Wells for India

“In rural India, women and girls spend a third of their lives fetching water”

So began an eye-opening presentation by Om Prakash, Indian Director of the UK –based charity Wells for India on October 12th to 30 members of our SCR and GCR.

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Since 1987 the not-for-profit organisation established by Dr. Nicholas Grey and Professor Mary Grey has worked through a number of Indian Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) to expand the sustainable and efficient provision of safe and secure water to improve the lives and the environment of the poorest rural communities in Rajasthan, in North West India’s dry zone. And the poorest communities are often those on the poorest land without secure sources of water and with no access to capital or technology. Motivated by what they found during their travels in the Thar desert, where access to scarce and safe water is fundamental to human survival, The Greys were inspired by people’s resourcefulness, yet lack of resources and technical support.  

It may seem paradoxical that India, one of the BRIC countries with a high rate of economic growth, should be in need of resources and expertise in this field, but as Om Prakash pointed out, that growth is almost entirely based in large urban growth centres that have yet to bring widespread benefits to vast numbers of its urban poor, let alone to remote rural areas.

There are numerous NGOs as well as government-backed projects working towards similar goals but WFI chooses to co-fund projects proposed by local NGO partners –each sharing WFI’s vision of which Ghandi would have approved, and with key characteristics:

  • operating in remote rural areas, small scale and low tech.
  • close to the communities they work with;
  • committed to grassroots participatory development, promoting self-help.
  • willing to share learning and best practice from their experience;
  • committed to transparency in their project implementation and accounting;
  • officially registered in India to receive funds from abroad.

In practice this means that the communities plan the projects to suit their particular environment and socio-economic context with the NGO and then contribute their labour while the NGO provides technical expertise and materials such as cement.

In Rajasthan’s remote desert areas rainfall is scarce, of course, so harvesting and safe storage of what does fall is critical. In the rugged Aravali hills, this means trapping run-off to promote infiltration to raise the water-table, so that wells are replenished with water freshly filtered by nature for drinking and for promoting agricultural productivity. These fundamentally impact upon health and quality of life. (Photo 5458 of a check-dam with crops growing in the moist earth trapped behind it)

In lowland areas it is more usual to construct underground tanks with surrounding concrete or paved catchments over which rainwater drains to the centre and into the tank via a small maze to trap silt. (5769jpeg) Most communities need improvements in sanitation too for improved hygiene,  to avoid contamination of water sources and especially for safety of women at night, a common issue addressed by women’s self-help groups (pic 5688- women at a self-help group meeting), promoted by WFI –funded projects. Such groups also tackle health and educational issues.

Small scale water harvesting works not only to help increase water availability also enhance food grain and fodder productivity to generate income and reduce poverty of some of the most disadvantaged people.

Om Prakash’s fascinating presentation gave the SCR and some GCR members an opportunity to draw upon the expertise of Bill and Ritu Kataky to put on a wonderfully tasty buffet of classic Indian dishes which were greatly appreciated and enjoyed (Is there potential for a Ritu and Bill cook book ?) and it was a mark of the stimulation of the talk that the conversation noise level in Keepers’ Cottage was deafening.

To find out more about the philosophy and practice of Wells for India go to

http://www.wellsforindia.org/

(Pic 473 of Om Prakash and WFI supporters from around the region.)

The hugely successful evening could not have taken place without the great organisational work of Lyn Gatland , Bisserka Gaydarska and Bill and Ritu Kataky to whom we all owe thanks.