National Highway 11, which connects Jodhpur to Bikaner in the Indian state of Rajasthan, wears a near-deserted look on an April day scorching at 45 degree Celsius. Occasionally, one spots truckers taking a break or a herd of livestock. As one gets used to the scanty vegetation dotting the highway, a stretch of greenery a few kilometres ahead of Bap block in the Jodhpur district is a refreshing sight. The foliage is only an introduction to what lies ahead — an oasis created by the community at Badi Dani village.
Drought-prone Badi Dani has adapted to climate change and built resilience by restoring several ponds over the years. The story dates back more than two decades when water scarcity had affected farming and villagers’ incomes dried up. Many people had no choice but to migrate to neighbouring states to earn a living.
According to CEEW analysis, over 90 per cent of districts in Rajasthan, home to 68.8 million people (2011 census), are vulnerable to droughts.
“Rainfall has declined while the temperatures have risen substantially. This made our water sources, such as natural ponds, dry up quickly,’’ 70-year-old Bai Khan, the head of the Village Development Committee, says. “Villagers, especially women, had to fetch water from as far as Bap block, about 10 kilometres from the village,” he adds.
When the villagers felt they needed to find a sustainable water source one way or another, the community came together to find a solution. Teaming up with a grass-roots level organisation — Gravis — they began work on watershed management in 2001. The next step was the restoration of natural ponds that had dried up around the village.
“We started with restoring ‘Bartasar’ pond,’’ recollects Khan.
After its restoration, the Bartasar pond can hold water throughout the year. Photo: Shawn Sebastian
The community started by increasing the depth of the nearly 200 years old pond, which had begun drying up quickly because of scanty rainfall. They also extended the embankment.
“The depth and creation of an embankment are essential for a pond to survive,” says Bhura Ram, Field Coordinator, Gravis. Ram, who has worked in rural Rajasthan for over two decades, primarily in watershed management, says an embankment helps to widen the pond’s catchment area.
As the silt was removed and the Bartasar pond became deeper, the water retention capacity increased. “Now, whenever it rains, there is sufficient capacity for the pond to hold the water,’’ Ram says, adding that ponds play a crucial role in fighting droughts.
Today, the Bartasar pond is a water source for humans and animals. A group of migratory birds descend to rest on tree branches and dip in the pond. An elderly shepherd leads his herd to the pond to quench their thirst. Meanwhile, a tanker is refilled beside the pond to supply water to Badi Dani village.
Water from the Bartasar pond is supplied to Badi Dani in a tanker. Photo: Shawn Sebastian
Khan gives credit to the watershed management practices for restoring several natural ponds in the locality. “Initially, the pond could hold water for only three to four months. Now, the pond holds water throughout the year,’’ a proud Bai Khan says.
The ponds continue to be managed by the community. They have also devised rules to ensure that the catchment area is clean. The village development committee members conduct frequent inspections to ensure compliance.
“Our village is no longer water-stressed. Lives shall not be lost for want of water anymore,” says a jubilant Khan. Badi Dani’s example amplifies the fact that restoring and maintaining traditional water management infrastructure can build resilience against droughts.
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