Text and photo by Amar Guriro
Since last year, social workers were busy digging ponds in the small Taluka village of Diplo, Dedsarh, but little did they know that the ponds would soon turn into pools of happiness for the villagers.
During the second shower of the monsoon, the ponds dug by the socials workers were filled with sweet water, which would be enough for the 700 residents of the village for an entire year.
“It is a miracle to find such a huge quantity of fresh water at our doorstep,” said Habibullah alias Hakim Chaaro, who is a resident of Dedsarh.
The village that comprises of about 100 households of Chara, Mandhra, Meghwar and Kolhi, is located 40 kilometres south of Mithi between the sand dunes in the vast Thar Desert.
For many centuries now, the residents were obtaining water from wells, which was brackish.
A few years ago, their wells dried up and they had to walk almost three kilometers to get water from the nearest village, Bitanee.
Sadly, even the water there was not fit for human consumption.
Last year, the Sukaarr Foundation Trust (SFT), a local non-governmental organisation working on water, sanitation and hygiene, announced that they would establish covered underground rainwater harvesting tanks in collaboration with WaterAid Pakistan and its partner Orangi Pilot Project.
The announcements were a source of hope for the villagers, as they only had one taraai (natural pond) to collect rainwater, but the fact that the taraai’s floor was not cemented and the evaporation due to the intense heat would greatly reduce the volume of water collected, in turn creating a premature shortage of water.
“We started the rainwater harvesting plant project in the village at a low cost, during which we built seven small size roof covered ponds. A small pond can store up to 30,000 litres of rainwater, a medium sized chuwnra pond can store up to 60,000 litres of rainwater and the huge cylindrical model of the large pond has the capacity to store one million litres of rainwater,” said SFT Executive Director Ashok Suthar.
He said that the project was started on a pilot basis and that if it is successful then SFT, in collaboration with the community and the local government, will replicate the project in other villages of Tharparkar to overcome the water scarcity problem.
When this scribe visited the village after the monsoon rain, almost every villager was smiling and they were all eager to show the scribe the ponds. “I have never seen so much fresh water in my entire life,” said 42-year-old primary school teacher Muhammad Chaaro.
“Seepage and evaporation of water are the major problems in Thar, although every year it rains heavily but as there are no proper means of storing water, most of it is lost. We have put a geo-membrane in the ponds to stop the seepage and have covered them with roofs to slow the evaporation process,” said Suthar.
“To ensure a fair distribution of water, we have set up separate hand pumps for every community in the village,” said SFT’s Lekhraj, adding that the huge pond is filled up to capacity and the water will last for the next nine months. Due to the acute water shortage in Thar Desert, people also refer to it as the thirst and during the drought tens of thousand people leave Thar to go to the barrage areas of Sindh in search of livelihood. When Tharis leave for the barrage areas, their families, especially their wives suffer a lot. Interestingly, all the folk stories, music, songs, dance and culture are based on this migration.
According to the study conducted by Pakistan Council for Research on Water Resources, Thar Desert receives 1 trillion litres of rain annually, but due to the absence of proper water storage facilities, the water is lost. The Tharis usually use small tanks or tankos as they call it, to collect rainwater. The concept was basically born in Rajasthan, India and became popular among the people of the Thar area of Sindh.
Whether it is a tanko or a taraai, the problem remains the same, the seepage and evaporation, which finishes the water long before its time. After the SFT pilot project’s completion, the villagers are now able to store 12.70 million litres of rainwater, which according to villagers is sufficient for one year. Last year the government allocated a sum of Rs 1 billion for the rehabilitation of drought affected areas of Thar, but nothing has been done so far. Local people say that if the government establishes projects, such as the SFT pilot project, in all of Thar, it will be no less than a revolution for the Tharis.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009