Equitable Water History

How we Started

Nagadarwadi is typical of rural India, so small that it does not even register on most maps, only on the most detailed surveys. It is a farming village of 40 families, who have lived and farmed on this land for generations. The villagers are poor, almost beyond the comprehension of most Westerners. An average family's income is around 5000 rupees a year, under £70. Their plight has steadily got worse over the last few decades through a combination of changing government priorities (from agriculture to industry in the new global economy), neglect (worsened by complete political powerlessness), changing climatic conditions (erratic monsoons) and worst of all, dwindling water resources because of deforestation. Despite its much-vaunted growth and increasing GDP, India still tops the league table for disparity between rich and poor. These people are desperate and leave their villages and barren farmlands in droves to swell the slums of Mumbai, 400 kilometres away, and other major cities.

 

Until 2004 there was no drinking water in the village. Each morning, the able-bodied men of the village would walk 3 kilometres each way to collect water from the nearest well and carry it home. It got progressively worse in that they had to get to the well earlier and earlier to be sure of getting any water at all. One man, Indra Pandurang had the idea of sleeping near the well one night so as to be there good and early. He was found dead the following morning, killed by snakebite.

 

Some years the monsoons have been good. Much of the countryside, at least in Maharashtra (Nagadarwadi is near the eastern border of this large state) actually looks quite lush. And for these three or four months the rains do bring relief from the heat, the hope of a good harvest and relatively full stomachs for the children. But for the remainder of the year, from November to June, most of the villagers live in severe poverty and have to supplement their income by working as labourers on larger farms or as itinerant labour in outlying towns and cities, often being paid only in kind The pressure to move away altogether from the land is intense. The soil in this region has poor water retention, worsened by the fact that trees have been felled for firewood. Farming here is entirely dependent on rainfall, there is no other source of assured irrigation. As a result there is one crop of sorghum a year. Sorghum is the common name for maize-like grasses native to Africa and Asia, where they have been cultivated since ancient times. Grain sorghums are the staple food for millions of people in China, India, and Africa. Elsewhere, they serve primarily as livestock feed. Also known as millet they are among the most drought-tolerant of cereals, becoming dormant under drought and heat stress and then resuming growth when conditions improve. Millet ‘rotis’ (or flatbread) and a watery ‘dhal’ (a stew made from pulses and spices) is the staple diet for 8-9 months of the year. Vegetables are a luxury, usually available only in the monsoon season.

It was after a visit to Nagdarwadi and after discussion with a local organisation Sanskriti Samvardhan Mandal that we decided to set up Equitable Water to try and help.