Partner Profile: Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF)

The region of Marwar/ मारवाड़ (coming from the Sanskrit word for ‘the region of the desert’), is a dry sandy plain lying northwest of the Aravalli hills in Rajasthan. Encompassing the Great Indian (Thar) Desert, it is prone to devastating droughts, forcing rural communities to migrate on foot for hundreds of miles in search of water every year.

In 2002, Marwar (or Jodhpur region), was hit by acute water shortages bringing devastation. In response, HH Gajsingh II, Maharaja of Jodhpur – Marwar, Rajendra Singh (coined the ‘Water Gandhi’) and Prithvi Raj Singh formed the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF). Established to enable desert communities of the Thar Desert to access enough and safer drinking water for families and their essential animals, JBF has supported more than 450,000 people and over 1 million livestock over the past 13 years.

WaterHarvest continually seeks ways to showcase and replicate best practice methods of reviving traditional water harvesting systems, and the first project with JBF in 2008 was designed to do this – showcasing judicious water management in model villages to encourage others to follow.

When the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) project began, less than 2% of eight target villages had adequate sanitation, but by 2014, it had risen to 81%!

Yashwant Sinha, Project Manager at JBF commented: “Since we have worked with WaterHarvest, our belief of traditional water management wisdom as the most vital alternative to sustainable water supply, has been re-established.”

Building on the successes of the WASH project, WaterHarvest is now supporting JBF to harness water (to drink) and sanitation in five villages in the harsh conditions of the Thar Desert. The project has already begun to construct 115 water catchment systems, more than 100 toilets (channelling funds leveraged from the Indian Government’s ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ Clean Up India Mission), and is trialling the use of ‘bio sand filters’ – water filtration systems that use natural materials of rocks and sand. But as, or if not more importantly, it will raise awareness and teach more than 900 children and adults how to improve water and sanitation practices and take care of the hardware, which will be locally owned and maintained.

JBF has set ambitious targets to meet by project-end (September 2016), but with their caring expertise, there’s every reason for the desert communities of Marwar to be optimistic about the future.

1,500 toilets were constructed in 30 villages last year!