Water Warriors

Water Warriors


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Water Warriors :

Can you imagine a world without water? What will happen if it doesn’t rain for many years?

Is it possible for human beings and other living things to live without water?

What would you do without water?

Discuss with your friend and share your thoughts with your class.

Our story begins in the village of Gopalpura, which lies in Rajasthan’s Alwar district. The wells in the district had dried up. The villagers were miserable. But they did not lose hope. They revived the traditional earthen dams to capture rainwater. This helped to recharge the underground water. So the wells filled up again. With water in their wells, the villagers could live a better life. Now more than a thousand villages in Alwar district are following Gopalpura’s example. Read and find out how people in Rajasthan manage their lives during a water scarcity crisis.

Rajasthan receives about 16 inches of rainfall every year. Most of it falls during the monsoon months from June to September. The soil remains dry during the rest of the year.

The people of Rajasthan have learnt to use water carefully to preserve the underground water supply. The way to replenish underground water is by rainwater harvesting. Over many hundreds of years, the people built small dams and bunds to store the monsoon rain and make water available during the dry season.

The traditional dam was called the johad. It was crescent-shaped and built of earth and rocks. It served two functions. On the surface, the johad held water for cattle. But its most important function was below the earth’s surface. By storing the rainwater, it allowed water to trickle down through the soil to the underground water.

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Water stored underground cannot evaporate with the rays of the sun. So people had a sufficient supply of water during the dry season because their wells did not dry up. They could irrigate their fields to grow wheat, mustard and beans.

However, a johad cannot be built by a single family. All the people in the village have to join hands to construct it. This helps everyone because not only is water saved, but the villagers get work during the lean season.

Alwar began to face water shortage after many of its forests were cut down. The loss of trees exposed the topsoil to erosion. Whenever it rained, the rainwater would wash the soil down the treeless hillsides into the johads, filling them up with silt. Over the years, thousands of these johads were filled with silt. They could no longer store enough water, so less water filtered down to the ground water below the surface.

However, even though the wells began to dry up during the dry season, the villagers continued to neglect the johads. Repairing and maintaining these structures required them to work together. But most of them were more interested in looking after their own fields. There was no longer any feeling of togetherness. As a result, the johads fell into disuse one by one.

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In place of the johads, the farmers turned to modern technology to keep the water flowing. They began drilling tube wells in their fields – deep wells from which underground water was pumped up with the help of diesel-powered pumps. Everyone was happy because all it required to get water throughout the day was to turn on a switch.

But as more and more water was pumped out, the water table dropped. The farmers then had to drill even deeper to get water. But even then, they could not get water for more than five or six hours a day. Finally, the water table dropped so low that the wells began to go dry and even the streams and rivers began drying up.

Trees and other plants also began to die as the soil dried up. Without plants protecting the soil, erosion increased. Less vegetation meant less transpiration, which led to less rain.

Monsoon seasons became shorter. From 101 days in 1973 the monsoon lasted only 55 days in 1987. Less rainwater meant less chance to replenish the underground water.

The loss of forests and trees had another notable effect. Animals and birds could no longer hunt and search for food so they began to face starvation. Slowly, the wildlife in the area began to disappear.

The life of the villagers was also affected in many ways by the scarcity of water. Before the wells dried up, farmers used to grow a crop during the dry season, irrigating it with water from their wells. They could now grow only one crop during the rainy season. The land could no longer support large joint families in villages, so many young men began migrating to the cities like Delhi to look for work. Women and children had to spend up to 10 hours a day walking to far off places to fetch firewood and water.

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The first johad was successfully restored around 25 years ago. It took seven months of combined labour by the villagers to dig it 15 feet deeper. Fortunately, Rajasthan had a good monsoon in 1986, the region’s first good rainfall in four years. The johad filled up. Then the villagers noticed something unexpected. A nearby well that had gone dry, now had water.

The successful restoration of the first johad inspired the villagers to take on a bigger job – a crumbling irrigation dam. One achievement led to another and by 1996, Gopalpura had nine johads.

Gopalpura’s successful experiments with water harvesting and reforestation inspired other villages. They began renovating their own johads or building new ones.

The practice spread further as jal yodhas or ‘water warriors’ went on padayatras (walking tours) to spread the message of water harvesting.

Gopalpura teaches all of us a very important lesson: we must respect nature and use our natural resources with care. Nature’s processes are all interconnected. If we destroy one natural resource it can have unexpected effects, leading to the destruction of many other resources. The people of Gopalpura learnt this lesson and began giving back to nature as much as they were taking from nature.

Adapted from Amanda Suutari and Gerry Marten’s article

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