An unexpected fivefold impact in dryland India
Sakr (left) and Kanupriya Harish (left), Executive Director of JBF (Excellent's partners in India), examining the fresh, clean water from a nearby sand dam that will help Sakr's farm to flourish.
Excellent Development's Programmes Officer, Emma Seal, recently returned to our pilot dams in India, excited to see the impacts begin to spread and improve the lives of communities...
One of the most exciting parts of my job is being able to visit communities for whom our projects have had huge impact on the way of life. I’ve drunk water from pumps, scoop holes and wells and been watched by eager eyes as I stand in wonder tasting cool, clean, fresh water straight from the ground.
A few days into this latest visit, we head to Bhakasar, a remote village in Rajasthan and a very long drive through the sand-swept, arid landscape. I was accompanied by Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF) staff, our project partner in India, Excellent Development’s chairman, David Jordan OBE, and technical staff member, Charlie. We are heading to meet two farmers who have been working their land below the sand dam.
As we walk towards the crowd of community members, I notice they are clustered excitedly in a group on the farmer’s field between green crops stretching up to the sun. As we get closer, the crowd parts and we stop short in surprise. A three-inch wide, plastic pipe is laid on the ground and from it is gushing gallon after gallon of clear water. The pipe disappears into the ground not far off and I’m told it is connected to a new well sunk just downstream of the sand dam which was built in 2014. The renters of the land, Malam Singh and Sakr Khan, are both teachers as well as farmers and their smiles are wide as we ask about the changes they’ve seen.
“Groundwater here was very saline,” they said. Prior to the dam, the little water filling the wells was often too salty to drink. This combined with low rainfall made crop production very weak. I ask what they grew. “Only the rainfed crop which include millet and green grams. I didn’t have a second crop before the dam.” Now they are able to grow cumin and have a second harvest every year which doubles the potential of the land.
Such has been the increase of water levels in the well that both Sakr Khan and Malam Singh have been able to sell water even after they have provided sufficient water to their families and watered their crops. “It is profitable to sell water. I charge only 100 rupees a tanker” - a very reasonable sum in rural India. “I get about 25 to 30 tankers per day.” These large water-carrying lorries are used by families or villages to transport water. It is astonishing to be able to supply so much water to whole communities from one pipe. Their well acts as a vital water source where many government wells often dry up and the only water available is too saline to consume.
I ask JBF how many wells have been impacted. Kanupriya, their Executive Director, responds. “We had only mapped about six or seven.” But it has, in fact, been recharging 35. Most water in Rajasthan is accessed through wells dug deep into the ground which are refilled by groundwater. The original assessment had, mistakenly, estimated that the impact would only be seen in wells 1-2km downstream. These pilot dams in India are serving as valuable learning tools, helping us to understand that sand dams here can be far more powerful than expected.
Sakr Khan gestures to the surrounding village. “There has been an impact on women because now they are able to transport water within the village. Previously they had to go to a far away village and carry it.” The burden of water collection in most arid areas falls to women. This can negatively affect young girls and their education when they spend most days trekking long distances for water. “Now they all go to school. We have about a 50-50 ratio of girls to boys.”
Before leaving the area we are taken to the site of the next sand dam to be constructed, further upstream. The hope is for it to spread the impact even further and provide essential water for livestock too. The heat pounds down, reflecting back up off of the sand and rocks in a shimmering wave. The site looks unimpressive, the river barely recognisable from the erosion it has caused to the banks. But the same could have been said for the Bhakasar dam site before it was constructed and now that is transforming the way of life out here in the middle of the desert. This next sand dam could have even further-reaching effects.
There has been an impact on women because now they are able to transport water within the village. Previously they had to go to a far away village and carry it.
Sakr Khan, farmer and teacher in Rajasthan, India.