(Photo credits WaterAid/ Mansi Thapliyal)

When water taps change the course of life.

By Pragya Gupta/WAI

The Bundelkhand region, spread across the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh in India, has suffered several consecutive droughts for a decade with little or no rainfall. As a result, millions of people in the region are stuck in the vicious cycle of hunger and poverty. The prevalent water shortage made Lalu Singh Yadav, a member of the Village Water and Sanitation Committee determined to voice the issue and seek appropriate solutions. Here is how.

Droughts are a way of life in the Bundelkhand region of North-Central India. Thousands of farmers have committed suicide due to acute water shortage, repeated loss of crop and increasing debt. The consecutive droughts brought significant hardships for the majority of people dependent on farming - the only source of their livelihood. Dried up wells and inoperative hand pumps due to the falling water table were a way of life.

In the peak summer season, the water tanker service provided by the government was only a temporary relief for the villagers. Due to the scanty rainfall in the last couple of years, the villagers cautiously consumed the water available as they could never be sure of the rainfall in the next season.

It was time, the villagers of Bikhampur in the arid Bundelkhand region decided that the problem had to be dealt with once and for all. The Village Water and Sanitation Committee (VWSC) along with the villagers came forward to prove that no challenge was big enough if they dealt it with courage, determination, and persistence. Lalu Singh Yadav, a member of VWSC was one of the lead change makers who initiated the work towards making water accessible to everyone in his village.

With a population of around 650 people, Bhikhampur is a small village in the Bundelkhand region that falls in the state of Uttar Pradesh. When WaterAid India intervened in 2012, the village had only one handpump and a semi-functional well. As the well was open, there were often cases of animals falling and dying in the well making it unsuitable for use for days together.

The lone handpump often used to break down and required maintenance as the complete village was dependent on it. WaterAid India reviewed the situation and made some suggestions. To mobilize the community and ensure their participation, WaterAid India also created the VWSC. As the issue of accessing clean water was a constant problem for everyone in the village, the entire community quickly came together and offered their support to the VWSC in every possible form to make their dream for clean and easily accessible water possible.

Parents and students participate actively to improve the WASH condition in the school

The new water storage tank installed after the efforts of Lalu Singh Yadav and other VWSC members. (Photo credits: WaterAid/ Mansi Thapliyal)

“The community helped in the construction of a storage tank connected to a pump in the village. As a result of the community’s efforts, a mini water supply scheme was implemented which allowed a single tap connection for each household. Every household in the community was supposed to make a small monthly contribution to the operations and maintenance of this infrastructure. A caretaker was also assigned from within the community who operated the pump at regular intervals so that people can get a regular supply of water. Life in this village thus became so much better, thanks to water available in our houses through household taps. Otherwise, the summer season used to be an extremely difficult time for the villagers,” explained 45-year-old Lalu Singh Yadav, VWSC member

The household water tap after the intervention

The household water tap after the intervention (Photo credits: WaterAid/ Mansi Thapliyal)

The caretaker was thus handed over a list of responsibilities, overseen by the Village Water and Sanitation Committee:

  • To ensure smooth functioning of the pump.
  • To collect monthly charge from each household.
  • Fill the storage tank thrice a day.
  • To call the mechanic in case repairs are required.
  • Coordination with the water department to test water quality at regular intervals.

“I am really happy because of the tap connection as now we get water within the house. Earlier, I used to spend around 2-4 hours per day to fetch water. I had body aches because of carrying the heavy weight every single day. Sometimes we had to wait because of the queue,” says Sankhi, a 25-year-old resident of the village.

Sankhi, a resident of the village, with her three-year-old son

Sankhi, a resident of the village, with her three-year-old son (Photo credits: WaterAid/ Mansi Thapliyal)

“I hardly had time to study. Water is a necessity. There is no education over water. I was often late for school as I had to fetch water every morning before going to school,” adds Sankhi.

“Lack of access to water results in a lot of problems. We all own cattle in the village. Feeding them water is a big deal if you have to run to the well every time. A few years back, many families let their cattle loose, as there was no water to give them. When there is no water and food for humans, how do you expect us to feed our cattle?” asks another resident. “Moreover, a lot of families used to get their daughters married early as there was nothing to eat in the house because of scanty rainfall in last few years. I hope that now people will wait for the girls to finish education before sending them off,” shares teary-eyed Sankhi.

It is observed that water secure communities are more resilient to extreme weather events like droughts. And it will not be incorrect to say that Bhikampur is now an extremely strong and resilient community that has come a long way in dealing with the huge issue of water shortage by taking ownership of the quality of life they aspired to have.