Until a few years ago, Khohar village near Alwar was not your typical Rajasthani village full of gaily dressed people, humming with activity and welcoming tourists. Hardly anyone could be seen in the village, many houses were locked and not much activity was visible even during pleasant weather.
The reason behind the desolate condition here was mass migration. Most of the men had moved to the cities in search of better livelihood options. And the few who were left were not motivated enough to try anything new to earn a living.
The migration wasn’t a sudden phenomenon; Khohar residents have seen this for many decades now.
Ramdulari, a middle aged woman, had seen her husband migrate to Gujarat to find work several years ago and now her son was leaving too.
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The culprit in all these cases was the acute water scarcity in the area. The region received very little rainfall and about 78% of the water available was saline. The villagers did not just face problems with respect to irrigation for agriculture but also experienced difficulties in arranging water for day to day activities.
The water level in the village had depleted alarmingly over the years. Villagers with tube wells somehow managed to cultivate their land twice a year, while those who did not have tube wells had to depend on the rains or purchase their water from tube well owners.
It was this hopeless situation that the Sehgal Foundation (SF) first encountered when it decided to come here in 2014. Started by Dr. Surendra Mohan Sehgal in 1999, SF’s mission is to empower rural India. Its intervention in Khohar changed the face of the village in a matter of two years. The organization achieved this amazing result by constructing a check dam to solve the acute water crisis.
The dam construction work started in March 2014. The Foundation identified a water source near the Aravalli Hills, which went into a drain during the rainy season. The SF team decided to build a check dam here to improve the water table in the area.
What are check dams?
These dams are small and sometimes temporary structures across channels that help reduce the velocity of water. They are mostly constructed using stone/brick masonry, which is sandwiched between layers of soil.
“Since water flows at a very high speed, it does not percolate into the ground. These dams reduce the velocity of water and hence water stays at one location for a longer period, which gives it a chance to percolate into the ground. This leads to an improved ground water table,” explains Salahuddin Saiphy, Program Leader, SF.
In dry areas like Khohar, check dams help increase groundwater recharge. Water can be stored in aquifers or catchment areas, from which it can be drawn during the dry season for irrigation, livestock watering, and even drinking water supply.
Since the construction of check dams requires little machinery, funding and large scale work, this technique is perfect for a location like Khohar where the community can also be engaged in the construction of the dam.
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How they did it
The first task for SF was to mobilize the community and make the villagers aware of the benefits of check dams.
“Though they had contacted us themselves, many of the households were reluctant to contribute. Also, since regular supply of water was required for construction work, many villagers were not ready to share the water,” says Salahuddin.
SF sensitized and trained a water management committee from amongst the villagers for the construction and maintenance of the dam. After 126 days of hard work, the SF team was ready with a check dam; it was 185 metres long and 5 metres high.
The Foundation also constructed a catchment area, which was 255 acres big and had the capacity to store 32 crore litres of water annually.
The entire cost of construction was about Rs. 56 lakh, which was taken care of by the SF team. The community contributed a total of Rs. 1 lakh, which has been earmarked for repair and maintenance purposes in the future.
“We also constructed small water sheds near the original check dam to reduce the force of water on the check dam,” says Salahuddin.
The team had expected to see the benefit of their work in two to three years time but were surprised to see positive results during the first monsoon itself.
This intervention by SF did not just benefit the 150 households in Khohar, but also 10,000 people from nearby villages. The water yield increased by about 30% and migration too reduced to a great extent.
Despite scanty rainfall this year, the check dam has already helped increase soil moisture up to 60% and raised ground water levels. As a result of the improved water availability, agricultural activities have also received a boost in the village.
The villagers have started showing interest in organic farming and are trying their hands at composting too. All this has become possible because their water crisis was addressed.
“Earlier, the villagers were forced to migrate to Gujarat and Maharashtra to work as labourers for plucking cotton. Now, many of them stay back as they have work available in their own fields or those owned by big farmers,” says Salahuddin.
Khohar is just one success story of the Sehgal Foundation. The organization has constructed over 26 major check dams so far and even small dams at various locations, benefitting over 2.5 lakh people in Rajasthan. Check their website for more details.