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22 Sep 2020

Community action providing drinking water

 

For decades the women and children of Tindori took the same long, laborious journey, walking over two kilometers barefoot to acquire water for the numerous village households. Monsoon season offered light relief, creating small natural rivers but these were only ever temporary sources of water for those living in this small tribal hamlet, eventually drying off.

However, this year, another obstacle placed itself between the much-needed water and the water gatherers...Covid-19 and lockdown. With new restrictions preventing movement around the country, the villagers started to realise how crucial it was to have their own source of water closer to home.

Situated near the Gujarat border in the dense forests of Jhadol (approximately 70 kilometers from Udaipur city), Tindori is a remote village, populated by 35 families living spread across a vast mountainous region. Cut off from the main roads and far from the nearest town, many villagers either migrate to nearby cities for work or are dependent on selling forest produce for their survival. Approximately 80% of families in the village practice subsistence agriculture to support themselves, usually selling the remaining produce at local markets. However, because the area suffers from water scarcity and regular droughts, the land is very dry, with little irrigation. The old and delipidated wells are a hotbed for waterborne diseases, there have been incidences of animals (and even people) falling into them and contaminating the water. Often, during the monsoon season, dead animals, mud and faeces are washed into the well resulting in ill-health. And with people unable to fund proper medical care, their ability to work is reduced greatly.

Seva Mandir's involvement with the village began the year previously, when they collaborated on the a sustainable livelihood project funded by the Axis Bank Foundation in March 2019. Teams from the NGO had been meeting the Tindori village group and its elders to discuss the Village Institution programme and livelihood initiatives. During that time Seva Mandir built on the idea of collective action and through multiple meetings and workshops, helped from the Village Institution, a collective of households and members from the village who get together to make democratic decisions regarding where they live.

The Village Institution knew that by restoring a well and building a protecting wall, the current dangers would be removed, greatly reducing the chance of waterborne diseases and therefore reducing medical costs and keeping people in work.

It was this collective action introduced by Seva Mandir that spurred the Village Institution to start discussing ways in which they could best utilize their time and gather resources in order to create a water source in the village during lockdown. The major challenge for Seva Mandir was encouraging solidarity within the Village Institution so everyone supported the idea behind the creation of a community asset. However, once the idea took hold of the village many people got came on board. The plan involved every adult member from all families, using all tools available, coming together to design and build the well before monsoon season hit. A total of 50 men and women got together and started digging a community well in the hamlet, with each family contributing funds to materials and labour. It was very much a collaborative process with younger members of the community, who already had knowledge of construction, using their social connections to learn more as well as managing stones for the wall. Older villagers helped in looking for a site where the well could be dug, they also created the crane like structure from bamboos and oversaw the entire process.

It took them nearly four months to complete digging a 35 feet deep well and to create a stone boundary wall around it. It was challenging and difficult as they had to remove the dug earth out from the site without any machine support. However, the community utilised their traditional knowledge and built a machine similar to a crane from bamboo and rope, a method used in the area years ago. Building the crane from natural materials was the most challenging part for the community. The continued innovation and hard work of the community resulted in a fully functional well in just four months.

With the community members coming together and taking matters into their own hands, they have already seen an enormous difference to themselves and their livelihoods, as well as opening further agricultural opportunities for the farmers in the village. The well ensures water availability for irrigation and consumption throughout the year. Seva Mandir is now facilitating discussions of installation of a motor for the well, pipeline construction and a plan for water distribution.

This story goes to show that even in the most difficult times, rural communities in southern Rajasthan are inspiring us with stories of collective action and solidarity. Sarla, a proud Tindori resident says, "We never thought Covid-19 will help us solve such a huge problem. I do not have to travel so long now, in fact nearby families can come to our well."

Her fellow neighbour Deva added "There was so much problem because of lack of water. We had to walk so much. Now after three months we have a much closer source."

 

Written by Sukey Richardson

 

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