India

Sweet' water will replace the salty drops of drought in India

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[A four-year drought grips the state of Rajasthan in India. The impact is most severe in rural areas, among low-caste people and for women who must fetch water on foot but eat little when their households are low on food, as now. But in the report from Rajasthan below, Lutheran World Relief's Carolina Castrillo reports from where LWR and Church's Auxiliary for Social Action, a partner organization in India, are helping 12,000 people in 24 villages.
A drought mitigation project supplies drinking water and pays badly needed wages to local people improving rainwater catchments and storage systems. Their goal is to store enough water to get through future droughts. LWR recently secured $300,000 for the project from the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance of the U.S. Department of State.]

Jodhpur, Rajasthan - "The people in the communities I visited always expressed their appreciation for LWR doing something for them at this critical time.

"I was really touched by the harsh conditions of the drought and how people struggle for survival in the midst of the desert. There is literally no clean drinking water. People are drinking saline and contaminated water because they cannot pay for fresh or 'sweet' water. Women have to spend their day, after doing the early morning housework, walking about two miles to bring water for their families from the nearest well. In one place they are mixing one-third sweet with two-thirds saline water.

"In one of the communities people dig about 100 feet into the soil to reach filtered water from a recent light rain. There are several of these in the community, some belong only to one caste and are not shared with other castes. Women get down there one by one and wait up to three hours until the drops fill one pot.

"Entire families have migrated. In some cases, men and children are able to find jobs nearby but in terrible labor conditions. About 60 percent of the men in one of the communities I visited are already sick from lung disease after working several years in open mines without protection. I met a boy who is a bonded laborer in one of the mines - he is condemned to work there for the rest of his life since his father owes the mine owner a 12,000-rupee debt. I also met two girls, aged eight and 15, who are working in a field nearby. They do not receive any salary, they are paid in-kind with fodder for the animals that they themselves must cut.

"I visited a number of government cash- and food-for-work sites and two cattle-relief sites. Some families have moved in with their cattle to live in animal shelters under sub-human conditions. Hundreds of cattle have perished already in the communities targeted by [our] project.

"CASA and the local partners have already conducted the ground work for implementation. I was very impressed by their capacity in conducting family surveys in the 24 selected communities. They are really experts in targeting and very committed to serve the most vulnerable families in the communities.

"The villagers confirmed the issues CASA already raised with us: the problem of indebtedness and moneylenders, access to markets, problems of alcoholism and in some cases opium consumption (male members), price and quality of food."

[For more on this project, see "Divining Interventions: Solutions to Water Scarcity in India" in the March, 2003, edition of LWR's newsletter TOTO. Contact vwhetstone@lwr.org or call 410-230-2800 for a copy or subscription.]