On a blistering summer morning in April, the road leading to Govindpura village in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur district spews dust. The temperature hovers around 45 degrees Celsius. The surface is distinctly red. However, the hilly terrain is a contrast to the sand dunes of the state.
Overlooking the hills from the edge of his farm, Shiv Prakash, a 31-year-old farmer, sheds light on how the climate has changed from his childhood. He observes a clear rise in temperatures and notes that the rainfall is insufficient to raise crops.
“Now we get rain only two to four times a year. But when it rains hard, the gushing water carries away all the topsoil and fertilisers and destroys the crops,” sums up Shiv, who lives with his wife and two children.
According to CEEW analysis, the frequency and intensity of extreme droughts has increased three-fold in the Jodhpur district since 1970. The overall scanty rainfall results in water shortage for farming and domestic use in Govindpura. On the other hand, the occasional heavy downpours result in water from the hills rushing downstream, destroying farmlands as well ase houses. The dual challenges left the village in a precarious situation for years.
Harbouring hope and unwilling to abandon their village, the people of Govindpura believed that they could change their circumstances through collective effort. A decade and a half ago, Shiv Prakash’s father and a group of villagers gathered together to think of solutions. They formed a Village Development Committee (VDC) and collaborated with a grassroots organisation — Gramin Vikas Vigyan Samiti (Gravis). Together, they decided that the flow of water downstream from the hills must be checked and the water stored. They built several structures such as check dams, ponds and rainwater harvesting tanks.
Walking on a check dam, Ramesh Mali, the field coordinator of Gravis, says that these structures were built using the community’s traditional wisdom. They used locally sourced stones and sand as construction materials.
“The main idea is to arrest the flow of water from top to bottom,” Ramesh says, gesturing the flow of water from the hills downstream. Even though there is less water in the check dam during peak summer months, during the monsoons, rainwater from the hills fills to the brim. Ramesh shows a picture of the check dam during monsoons, where it resembles a pristine lake.
Ramesh says that in addition to slowing the flow of water, the structures also aid in recharging ground-water substantially. “As a result, many farmers are now able to cultivate crops twice a year,’’ he adds.
The structures proved to be a game changer for farmers like Shiv Prakash who had once thought of migrating from the village. “Since these structures were made, we haven’t suffered losses,’’ says an elated Shiv. He is confident that no matter how much it rains, the water will not rush towards the village and destroy crops any longer.
Structures like check dams aided in recharging ground-water substantially
Photo: Shawn Sebastian
“We can farm peacefully and the initiatives have made a positive impact on our lives,’’ says Shiv.
Govindpura’s example, where a challenge was turned into an opportunity successfully, shows that rainwater harvesting through traditional watershed infrastructure can prevent soil erosion and mitigate extreme droughts.
Watch the full film here.