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The journey from brown to blue – a story of water positivity from Beed, Maharashtra

Please briefly describe your Water ChangeMaker journey

Beed and its 11 talukas fall under Central Maharashtra Plateau Zone and Western Maharashtra Dry or Scarcity (SC) Zone which receives very little rainfall. Due to this, in the last few decades, the region has experienced frequent drought-like situations that has far-reaching socio-economic impacts – low agricultural yield leading to higher rates of seasonal migration and very high instances of farmer suicides. A chance conversation with domestic help at home with Col (retd) Shashikant Dalvi, national coordinator for RWH, The Climate Reality Project, India, visited Khaamkheda. Groundwater levels were analyzed and it was seen that the water table has dropped several meters every passing year and 125 farmer suicides were reported in 2018, the highest in the Marathwada region. Even though there were some projects like river desilting and pond construction undertaken earlier to provide water for irrigation in the fields (again they too were rain-dependent), domestic water needs still remained an equally perennial challenge. The RWH project undertaken by The Climate Reality Project, India aimed at making the villagers’ self-dependent for all their water needs and at the same time helped provide the skill set to a number of villagers to undertake similar projects in nearby villages.

Please describe the change that your initiative created and how was it achieved

Rainwater Harvesting is a technique of collection and storage of rainwater into natural reservoirs or tanks or allowing better infiltration of surface water into subsurface aquifers before it is lost as surface runoff. RWH is a simple, easy, and cost-effective technique of collecting water and delivering it to storage systems for later use that does not employ heavy use of technology. In this case quality of collected rainwater was ensured and existing bore wells were recharged thus saving a lot of money on infrastructure cost. More than 700 RWH projects have been undertaken by Col. Dalvi across the length and breadth of the country which substantially reduced the communities’ dependence on tankers. He has spent 18 years educating urban and rural masses alike about the benefits of collecting RWH including cost-effectiveness and sustainability in the long-term. The RWH initiative in Khaamkheda was built upon the success of these previous projects. The team held several rounds of interactions with the villagers, motivated them to come forward for community stewardship (called shramdaan in Hindi/local language). Further, the villagers were educated about the benefits of RWH - from as little as 1500 square feet roof area, it is possible to harvest 14 lakh liters of water during the rainy season. He emphasized on changing our outlook about water from ‘Use & Discard’ to ‘Use, Recycle, Reuse, Recharge, Conserve and Discharge’. Religious harmony also enhanced as all the structures like the temple, mosque, school, etc. were involved to act as a catchment area.

How did your initiative help build resilience to climate change?

The climate-related negative impacts of the pre-existing situation were obvious – depleting groundwater level that was due to scarce rainfall in the area exacerbated by phenomenon like the El Nino which further reduced the quantity of rainfall. This led to farmer suicides as more than 80% of the population in the area is dependent on agriculture with smallholder farmers having less than 5 acres of land per capita. Though suicides and migration are seldom seen as a direct consequence of climate change, in this case, it was clearly evident and when stakeholders were made aware of the same, they came forward and worked with full zeal and enthusiasm to avert their own future which has a direct climate change relation. 20 buildings and 5 bore wells accounted for appx 14 lakh ltr of water thus making the village water positive.

What water-related decisions did your initiative influence or improve?

In March 2018, Col. Dalvi launched the rooftop RWH program in Khaamkheda, Beed. First, the following resources were mapped–a total of 658 buildings, each with 800 sq. feet of rooftop area amounting to total rooftop area of 5.26 lakh sq ft, 1 open well, 20 borewells, and 655 mm annual rainfall. By June 2018, 4 borewells out of the targeted 5 were recharged by rainwater from 5 buildings. Apart from The Climate Reality Project, Pune based MAP industries who wanted to set up an agency for this project came forward, as also the Nagaradhyaksh (the local head) of Beed who wanted the region to become self-sufficient in water resources. Upon seeing the revival of the borewells, the villagers came forward for the project to be introduced on their rooftops. Post the intervention, 9 other villages of the district have joined the RWH project. As this project found support from the government scheme at a later stage, the overall project cost also became economical. With enough rooftop surface area, participating villagers were able to get access to a regular water supply.

What were some of the challenges faced and how were they overcome?

The most difficult part of the project was to mobilize resources for both the local workforce as well as funds from government institutions to implement the RWH systems. Initially, 20 buildings & 5 bore wells were identified and rooftop RWH systems were installed for groundwater recharge. The system was ready to recharge around 14 lakh liters of rainwater (1.4 million liters) from the rooftop of 20 buildings. On 11 Feb 2019, these systems were officially inaugurated and dedicated to the villagers of Khaamkheda by local MLA Mr. Laxmanrao Pawar. He appreciated the work done by The Climate Reality Project. After seeing the results and understanding the value of the rooftop rainwater harvesting, he came forward to provide adequate funds to complete the work in the whole taluka (nearby region). The project was able to garner complete support of the villagers who were enthused after seeing the initial results, and soon neighboring villages also joined to install RWH systems in their area.

In your view: Will the change that was created by your initiative continue?

Yes, we believe that the project has helped most of the villages in Beed become self-dependent, and instilled confidence among the villagers in the efficacy of this frugal yet effective innovation. If you consider the previous projects undertaken by the Col. Dalvi in Pune and Madhya Pradesh (more than 700 in total), it is evident that the RWH is self-sustaining across a wide range of geographies. Water tankers are still being deployed in drought-stricken parts of Marathwada as the rainfall in the area keeps decreasing year after year and the rate of groundwater recharge is not enough to meet the increasing demand. No water conservation method can work without utilizing rainwater. Overall dependence on water tankers for household purposes has gone down significantly. Going ahead, we are looking to increase awareness in the other villages under Beed district and increase uptake of sustainable water management practices

What did you learn during the initiative or after? And is it possible that others could learn from you?

The benefits of RWH are magnanimous, understanding the solutions which are simple enough for uptake by the rural population can be a game-changer; the best part is, it shows immediate results. Col (retd.) Dalvi and his team have been studying and implementing RWH systems for more than 18 years and have successfully undertaken more than 700 projects across the length and breadth of the country. The implementation was well-documented and had a good ripple effect too but the fact that even after 2 years of implementation, Beed is still not tanker-less, is an opportunity to learn more about water consumption and utilization in such heavily parched areas and understand demand-side issues. We are looking to find additional ways through which Beed and the other regions in Marathwada become self-sufficient in water. More written literature, photograph-based booklets, and videos in the local language are planned for better uptake of such solutions.