Around 68% of the area in India with a population base of about 750 million people is prone to drought. The rising sea levels are turning freshwater salty, thereby compromising the water quality. An obvious inference from the numbers reveals the gravity of the water-management crisis in these arid areas.
Can we help residents of the Bhachau district of Kutch, who face similar troubles around the year? And has a direct impact on their livelihood. Let’s call one such lady Rekhaben. “There are many people like me. Rarely do we see a change in our living conditions, but the only change we see is the drier climate every year that evaporates our means of living, the water.” Rekhaben would say.
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But one person had a will of steel to help so many Rekhabens in the area. Gazala Paul has through her efforts ensured that people in 97 villages have access to water. Gazala has been instrumental in mobilizing the local population to restore the life of the local water bodies. The collective efforts have revived both life and livelihood in the region.
There were close to 675 ponds, dug wells, and step wells in Rapar and Bhachau that ensured water security in the arid lands of Kutch. However, most of them are dysfunctional. Gazala through her founded Samerth Organization had plans to fix them and fix them in a way that requires minimal re-fixes. The team collaborated with water experts and local panchayats to study the hamlet and drafted a plan to revive and build water bodies. As there are no water sources like rivers, the way forward was to harness maximum rainwater. So the team decided to revive the existing water bodies through clearance of debris and stones and the development of a water retention area in the form of bunds.
The road to it, although asked for more convincing. “The caste dynamics exist in every area you work. The people thought that if the community became self-dependent then there would be no one to lend money which might disturb the existing financial system.” Gazala says. “We were grateful that many local volunteers came in for support and who were well versed with the local language, so people like Rekhaben didn’t treat us like outsiders anymore. She and her husband willingly participated from the very next day.” The plan introduced rainwater harvesting structures at the household level. The team mobilized 200 such households to install rain harvesting structures on the rooftops. The farmer groups grow their crops using this water. These crops are sold after harvest and a part of the profits is used in the maintenance of these reservoirs. Thus, maintaining a self-sustaining cycle.
Gazala appreciates the support from local government bodies in the groundworks of digging soil. She also engaged the Panchayat in their works and conducted meetings with the Gram Sabha. She was in consistent touch with the household women to understand their needs and act accordingly. The Gujarat CSR team and Azim Premji Philanthropy Trust funded the organization’s mission. The team has now nearly spent a decade learning to conduct geo-hydrological mapping of the underground water table. The design took into account the probability of rainfall for the next 100 years so that the infrastructure remains sturdy. After the revival of a reservoir, the local institutions interact with the communities for care and maintenance of the structure.
Gazala mentions that the villages also have a remittance-based economy, as some individuals move out to earn better and send in the money back. Yet, it’s worth mentioning that the migration rate of communities had fallen from 60% to 30%. But, that came to a halt during the pandemic. The team had to build their ration kits for some time. The team helped the migrants to relocate. Since schools were closed, the team started working on student centres to avoid a break in their learning. Gazala has won awards like Phoenix lady, 2019 and Mahatma Award, 2020, and has rightly proved the quote of Mahatma Gandhi “The best way to find yourself is to engage yourself in the service of others.”
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