India is already a water-stressed country and rapidly moving towards becoming water scarce. The stats and figures being published daily in one forum or another are shocking.
But who’s reading them and who needs to address the issue? As water is consumed by all of us – it cannot be the responsibility of a chosen few to replenish receding resources.
Wings, an NGO in Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand, has been involved in several initiatives in this region but was alarmed as they learnt of the glorious past and the shrinking presence of one such lifeblood of its region – the Rai Gaarh river.
Pithoragarh is located in Uttarakhand, positioned in the centre of the western half of Soar Valley which bears a resemblance to the Kashmir valley on a small scale.
Pithoragarh is known as the gateway to the Himalaya’s from the north, as pilgrims trek through this town to the Kailas Lake in Mansarovar and Om Parvat.
Rai Gaarh is still the main source of drinking water for more than 50 % population of Pithoragarh city. In the last 15 years, unplanned development around its catchment area has not only polluted the water but also have a significant negative effect on its biodiversity.
This stream, which is a tributary of river Kali, was the home of several species of fishes, birds and other flora & fauna.
This historic river had been reduced to an unassuming gully, thanks to the negligent dumping of garbage and debris. One member of the society discovered the fate of this river and decided to take up the cause.
The group discussed how this life giver was now choking and decided that if someone had to do something about it, then it was them (to begin with).
Assessing the scope of the river and the damage, the group realized that it was sizable work and they needed more hands.
They approached local civic bodies and together the two sides decided to involve children. The impressionable minds and energy of young children could be skillfully harnessed – not just to help with the task of cleaning the river but to educate them and generate awareness.
Initially, the teams took just baby steps. They restricted themselves to 1500 meters out of a total of 40,000 square metres and decided to take up the revival project twice a month.
News of their efforts travelled to the national disaster management team and they offered to provide basic equipment to the team – including 12 walkie-talkies.
The district magistrate also presided over the activity and after much leg work from the Wings team, a total of 300 volunteers were found – including about 100 children from neighbouring schools.
They began on Sunday, 14 May 2017.
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If the pictures are anything to go by, it was not the best way to spend a Sunday morning. They started at day break, and while the core team got the logistics together and chalked out the area, all the volunteers worked from 7 to 11 am to dislodge ugly lumps from the river.
The team ensured the safety of all involved, since the majority were children, making sure there were help and nourishment for the little foot soldiers.
Due credit should also be given to the support received from our across-the-border neighbours – the Nepalese. They earned their livelihood in the hills of Pithoragarh and spent yet more hours in manual labour to revive a river that they too got their sustenance from.
The core team self-funded basic essentials like water, glucose, bananas and medicine and the municipal corporation provided them with shovels and spades. With a handsome turnout, the team was not only able to de-clog the throat of the river but was also able to garner support to work out a sustainable mechanism going forward.
In the first phase of the activity, two truckloads of waste and weeds were removed from 1500 metres of the targetted two kilometre stretch of Rai Gaarh.
This led to unrestrained flow in this part of the river. Encouraged by this initiative of the Wings society, several other groups got together – 200 school children, the Leh Foundation, the Resident Nepalese Welfare Association, the Pehlag Association and volunteers from the Himalayan Cycling Club came forth to join hands. They were also supported by about 50 locals and about the same number of NCC and NSS team members.
The society has planned to continue the revival of the whole length of the river to encourage the flocking back of 100 species of birds it used to come there.
They are especially hoping for the Black stock, a bird that migrates from almost 8000 km every year.
The district municipal party and disaster management team of Goonj from New Delhi also supported the event to the best of their capacity.
The district magistrate also recommended and appealed to all government officials to spend an hour post work to further aid in this necessarily regular activity.
Rai Gaarh is the life line of this small beautiful town, also known as mini Kashmir, and it will take many a Sundays to restore the river to its former glory. Though with that one Sunday a foundation has been laid to resurrect this originator of life.