Half full, Half empty: A WaterAid publication on the drought and drinking water crisis in Bundelkhand

The paper presents a situational analysis of the crisis and challenges of drinking water in Bundelkhand in the overall context of the drought spell in 2007

This paper on Bundelkhand from their Water and Sanitation Perspective series of WaterAid presents how ecological degradation and faulty policies make drinking water scarce and less accessible. It is a situational analysis of the crisis and challenges of drinking water in Bundelkhand in the overall context of current drought spell (in 2007). The paper makes a case for giving the issue of drinking water utmost priority in the mainstream agenda of drought management. It argues that community managed drinking water system is the need of the hour. 

A severe drought has been sweeping the Bundelkhand region since 2003. It has let loose a severe livelihood crisis. Loss of agriculture is a major issue of concern. However, the issue of availability of drinking water has not got the emphasis it should have. The dominant sources of drinking water - dug wells and masonry wells - have been badly impacted. On the other hand less surface water led to depletion in groundwater due to less recharge. This has left thousands of handpumps defunct. In a situation of overall water scarcity, and particularly when drinking water is a problem, sanitation has suffered. This has further added to people’s woes in terms of bad health.

For the economically weaker and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe population, drinking water problem is more pronounced. This is because their access is being curtailed based on social discrimination. In the current scarcity scenario, they suffered the most. 

When monsoon came it brought in fresh troubles for the region – contaminated drinking water. Add to it, the overall capacity of the region in harvesting and storing rainwater for use later has been substantially reduced. Thus the bounty rainfall will not make much impact on the overall water availability.

But deforestation clubbed with neglect of the traditional systems of water harvesting has distorted the equation. Now Bundelkhand conserves less rainwater than earlier. The results are there to see. First, the overall irrigation water availability came down. Secondly, the availability of drinking water has been impacted. Over a period of time, this has resulted in less recharge of groundwater as the main sources of recharging like tanks, ponds and the forests have vanished. This has left thousands of hand pumps defunct. It has made the region more vulnerable to drought – without the capacity to conserve water even a small deviation in rainfall causes drought. The current impasse is an outcome of this cycle of ecological degradation. On the other hand the government encourages water-intensive cropping system that has facilitated the region’s slip into a water scarce situation.

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