GOA, India, October 7,
2004 (ENS): Rainwater harvesting means catching and holding
rain where it falls and using it. It can be stored in tanks or used
to recharge groundwater. From this seemingly simple idea, India
is learning some great lessons.
If you search for the term on Google, the Internet throws up around
64,000 links. Out of these as many as 23,200 links are related to
India in one way or another.
Citizens can harvest rain right in their own homes by making use
of a dried up bore-well, a row of soak-pits or tanks hidden below
the ground, or even a traditional well from which water is drawn.
Open spaces, like rooftops and ground, can be used as the catchment
surface - to catch the rain. Costs vary; but rainwater harvesting
does not require major construction work.
The New Delhi based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has
worked on this for many years. "Our ancestors harvested rain
just as naturally as they tilled the ground to grow crops,"
CSE says. "We lost touch with these local solutions. But now,
as the taps dry up, more and more people are reviving this age-old
system and practicing it very successfully."
In a country like India, where life is dependent on rainfall in
large parts of the country, a lot of work is being done to raise
public awareness of rainwater harvesting. Centers have been set
up in places like Meerut and Chennai, formerly known as Madras.
Marches have been held around dry desert regions like Jodhpur to
promote awareness of the importance of water. Pioneers who protected
traditional water harvesting systems have been given recognition
and respect. Seminars have been held on rainwater harvesting. Rainwater
harvesting is also studied in urban housing apartments. rainwater
harvesting traditions from diverse parts of the country are studied
New tools are being used to augment ancient skills. The Internet
is proving to be a great place to spread and build awareness over
People can go to www.rainwaterharvesting.org and calculate the
"runoff" for specific localities in India - the water
they could save if rainwater harvesting was in place.
India, like other countries in the Third World, is facing a serious
water crisis. In Delhi, the groundwater level has fallen as much
as 32 feet in the last decade. In North Gujarat, it has gone down
down 1,500 feet; in Saurashtra western India it is 500 feet.
Six of India's federal states face severe drought. Even Cherrapunji
- the spot in northeastern India, once called the wettest place
in the world - with its annual 12,000 millimeters of rain - faces
an acute water problem in summer.
The Malnad areas in South India with 3,000 mm have started experiencing
drinking water problems. A study by the Sri Lanka based International
Water Management Institute (IWMI) states that South India will be
among the worst hit areas for water shortage by 2025.
Roofs are the biggest catchment opportunity for a city dweller,
and roof-water harvesting can be deployed in urban areas.
A rural farmer has many other areas where he can harvest water.
He can even afford to ignore the roof-water. But in smaller rural
towns, houses or poor people's colonies, roofs are major sources
Farmer, writer, rain-taker
From the farm to the pen. That's the story of Shree Padre. He calls
himself a farmer by profession, and journalist by obsession. He
has authored five books on the subject of rainwater harvesting.
Most are in the regional language of Kannada, while one is in English,
"Rainwater Harvesting," Altermedia, Kerala, 2002.
For the last six years, Padre has been collecting success stories
and information on rainwater harvesting from around the world. "Rainwater
harvesting now is knocking out so much of my creative time that
my farming gets a blow," he half-complains.
Before that, he worked to set up "Adike Patrike," a popular
farm magazine that he edited for 12 years. This means Padre has
become a pioneer in coastal South India for spreading farm-journalism,
or farmer-to-farmer communication.
His slogan is "pen to the farmers." Through many workshops,
his team has helped farmers to write for their fellow-farmers.
Padre has been instrumental in showing ordinary men a simple way
by which they can increase their water supply. Using this information,
hundreds of farmers in six districts of South India have been harvesting
Padre has built up a collection of slides and photographs, and
has put up some 200 slideshows on rainwater harvesting, mainly for
farmers and students.
He has done studies on surangas, man-made caves for water, a unique
traditional water harvesting system of Kasaragod in South India's
Kerala state. He has studied madakas, traditional percolation ponds,
of coastal Karnataka and Kasaragod, which have by now almost vanished.
He emphasizes in-situ, low-cost methods of harvesting rain that
can be implemented even without subsidies and external help. For
example, in an urban house, if there is a dug well, the groundwater
can be re-charged using the service well. Or even a dry, abandoned
well," he says.
Over the years, Padre says has been able to use his communication
skills in fighting the aerial spraying of endosulfan pesticides
that foul water supplies.
"Farmers, city-dwellers and people from all walks of life
have been experiencing worsening water shortages year after year,"
says Padre. "We, at the farm magazine 'Adike Patrike,' put
the subject of rainwater harvesting on top priority in 1995."
From September 1996, they started a feature series in the subject.
"Once we got in touch with the nongovernment sector, the small
groups and messiahs of rainwater harvesting, we were lucky to gather
a mountain of information," says Padre.
He believes in catering to the "information-needy." He
points to experiments from across India undertaken by "rainwater
harvesting achievers" like Shyamjibhai Antala and Rajender
Singh from remote North India.
Rainwater harvesting is possible in most areas. "The principle
is the same everywhere," says Padre. "But the methodology
has to be applied to studying local geographical situations, soil
type, rainfall, slope of land and many other aspects."
One of the best sites explaining what rainwater harvesting is all
about is located at: http://www.rainwater-harvesting.org
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