Drought-free in Maharashtra – six small villages, one big lesson

Awareness and community-level action are key to the success of any initiative; these six villages in Maharashtra are testimony to that.
Satchiwadi village used less groundwater this year
Satchiwadi village used less groundwater this year

Maharashtra is reeling under a drought – one of the worst in the last 40 years. The state declared drought in 125 out of 358 talukas during kharif 2012-13, and then declared water scarcity in 3,905 villages in rabi 2012-13. Thapewadi, Phalakewadi and Muthalane villages in Pune, Randulabad villages of Satara, and Satichiwadi and Shelkewadi villages of Ahmednagar are all villages in drought-affected districts of Maharashtra but they are unlike their neighbours.

These six villages are drinking water secure. Water security in this context means many things - that there is enough water, that their supply is regular, that the water is of good quality and that everybody in the community gets equal amounts of water. This didn’t happen by accident. It was a complete effort where the village communities, which were aided by two NGOs, got together, understood the problems and came up with solutions to regulate and ensure year-round water supply.

All six villages lie in the rain shadow area of Maharashtra, in particular of the Western Ghats. This means that they are at the back-facing side of the Ghats, which translates into lesser clouds and lower rainfall. Though the villagers were aware of such information, they lacked the organization skills to plan for such situations which affected them year in and out. This is where the NGOs helped – to bring the villagers together, get them to understand the issues that they were faced with and explain how simple scientific concepts combined with their local knowledge could help them. Two years later, these villages have enough water year-round. Now, that’s success!

The first step was for the villagers to map their water resources.

The next step was to answer questions such as how much natural supply of water was available, what are the various uses of this water within the village – for drinking, agriculture, domestic needs, livestock , etc. to understand the demand and given the available supply how quickly would the drinking source dry up . During discussions with the community, the nature and behaviour of groundwater as a common pool resource was emphasized.

Once demand and supply were clear, implementing systems to ensure that the supply didn’t ‘break’ was the third step. The villagers adopted many approaches for this:

Monitoring water year-round – This meant that they would check water levels in different sources periodically. If water was reducing in a well, then water supply to the villagers would be reduced proportionately. This was successfully done in Thapewadi (Pune district).

Thapewadi village wellThis well in Thapewadi village has been in use for over 50 years. The water in this well is potable. Earlier, the well would dry up, but due to better water management it hasn't in the last two years in spite of two continuous dry seasons. (Photo: Prateek Sharma, Praveena Sridhar)

Choosing the right crops – Some crops require more water than others. Depending on the water usage through the year, the villagers understood how much would be available during the second crop season (rabi) and thus chose the crop accordingly. This was successfully done in Randullabad and Satichiwadi (Ahmednagar district).
Redistributing water use based on supply – A shortage of water meant that the villagers would save water for the summer months by re-evaluating how much water would be used for agriculture and other purposes versus for drinking.

Phalkewadi villageThese tanks receive water from the main water supply tank in Phalkewadi village. The village's livestock drink water from these tanks. (Photo: Prateek Sharma, Praveena Sridhar)

Installing water meters – Meters were installed in the villager’s homes. This helped them become conscious about their domestic water usage. Though currently the flat fee tariff is applied the prospect of volumetric tariff made sure that people reduced the wastage of domestic water. This was successfully implemented in Phalakewadi (Pune district).

The most notable part of all these initiatives is that the villagers collectively agreed on these initiatives and understood how they would benefit from them.

Sharada Ghavani from Thapewadi says, "In the drought of 2003 women had to walk 2-3 km to fetch water from irrigation wells after the drinking water source dried up. Tankers used to come to the village and empty the water in the wells. One of the NGOs helped us recharge the borewell that supplies water to the village. Today, we have enough drinking water even in these days of drought, while the neighbouring villages of Pimplagaon and Pabalbet get tanker water or canned water at exorbitant costs.”

The villagers had a host of local wisdom – information on the direction of the winds at certain times of the year, levels of moisture in the soil, areas where flooding happened regularly and so on. The NGOs helped them combine scientific information, especially about weather, with this local knowledge to help prepare them better against drought. The automated weather stations set up in Muthalane and Randulabad are great examples.
 
The communities in these villages understood the rainfall patters better, budgeted their water use accordingly and also chose crops smartly. Moreover they used the humidity and soil moisture readings to apply required amount of water, pesticides and fertilizers. 

Muthalane villageThis water source  (spring) is located on private land belonging to Ranjit Dethe in Muthalane village. The water availability here is a direct result of the surface water and groundwater management work done in the village. (Photo: Prateek Sharma, Praveena Sridhar)

The two NGOs involved – Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) and Advanced Center for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM) – have different focus areas. WOTR’s approach to water security was by implementing large-scale watershed programmes and focus on water supply augmentation. Watersheds are areas within which water drains into a stream, lake, pond or a river. ACWADAM’s strategy was to improve supply based on understanding underground rock structures and water flow patterns within them. Arghyam, a public charitable foundation working in the drinking water and sanitation sector funded these two NGOs in their efforts.

The primary reason this initiative succeeded was because of the involvement of the villagers. There was a sense of community and kinship that helped them take decisions together and in a manner that benefitted them all. Leaders have evolved within the community and thanks to the revival and construction of piped water supply, women have more time to be actively involved in the decision-making process as well. 

Thapewadi village water tank

This tank in Thapewadi village supplies water to the entire village. It gets water from a well constructed by the Gram Panchayat. (Photo: Prateek Sharma, Praveena Sridhar)

This effort can easily be replicated in other parts of India.  All it takes is a combination of general awareness, local knowledge, scientific information and most importantly, community level action.

For further information on this story, please write to Ayan Biswas, Arghyam at ayan@arghyam.org.

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About the organisations involved in this initiative

Arghyam is an Indian public charitable foundation setup with an endowment from Rohini Nilekani, working in the water and sanitation sector since 2005. Arghyam's vision is “Safe, sustainable water for all”. For more information, visit  www.arghyam.org.

WOTR is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1993, operating currently in 6 Indian states – Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, and Orissa. WOTR is recognised widely as a premier institution in the field of participatory watershed development and climate change adaptation. Its unique strength lies in its ‘on-field’ experience and in a systemic, participatory approach. For more information, visit www.wotr.org.

ACWADAM is a not-for-profit organization that aims to develop solutions to groundwater problems of today and tomorrow. It is a premier education and research institution and facilitates work on groundwater management through action research programmes and trainings. For more information, visit www.acwadam.org.

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