There is a water crisis in India, but it is particularly pressing in some states more than in others - Madhya Pradesh, for instance. The country's infrastructure for basic supplies of water for drinking and sanitation is seriously wanting, even as urban and industrial water needs increase exponentially with every passing year.
In Madhya Pradesh (MP), there is acute shortage of water in 22 of the 48 districts. Short of a complete overhaul of existing supply systems, the solutions are deliverable but necessarily less than adequate. Fortunately, efforts towards water management throughout the state, with support from UNICEF, have started yielding results better than in the past. The water conservation drive initiated by the state government in 2002, called Jalabhishek Abhiyan, is doing well in the rural areas.
What has been nationally recognized is that the future of the country's food security and the quality of the lives and livelihood of its people depends on the collective ability to conserve and utilize groundwater resources in an environmentally-friendly, economically-efficient and socially-equitable manner.
The MP government is also financially assisting villagers to develop ponds, which is one of the moves towards maintaining a balance in a depleting water table. Dr Sam Godfrey, UNICEF's project officer for water and sanitation, says, "A holistic approach that involves rooftop rainwater harvesting, grey-water recycling, and reduced groundwater abstraction will solve the quality as well as the quantity demands of the state."
The average rainfall in MP is 800 mm. High rainfall between 1,100-2,200 mm occurs in the Seoni, Balaghat, Umaria, Katni, Sidhi, Panna and Satna districts; low rainfall (below 600 mm) occurs in Ratlam, Ujjain, Barwani, Khargone, Rajgarh, etc.
A good part of the land suffers from rock desiccation. A fifth of the state's area is underlain by granite gneisses and meta-sedimentary rocks; a tenth is covered by the Gondwanas, which comprise of sandstone, limestone and marble.
Tube-wells and hand-pumps are rendered useless particularly in the summer, when groundwater levels drop below 200 meters in several districts. This is when lakhs of people become dependent on conventional water sources such as ponds,bawalis (step-wells) and rivers.
The situation is so chronic that people's representatives have repeatedly raised the water crisis specter in the State Assembly, forcing the government to declare three districts - Panna, Chhattarpur and Tikamgarh - drought-hit immediately after the end of the rainy season. (When did this happen?) The groundwater level has dropped below 150 meters in these districts, for which the government has announced special financial packages for construction of ponds and water transportation facilities.
Brijendra Singh Rathore, a legislator, says that the situation in Tikamgarh district worsens every year. Despite average rainfall, nothing much has changed. Merely transporting water from nearby districts is not the solution, he says: rainwater needs to be utilized properly.
This problem is serious enough for the state to have recently gone on a water conservation drive involving grey-water reuse and rainwater harvesting. An engineer of the state's Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) claimed that awareness is being created among citizens towards water conservation.
In the most basic architectural terms, this entails the construction of a special structure on the rooftops of buildings, from where rainwater debouches into an over-ground or underground water tank. This water is used for non-potable purposes such as gardening and in bathrooms.
Technological simplicity is the keyword. In the state's Dhar and Jhabua districts, UNICEF and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, have designed and implemented water management schemes that are simple enough to be operated and maintained by children's water safety clubs.
These clubs have reduced water demand by 60 per cent in tribal 'ashram schools', and have been highlighted by the PHED as worth replicating throughout the state.
Pinky Bhawar, a student of class 10 in a government school in Dhar district, who shares a tribal hostel with 275 other girls, is member of a water safety club in her hostel. The club not only discusses matters of awareness of water conservation and reuse, but also helps the hostel maintain the system and keep it clean.
The water reuse system in Pinky's hostel recycles wastewater from bathroom use and washing hands and reuses it for gardening and flushing toilets. The hostel also has a rainwater harvesting system in place. Apart from showcasing the fact that development functions best when it percolates down, it also means that the girls at the hostel get extra water to bathe every day.