Water dialogue in Dholarvira reiterates the need for collaboration
For those of you that follow us on social media, you will have seen that Neil Mehta and I were in India recently looking at projects and spending time with the team. Apart from several images of us drinking chai, wearing t shirts while everyone else wore woolly hats, the trip had a serious purpose. I came away inspired and with a long to do list. Not least from the Water Conclave in Dholarvira. At the Water Conclave, stakeholders across the board came together for frank discussions on how to bring clean drinking water to the people of Kutch. The message that came through loud and clear was that no one, or no single entity, can do this alone. The expertise needed, the local knowledge and the finance are too large and too complex for just one entity. We need collaboration.
Dholavira is a very remote area on the Rann of Kutch in the north of Gujarat, close to the border with Pakistan. We traveled from Udaipur – taking about eight hours by car – across the stunning salt plains and on further. The nearest town is Rapar which is about 100 km and a two hour drive from our project. During the summer, the temperature often reaches 50 degrees. Living so remotely means there is no piped water and most villagers have to make numerous trips to bore holes to fetch water which often has a high saline content. These communities don’t feature on many peoples’s radar, least of all politicians.
Simple but not low quality
Harvesting rainwater is the obvious solution for these people. Simple structures which catch the monsoon rains and store them in an underground tank. What do we mean by simple? Simple means that they are built mainly from locally available materials and require virtually no maintenance once built. Simple doesn’t mean there isn’t a carefully thought out design, simple doesn’t mean cheap materials can be used and simple doesn’t mean corners can be cut during the construction. They need to be built to a high standard which will last for many years and also survive the punishing summer temperatures. If the guttering cracks in the heat, it’s a two hour drive to the nearest supplier of guttering. At WaterHarvest, we have been working on rainwater harvesting for over thirty years and have been building roof rainwater harvesting structures for most of that time. During this time, we have seen them in practice and evaluated what works and more importantly, what doesn’t work. We continually strive to improve the design and make them more robust.
But we can’t do it alone
Whilst we have this expertise, we cannot do it alone. We need help from others. We try to be a catalyst organisation. We bring the technical know-how whilst other stakeholders bring user experience, links with the communities, finance and the ability to scale. These are all very important. We need the beneficiaries to be part of the process so that we can listen to their needs and concerns. We need partners on the ground to reassure local communities that these programmes will work and maybe even more importantly, we won’t disappear after a few weeks. We also need finance – initially from donors for proof of concept and then from government in order to scale.
The Water Conclave, put together by WaterHarvest and Samerth Charitable Trust, in Dholavari was a shining example of this. We often talk about collaboration but, in practice, it’s hard to get all the stakeholders together and ready to address the issues. But this is what we saw at this event: government officials talking about their challenges; scientists talking about how it possible to share the water so everyone has enough; academics talking about the gender and caste issues of access to water; beneficiaries talking about their needs and challenges and NGOs talking about what they need and how they can help. An inspiring event!