By Abdul Latif, Poorvi Gaur, Rishabh Jain and Tamanna Rafique
4 May 2019
Bad water management and decline in groundwater levels have left Rajasthan, India, and Sindh, Pakistan, stuck in a crisis with severe water shortage in villages.Situated 40 kilometres from Karauli city,Rajasthan, India is a village called Omri, which is home to 42 families. They have only one borewell and it takes a minimum of two hours to fill one bucket. “We struggle every day to obtain water for our families. The politicians will never understand our woes, they only care about making money,” says Ranjit Singh, a farmer based in Omri. Rajasthan, the largest state in India, covers 11 percent of the country’s land but the water coverage is a mere two percent in this arid region.
Bordering Rajasthan is Sindh in Pakistan, a province that faces water shortage. Of the 1.8 million people living in Badin district of Sindh Province, a majority are farmers by profession. The underlying water crisis has given rise to the issue of unemployment as well. “I have plowed my land and now the canal has run out of water. How am I supposed to cultivate my crops? This will cut down our annual production by 70 percent,” says Sardar Meer Ali, resident of Seerani, a village situated in the suburbs of Badin.
The converging politics of unjust water distribution by the governments is the main reason why the villagers of both Rajasthan, as well as Sindh, are facing such a grim crisis. “It is the Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (SIDA) and other influential locals who dictate the water distribution in the state and promote unequal distribution,” says Tanveer Ahmed Arain,President, Badin Press Club.
Protest by farmers of Badin,Pakistan for better access to water.
Protesting against this unequal distribution of resources in Badin, farmers have been on strike since February 2019.The government’s response to this has been slow. “We have no water to drink, the canals are dry. They used to supply water fortnightly and even that was not guaranteed.The filtration plants that were installed by the government to treat saline water have stopped working and the filter plant operator is nowhere to be found,”says Meer Akram, a farmer who has been a part of the protest
A report by The Hisaar Foundation, Pakistan states that only seven percent rural households in Badin had access to tap water. The situation is worse for the neighboring state of Rajasthan, India, where tap water is not even an option for the villagers. “We walk miles and miles every day to access the only well that still has water. We can only carry two pots at a time and we end up making multiple trips throughout the day and night and waste all our lives searching for water in the scorching heat,” says Narayani Devi, a resident of Hallapuri, Rajasthan. Amidst this struggle, there are some organizations and individuals in both India and Pakistan who trying to help the villagers to tackle this crisis.
Narayani Devi walks miles every day to fetch water(Location-Hallipura, Rajasthan, India)
Chaman Singh, popularly known as the ‘waterman’ of Rajasthan,India, is known for his work in the Karauli district of Rajasthan. He can often be found sitting on a charpoy bed during hot summer afternoons, imploring the locals to let him help them build pokhars(man-made ponds) and pagaras(small irrigation channels) to practice rainwater harvesting.
Chaman Singh with a group of villagers at Karauli,Rajasthan
Chaman Singh standing beside a newly built pagar or human made pond. (Location-Omri,Rajasthan)
“I quit my government job and joined Tarun Bharat Sangh,an NGO that works in the water sector in 1993 because I saw how this crisis was affecting people at the ground level. .Traditional methods of restoring groundwater are the most effective and with the implementation of recent technology, a lot can be done to revive the barren lands of Rajasthan.”
Over 29 years, Chaman Singh, through his association with the Tarun Bharat Sangh has helped build 4,500 johads (earthen check dams) in 1,050 villages of Rajasthan, regenerating 6,500 square kilometers of land for agriculture. According to Mukesh Singh, a volunteer who works with Chaman Singh, the involvement of the villagers in the process of building and harvesting is what makes it work.“When we let the villagers take the matters in their hands, our results reflect what the government policies overlook”, he adds.
“The government chooses a location as per its convenience without checking the water levels to build wells and then, the wells runs dry.Here, we work together with Chaman ji as one team and hence,the Pokhars continue to serve for years,”says 70-year-old farmer,Sridhar from Manakho village,who recently cultivated wheat for the very first time in his life.Before this restoration, all that the farmers in this area could grow were millets and hay for the cattle.
Like Tarun Bharat, it is the Badin Bachao Committee that is standing beside the villagers of Sindh,Pakistan,helping them to deal with the government and water mafias for the control over the only natural canal which has water. Mr. Azizullah Dero, a member of the Committee has been fighting for the rights of rural Sindh to equal distribution of water. “We walk miles from our villages to Badin City to lodge our protest every day and we will not stop until our villages get the water they deserve,” he says.
Water Bodies are running dry in Badin,Pakistan
While the villages of Rajasthan are still hopeful about the restoration of groundwater, the villagers across borders in Sindh,Pakistan are stuck in a fight for access to water. The continued negligence of governments of both the countries has, of course, cast a spell of despair amidst the rural farmers of Rajasthan and Sindh.Even after 73 years of independence, the farmers of India and Pakistan like Sardar Meer Ali(resident of Seerani, Sindh) or Babu Kaka(resident of Hallipura, Rajasthan), wake up every morning dreaming of a day when the governments would finally hear their woes and help them overcome this humanitarian crisis.