Panna Tiger Reserve located in the Vindhyan mountain range in Madhya Pradesh is spread over 542.67 square kilometres. The climate in Panna is warm and temperate. The reserve houses the last remaining tiger habitat of the northern part of Madhya Pradesh.
By 2009, the entire tiger population had been eliminated by poaching. But now, after the translocation of a couple of tigers from another tiger reserve, fifty-four tigers are present in the dense forests of the reserve. Apart from this, there are several other animal species. Tribal and forest communities co-exist with the tigers in the nature reserve.
Tigers, the largest wild cats in the world like water unlike most other members of the cat family. Tigers living in hot conditions drink up to 20 gallons of water a day. They can swim well and often cool off in pools or streams during summers. However, the Panna tigers face another challenge they share with the human community in the surrounding area: a struggle for water security.
These forests along with the Ken Gharial Sanctuary form a significant part of the catchment area of the Ken river. This river is one of the sixteen perennial rivers of Madhya Pradesh. It is the lifeline of this reserve and is the least polluted of Yamuna’s tributaries. The path of the meandering Ken offers some spectacular scenery.
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 high eroding capacity and fast outflow of runoff, which leads to almost no groundwater recharge in spite of a rocky terrain marked with faults. This fast flow has eroded the surface tremendously and taken away the soil cover, making the rocks barren.
Due to changes in the rainfall pattern (short and intense rainfall events), the situation has further worsened. Now, the lives in this reserve struggle for water, and water scarcity in summer becomes so grim that it threatens survival for animals (wild and domestic) and human beings. 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 installed a few hand pumps close to these small water bodies. However, due to the highly faulty rocky strata and the mineralogy, the groundwater has a 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 has high microbial contamination.
Even this water is only available for a couple of months. After that communities are forced to take water from shallow ditches in the streams which trap the subsurface flow of water. There are no alternate options.
Ambient temperature also starts rising fast from February and increases the water demand of both animals and human beings. February to July are the most difficult months, where the communities struggle for survival due to lack and/or minimal availability of water. With the rising temperatures during this period, both need and scarcity of water also increases.
A team from Sehgal Foundation and the Last Wilderness Foundation visited these human settlements to suggest solutions to water scarcity in the area. Since the tigers and humans use the same source of water, be it 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, which are 2–2.5 kilometres away from the village. In addition to the distance, they have to climb down 350 feet on an extremely steep rocky terrain to reach the water stream. Each trip takes 2–2.5 hours during which they cannot carry back more than 15 litres of water. Each household spends two to four trips a day, depending on the family size, putting their lives at risk in case of encounters with tigers or bears.
During the team’s interactions with the community, it was evident that when a tiger is seen resting in or around the water body, the people have no option but to come back empty-handed. In summers, this can go on for days. There have been instances, especially during summers, when the people are forced to consume the contaminated water from the hand-pumps, falling prey to several diseases and illnesses.
Based on the team’s site visit and interactions with community members, it is very apparent that this shared water source is an important cause of human/animal conflict in the region. A solution needs to be designed in a manner that even if the source of water continues to be shared, the entry of human beings into the gorge should be avoided.
Sehgal Foundation is working on the following few solutions to minimize the chances of human/tiger encounters:
- Develop two check dams in the upstream area of the location to increase the water availability for a longer duration.
- Create an enclosed structure from where water can be pumped to the hilltop through intermediate storage and pumping. Collect it in an overhead tank near the village, and pass the water through a horizontal roughening filter. Villagers can then collect water from this tank safely.
- In order to eliminate the risk of recontamination, use a JalKalp sustainable point-of-use water filter in each household, which can eliminate microbial and iron contamination.
These solutions will hopefully address the problem of drinking water for the community, and the tigers will also benefit from improved water availability without human interference.
Lalit Mohan Sharma, Principal Scientist (Water Research and Trainings) at SM Sehgal Foundation has developed innovations in the field of rainwater harvesting structures design, alternative sources of water, low-cost water treatment and sanitation systems. He innovated a sustainable low-cost water filter named as JalKalp, to address arsenic, iron, manganese, biological contamination and turbidity in water. Another innovation of his - ‘Creating Fresh Water source within Saline Aquifer’ was selected by United Nations for showcasing at Solutions Summit – 2015 to make a presentation at UN Headquarters, New York. Both of these innovations have also been showcased on the web site of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Government of India, at the innovation page.