat, Haryana, India. Karheda has 387 households and a population of 2311.
Water availability isn’t a major concern in Karheda, but villagers are worried about the high levels of salinity in their water. Groundwater is available at a depth of 5-7 feet, but salinity levels are 7000 ppm and increase with depth, reaching a recorded 45,000 ppm at 200 feet. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers 500pm the permissible limit for water salinity of potable water. Historical evidence reveals that Karheda used to have potable ground water, but that was used up or diminished by increasing salinity.
Water salinity has most likely increased in this low-lying area due to the accumulation of floodwaters from the neighboring areas of Bharatpur, Alwar and Jaipur. These floods carried dissolved salts, which percolated into the ground, making the underground water pockets and soil highly saline. This has had far reaching consequences on the village economy, socio-political set-up and the health status of its inhabitants.
For years now, villagers have struggled with unfit groundwater. Most have given up hope and have accepted the ever-worsening situation as their fate. Only 67 per cent of land in the area is rain-fed. Farmers are at a sheer disadvantage as they only have saline water for irrigation, and unpredictable rainfall. Farmers suffer from low agricultural yield and have no alternative employment opportunities. Women take on the onerous task of fetching potable water from many miles away. Everyone recognizes the labor involved in transporting water. Women are often quoted as saying, “Nobody wants to marry off their daughters into this village because of the water situation here.”
Villagers of Karheda were in desperate need of a sustainable source of water locally or of transportation of water to the village. Government supply of water is highly unreliable and erratic and fails almost 120 days a year. Water is sometimes unavailable for stretches of two weeks at a time. After weighing the costs against the benefits, Sehgal Foundation determined that construction of a local fresh water source would be a better option and have a wider impact. The Foundation had already had success creating fresh water pockets within saline aquifers through roof water harvesting units, but the volume of water in these pockets was small. Also, roof-water harvesting had low potential due to the shallow depth of the groundwater table space. In order to improve the situation, the Foundation considered that lowering the saline groundwater table in areas where water could be pumped out in large volumes would be most appropriate. The Foundation adopted two interventions: plantation of fast growing salinity tolerant trees with high evapo-transpiration rate, and productive use of saline water as a source of livelihood for the poor people in compensation for their agricultural losses.
In many parts of India, including areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan, salt is extracted from saline water. The salt can be used as a raw material that can be processed for industrial applications or edible purposes. This involves a process where saline water is spread over a large area, its evaporation leads to concentration and crystallization of salts on the top surface, which is then broken and collected on a regular basis in the form of salt.
A team from Sehgal Foundation visited Sambhar Lake in Ajmer to understand the process of salt extraction from saline water. The process had promising potential and greatly inspired the team to replicate a pilot version in Karheda. The Foundation initiated a demonstration in Karheda, where the finer points of salt extraction from saline water could be clinically tested, before taking the idea to the local community. Since the initiative was based on natural evaporation, availability of sunlight was essential. The planned period of intervention (March – July) was marked by heavy sunlight and favored the initiative. Villagers witnesses the construction of a saltpan, 6 inches deep, 22 ft. long and 16 ft. wide, and called it a silver lining amidst distress. The outcome of the saltpan in Karheda was very encouraging.
The Program Leader of the Water Management team, Salahuddin Saiphy said, “The objective was to put saline water to productive use, to enhance potential of groundwater recharging, and to create employment opportunities for a large number of local people. Two weeks after preparation, the saltpan began to yield salt. A layer of considerable thickness could be seen in water within 20-30 minutes. In totality, the pilot project collected 130 kgs, 178 kgs and 150 kgs of salt from three cycles respectively. On average, 39.58 kg of salt was extracted per day from two salt pans through three rounds.” An assessment of the salt quality revealed that it was not fit for human consumption, but was quite useful for industrial purposes in cloth and leather processing units.
Sehgal Foundation hopes that communities are receptive to the success of the pilot saltpan project. They are actively scouting for the means to be able to scale up the project to make salt extraction business feasible for the villagers of Mewat.
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