Panna Tiger Reserve occupies 542.67 square kilometers in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. The climate in Panna is warm and temperate. By 2009, the entire tiger population had been eliminated by poaching; but due to rehabilitation efforts with tigers from another reserve, fifty-four tigers are now living in the dense forests of the Panna reserve along with several other species of animals and the nearby tribal human population. However, the Panna tigers face another challenge they share with the human community in the surrounding area: a struggle for water security. The largest wild cats in the world, tigers living in hot environments drink up to 20 gallons of water a day. They are good swimmers and often cool off in pools or streams during summers. But with changes in the rainfall pattern (short and intense rainfall events), water scarcity in summer becomes so grim that it threatens survival for animals (wild and domestic) and human beings.
The reserve’s network of catchment areas and water streams receive comparatively moderate-to-good annual average rainfall. Due to steep hill slopes and an undulating ground surface, rainwater flows down very fast and feeds the river Ken, a tributary of Yamuna. This high-velocity flow creates a lot of eroding capacity and fast outflow of runoff, which leads to almost no groundwater recharging in spite of faulty rocky terrain. This fast flow has eroded the surface tremendously and taken away the soil cover, making rocks barren. This has resulted in almost no surface water storage in neighboring villages, barring a couple of small capacity ponds close to human settlements. These fulfil the needs of the community for only a couple of months after the monsoon, beyond which the communities go back to struggling for water.
The government has placed a few hand pumps close to these small water bodies; however, due to the faulty rocky strata and the mineralogy, the groundwater has high concentration of iron and microbes, making the water unfit for human or animal consumption. Therefore, the communities here depend on the water flowing in the streams in the deep valley, which also contains high microbial contamination. Even this water is only available for a couple of months, thereafter communities are forced to take water from shallow ditches in the streams which trap subsurface water flow. There are no other options. Ambient temperature starts rising fast each February and increases the water demand of both animals and human beings. February to July are the most difficult months, when communities struggle for survival due to lack and/or minimal water availability. Rising temperatures during this period increase the need and scarcity of water.
The S M Sehgal Foundation (Sehgal Foundation) team visited these human settlements along with Last Wilderness Foundation to suggest solutions for water scarcity in the area. Though the team has seen and worked in many water-scarce areas, the situation here is described as extreme and damaging. Since the tigers and humans use the same water source, whether it’s the water flowing in the stream or small ditches during stress periods, there is a lot of human-animal conflict in the area.
Women and girl children are primarily responsible for collecting the water, for which they have to go down to the stream into deep gorges about 2–2.5 kilometers away from the village. In addition to the distance, they have to climb down 350 feet on a steep rocky terrain to reach the water stream. One trip takes 2–2.5 hours during which they cannot carry back more than 15 liters of water. Each household spends two to four trips a day, depending on the family size, putting their lives at risk of potential encounters with tigers or bears.
During the team’s interactions with the community, they learned that when a tiger is seen resting in or around the water body, the people have no option but to go home empty-handed. In summers, this can go on for days. In some instances, especially during summers, when people are forced to consume the contaminated water from hand-pumps, people fall prey to various diseases and illnesses.
Based on the team’s site visit and interactions with community members, it was apparent that this shared water source is an important cause of human/animal conflict in the region. A solution must be designed in a manner avoids the entry of human beings into the gorge even if the source of water continues to be shared.
The Sehgal Foundation team began work on the following proposals, keeping in mind solutions that minimize the chances of human/tiger encounters:
• Develop two check dams upstream area of the location to increase water availability for longer duration.
• Create an enclosed structure from where water can be pumped to the hilltop through an intermediate storage unit; and collect water in an overhead tank near the village, passing it through a horizontal roughening filter. Villagers can then safely collect water from this tank.
• To eliminate the risk of recontamination, use a JalKalp sustainable point-of-use water filter in each household to eliminate the microbial and iron contamination.
By implementing these solutions, the ongoing availability of drinking water for the community—humans and tigers—will be resolved, and everyone can enjoy the environment safely.