Quenching the Thirst for Life

With severe drought ravaging central Maharashtra, women in the parched village of Koregaon in Beed district were making gruelling 13-15 km treks every day to fetch water for their families; to ease their burden, Reliance Foundation installed a 5,000-litre water tank in the heart of the village

Quenching the Thirst for Life

Sunanda Nagargoje’s day always started at the crack of dawn. While it was still dark outside, the 37-year-old homemaker would rub the sleep from her eyes and pull herself together, with only one thought to keep her going – the survival and sustenance of her family.

Sunanda lived with her family of five in the village of Koregaon, situated in the Beed district of Maharashtra. For two years, the region had been devastated by severe drought, crippling the rural economy. As the entire village community reeled from repeated crop failure and loss of livelihood, the women shouldered a critical responsibility – shielding their families from the scarcity of basic necessities.

Like most other women in her village, Sunanda’s daily struggle revolved around water. Water sources in Koregaon were few and far between – a single community well and four hand pumps catered to a population of 1,345 villagers. Two protracted years of drought had resulted in severe depletion of groundwater and surface water, causing even these five scattered water sources to dry up. To combat the severe water crunch, the Gram Panchayat had acquired a bore well at a distance of 1.5 kilometres from the village, compelling every woman in the village to trudge 13-15 kilometres every day, carrying 30-40 kg loads of water.

In a single day, Sunanda made seven trips and expended at least three hours of back-breaking labour to source water for her family. Sporadic availability of electricity and the absence of any special water storage facility also meant that Sunanda had to make sudden trips back and forth at odd hours, whenever water was available at the well. She remembers, “Drought had made our lives very difficult. We were burdened with work. I had to spend at least three hours every day walking, just to fetch water for my family.”

Sunanda also had to complete her chores at home and on the parched fields, and then head out to work as a wage labourer for 8-10 hours every day, to supplement her family’s income. Sunanda had started experiencing severe back and neck pain because of her daily exertions, but had no option but to continue her daily trips. On days that she just couldn’t make it, her children had to skip school and carry water back from the well.

In desperate need of respite, Sunanda and other village women started speaking up in village meetings, pressing for the construction of a perennial water source within the village. With the famers in the village worried about their failed crops, their entreaties fell on deaf ears – but the women persevered, patiently bringing up the matter at every opportunity.

Luckily, the Reliance Foundation (RF) team, which had been working to provide drought relief in the region, was present at one of the meetings, and recognised the urgency of the situation. Steering the conversation towards the issue, the RF team encouraged a constructive discussion on the matter. The villagers subsequently reached a consensus for the installation of a tank at the centre of the village, connected to the distant bore well.

Eager to contribute to their collective vision, the villagers pooled their resources and contributed their labour (shramdaan) to build the plinth for the planned structure, while the Foundation supported the initiative by installing an overhead water tank with a capacity of 5,000 litres. Subsequently, a pipeline was used to connect the water tank to the bore well. With an eye on the welfare of the village cattle, a water trough was also set up to give thirsty animals easy access to drinking water in the village.

Taken together, these measures transformed the lives of the village women, bringing them relief and respite. Sunanda now has easy access to drinking water in her own village, anytime during the day. Fitted with an electrical motor, the storage tank gets filled up whenever electricity is available, and is thus a reliable source of water.

The presence of the storage tank has also given women in the village the precious gift of time. Not having to travel all the way to the bore well, Sunanda saves three hours every day. She spends this time overseeing her children’s studies and completing her domestic chores at leisure. Eager to increase her family’s income, she also uses her spare time to help her husband run his mawa production business. Sunanda says, “The drought had made our lives very difficult. We were overloaded with work – we had to work for wages and also complete our household work. The installation of the tank has really helped simplify our lives. We don’t have to worry, as water is always available at a spot near our homes. It has even put an end to the fights that used to take place over water, because it was available at a single source.”

The Foundation team working to provide drought relief in Beed has also supported the digging of bore wells and the installation of massive water storage tanks in 24 other villages in the region, facilitating the conservation and distribution of water, and most importantly, providing easy access to the precious commodity. These measures have brought succour not only to households, but also to anganwadis in the region. Taken together, these interventions have freed the women in the village from the burden of needless toil, contributing to their health and happiness.

Reliance Foundation has not only built the water harvesting structures, but has also capacitated the villagers to maintain these structures. Awareness has been spread to use water judiciously. Water budgeting has been done in villages to plan out judicious usage of water. Local youths have been trained on water harvesting to form a water user committee. Now, the farmers in these villages do not have to migrate in search of work in the dry season. The harvested water allows them to grow crops round the year and earn enough to make ends meet.