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'Villages can prosper only if their water woes are solved'

Aug 22, 2009

In a first attempt of its kind, a village in western India will be developed as a role model for use of water resources, according to the guidelines set by Waterman Rajender Singh. In this interview to OneWorld South Asia, he outlines the need for better water conservation methods.

During his student days, Rajender Singh was associated with the Sampurna Kranti (Total Revolution) movement from year 1974 to 1982.

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After finishing his studies, he joined as a National Service Volunteer in Jaipur under the youth education programme of the Ministry of Education in 1984.

That was the year when 25-year-old Singh left his job and committed himself to rural development.

Along with four companions of an organisation named Tarun Bharat Sangh, Singh travelled to desolate villages and worked with nomadic tribes to try and understand natural resources management in rural areas.

With a view to fulfill the needs of the villagers, Singh started rural development and employment generation activities in 1985 using the method of water conservation.

The efforts towards water conservation have had numerous positive impacts on local communities in Rajasthan and elsewhere. Employment opportunities have increased and migration has reduced substantially.

Studies have shown a manifold increase in the enrollment of students in schools and the output of food grains and milk production.

During the last few years, the state governments of Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka have sent their forest and watershed officials as also community and Panchyati Raj representatives to Singh for an orientation on community-based watershed development efforts.

Excerpts from an interview during his visit to Velu in Maharashtra:

OneWorld South Asia: What is your theory about water conservation?

Rajender Singh: It is very important to realise that water is a limited resource. Though there is always a balance between the rainfall and density of population in any region, there is no balance in the usage of water.

Everybody wants more and more water. But this resource has to be used like a poor man’s ghee or else we will face a tremendous shortage in the years to come.

OWSA: What is the model that is implemented in the villages your organisation works in to harvest water?

RS: There is no fixed model. It all depends on the conditions prevalent in a particular village such as amount of rainfall, soil, population, cropping pattern and so on.

We first understand the requirements of a village and then chalk out a specific plan, which has long-term impacts. Our basic objective is to establish community rights over water management.

OWSA: What will your project in Velu entail?

RS: This will be our first project in Maharashtra to develop a role model that can be replicated across the state. A Velu Welfare Council has been formed which will be guided by Jal Biradari to focus on water conservation.

This will include cleaning and maintenance of water resources, constructing check dams and improving the water table of the village.

This will result in sufficient water availability through all the seasons in a year and allow farmers to harvest a variety of crops.

OWSA: Is community empowerment the right solution to develop villages?

RS: It certainly is because government policies can often work against development of villages. For example, the government wants farmers to grow crops that consume more water whereas the choice should be left to the local communities to undertake what is best for them.

OWSA: What about creating mass awareness?

RS: We have always believed in spreading the word and in Maharashtra Jal Biradari will undertake a water-literacy campaign to enable villagers to know about water resources, their catchment areas, rainfall and groundwater tables etc so that gram sabhas can formulate the right policies.

OWSA: How holistic is this approach to water conservation?

RS: We have always believed villages can prosper and become self-sustaining only if their water problems are solved.

Once that is done, it is the entire community that begins to progress. Most importantly, we insist on making women equal partners in the decision-making process.

This is because our experience shows that a project can be sustained for a much longer period of time when women are involved.

A stable village is then able to focus on providing education to the children and this includes the girl child too. Therefore, it all begins to come into place down the line and benefits every single person of a village.

OWSA: What is the one factor crucial for the success of any such project?

RS: A project can take off only after the villagers decide to put in a collective effort. Political bias and other considerations have to be kept aside and every effort taken thereafter has to be for the village in its entirety and not for any personal gain.

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