United by Water
In Mewat, the rural hinterland of Haryana, India, the availability and quality of water are of primary concern. The district is in a semiarid region, has little rain, and an extended hot and dry season. Agriculture is mainly rain-fed, as surface water is sparse and groundwater is mostly saline. The eroded soil cover on the hills is enough for scanty growth of flora in small patches only, and the rest is barren rock. Sand dunes located at the foothills are caused by summer dust storms from Rajasthan that also adversely affect the flora. Groundwater is depleting at a rate of approximately 25 cm/year and water salinity is increasing. All of this affects crop yield and resident’s access to water for their homes. There is now a very limited choice of crops that can be grown, restricting villagers from breaking the vicious circle of poverty.
Mewat suffers from several problems due to to declining crop productivity and diminishing natural resources. Most farmers produce only one crop in the region due to the poor quality of ground water (almost 60% of groundwater is brackish). Productivity of field crops (mustard, wheat and bajra), vegetable crops and livestock is considerably low due to limited resources.
BHOND SHOWS THE WAY
The village of Bhond has a population of 1864, spread across 298 households in Firozepur Zhirkha, most of whom are Meo muslims. The area has moderately saline groundwater, so the villagers have come together to try and save their dwindling resource of freshwater. The soil in the village is sandy red, and farming practices have barely changed between 1985 and 2009. Farmers use home produced seeds or procure them from other farmers, and buy fertilizers and pesticides privately. Less than 10 percent of households have access to water. The government provides a piped supply of water to public taps and this comprises the major source of drinking water. Nearly all of the cultivated land is irrigated with bore wells.
Sehgal Foundation proposed construction of 2 check dams in the village in order to help recharge groundwater before it is completely used. The project would be funded by the Mewat Development Agency. The community agreed and a tailor-made integrated water management plan was put in place. The project began with the study of area topography, water flow, soil characteristics and traditional knowledge.
The Foundation undertook several activities, including renovation of a large, nonfunctional check dam that had stood near the village since the 19th century. The government was concerned that a nearby heritage monument would be damaged if the dam were used, so nothing had been done to utilize it. Sehgal Foundation worked with the village and the government to create a harmonious solution. They designed the check dam with the runoff water storage a safe distance from the monument. After seeing things start to change for the better, villagers contributed materials and labor, and the dam was successfully renovated.
The renovated check dam now collects rainwater within a catchment area of over 5 sq km. Together, with the two new check dams, water is being recharged into the area’s water table, which had previously been shrinking by over one foot a year.
In just two years, villagers have clearly seen the impact of the check dams. The water level in 30 bore wells used for irrigation has risen by approximately 25-30 feet. The three public wells in the village dried up several years before construction of the check dams in 2008, but are now yielding water again. The villagers are surprised and pleased to see this happen.
As the villagers have begun to reap the benefits of these water interventions, they have become more motivated to take control of their water management. Villagers are motivated to preserve the check dams in order to ensure water security in the future.
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