Gravity based spring water supply systems in Vishakhapatnam: A sustainable solution to an age-old problem

The tribal inhabitants in water-rich Eastern Ghats mostly rely on the water reserves of natural springs and hill streams for their drinking water and other daily domestic needs.

Gravity based spring water supply systems – A sustainable solution to an age-old problem With an annual rainfall of more than 1200 mm, this region has truly pristine and under-developed ground water resources. The water related issues are more complex in the hilly areas. Some of the most concerning issues that affect the current water scenario in the Eastern Ghats are pollution of water sources (springs & streams) leading to poor health, illiteracy and ignorance resulting in improper hygiene and sanitation practices. The burden on women and children is also high since they have to walk a long distance to the springs/streams for fetching water.

Arghyam, a Bangalore based not-for-profit donor organisation has been supporting projects related to water and sanitation across India. It has partnered with Visakha Jilha Nav Nirman Samiti (VJNNS), which is based out of Narsipatanam in Visakhapatnam district of Andhra Pradesh, for implementing “Neeru - Aarogyam” (Water and Health) project in the Eastern Ghats. The project focused on creation of gravity based water supply systems (GBWSS) using natural springs and providing water to the tribal villages through pipelines.

Geo-politically, the project area was always neglected till the exploitation started in 1980s. The tribal primitive population, mostly forest gatherers were neglected by successive governments since independence. Of late, to fulfil the 8-10% of GDP growth of India, this area is being stripped off its mineral-rich resources. The over-exploitation of resources and local tribal people is resulting into naxalism. The helpless locals who were caught between the Leftist, Naxals and the oppressive Government policies have no choice, no voice and no exit options. The inhabitants are far away from receiving any sort of development support in terms of infrastructure or services.

The Neeru Aarogyam project provided the residents with safe drinking water using gravity based water supply systems. As the hard rock shallow aquifer systems are totally underdeveloped in this heavily forested and high rainfall region, there are perennial base flows in the streams and springs. But these sources are far from habitations and have water quality issues due to anthropogenic pollution. The unique gravity-based, perennial, energy-free, water systems has benefitted the marginalised scheduled tribes of Bhagata, Konda Dora, Valmiki & Konda.

Gravity based spring water supply systems – A sustainable solution to an age-old problemThe entire process of project implementation by VJNNS was based on community participation. With the inputs from the village elders and by traversing and observing various springs in the higher reaches of the hills, a perennial spring was identified for the GBWSS. A “spring box” is constructed around the perennial spring to secure it from animals, siltation and human interference. A pipeline is led from the spring box to the village avoiding any air locks. The spring water is then passed through the slow sand filter to get rid of any undissolved impurities and bacteriological contamination.

This system is highly maintenance-free. However, the funds required for minimal maintenance was mobilised by forming a corpus Village Development Fund (VDF). Water and Sanitation Committee was formed from among the beneficiaries for maintenance of the system. Through the filtration of water using local filter materials, the quality of the water has improved considerably which has led to better health conditions.

Gravity based spring water supply systems – A sustainable solution to an age-old problemThis is a system built by people and for people using local resources and materials. The community readily contributed in cash and kind while building the structures. VJNNS not only provided the technical knowhow while construction but also provided hands-on training to local youth on the operation and maintenance of the system. In contrast to the government systems which are pure technological solution to more of a socio-economic problem, the GBWSS provides clean and more importantly sustainable water source to the vulnerable population of tribal hinterland. As per the latest government statistics the improvement in quality of drinking water has also resulted in reduction in diarrhoea counts and infant mortality rates.

This simple participatory way of bringing the perennial spring water to the village using only gravity can easily get rid of the drudgery of the tribal women in this inhospitable, inaccessible area of Eastern Ghats. As no electricity and any moving parts are involved, this truly is socially, financially and technically sustainable solution and can bring about meaningful development to the doorsteps of the poorest of poor.

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