“Not just water for drinking but also for livelihoods”
In October of 2016, Excellent Development’s chairman, David Jordan OBE, visited our India programme to learn more about the projects and meet communities and staff involved in building sand dams in Rajasthan. Emma Seal, Excellent's Programmes Officer, spoke to him about his impressions of the work and vision for the future.
We are mid-way through the seven hour drive back from Udaipur where we have been visiting a project run by Wells for India, as well as learning about their techniques for greening valleys. As I ask if now would be a good moment to get his views on our India programme, the driver swerves into the next lane, blasting the horn to overtake a blue Maruti Suzuki motoring at an unacceptably slow 90 miles an hour. Accustomed now to the terrifying roads of India we continue (almost) unperturbed.
I ask David what first struck him about the results here so far. “How the dams seem to be performing compared with all of our experience in Africa. The emphasis seems to be on recharging wells downstream of the dam, whereas in Africa most of the impact is upstream.” The programme in India is still in the early stages, with the new geographical layout posing design challenges. Technical staff have managed to harness the differences and enable positive impacts on the many wells (many more than anticipated) used by communities to access groundwater.
David adds: “Another thing is an emphasis on how many organisations are focusing on water for drinking. Of the dams we’ve done so far, they provide not only what seems to be excellent drinking water but have enabled that switch from subsistence farming to agriculture with a really sound economic basis. Not just water for drinking but also for livelihoods.” (See this article on the Mahinganiyo ki Dhani sand dam for more details.)
Our regional partners in Rajasthan are the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF), a rainwater harvesting charity established in 2002. The sand dam programme has been integrated into their work in India. “We have a great partnership with JBF and I’d like to see that continuing. I’m hugely impressed. They will be a good partner for us.” explains David. A sand dam team is being developed within JBF’s staff, in order to build experience and knowledge within the organisation and enable the scope of the programme to be expanded in the future. “We shared our emerging strategy and they absolutely get it, like it, and want to be a long-term partner.”
I ask about the key challenges the programme is likely to face in the future as the car speeds off the highway and heads up into a tangle of green mountains. “One is the huge distances.” The state alone is larger than the whole of the UK put together. “Another is the fact that a lot of Rajasthan is very flat.” Sand dams need inclines to enable river flow and the build up of sand behind the structure. Modern technology, however, has made our task much easier. Desk studies will enable the strategic location of sand dams, once interested communities have come forward. “We can plan in advance where we’re going to go based on topography, geology and hydrology. It would be very interesting to see how our sand dam model responds to that and the filling up of sand and soil.”
A large part of piloting sand dams in a new area is considering whether they are the most effective form of rainwater harvesting technology for the region. “I do feel that sand dams make a real difference here. But we need to understand them properly. I do think there is considerable scope, but one of the next stages is to assess just how big that scope is.”
Our visit has been very positive, with community members emphasising the benefits not just to them but to their neighbours, and distant villages. We’ve drunk clean, fresh water from wells using sand dam water, and been shown potential sites by eager locals. The next steps will require a lot of hard work from everyone involved but with such impressive results, it will be easy to throw ourselves into developing this programme further.
Of the dams we’ve done so far, they provide not only what seems to be excellent drinking water but have enabled that switch from subsistence farming to agriculture with a really sound economic basis.
David Jordan OBE, Chairman of Excellent Development