Chalisgaon taluka, a drought-prone area of Maharashtra, is privy to several bouts of water shortage, wreaking havoc on the traditional crops grown in the region.

These drought conditions often threaten the livelihoods of its farmers, resulting in many of them dying by suicide.

A resident of the taluka’s Kalmadu village and computer engineer by profession, Gunwant Sonawane says, “The water quality in my village was poor, and the villagers would struggle every day to access clean and potable water.”

Since the neighbouring village was also facing similar challenges, he decided to help the residents and turn the tide in the favour of farmers.

In 2017, he identified Rajmane village, which was then affected by a severe water crisis. It had a British-era pond where silt had accumulated making it redundant.

To restore the pond, he started by creating awareness among the villagers through water literacy programmes and requested them to contribute towards water conservation works.

“Initially, people did not put their trust and faith in me. They doubted why a person travelled 350 km to help them get an assured water supply. It took weeks to convince the villagers and a few more to bring them together for the collective cause,” he shares.

Eventually, he managed to build trenches, canals and bunds, as well as de-silt the lake and set up concrete barrages. The villagers also conducted repair works in the dilapidated water barrages and check dams.

This helped to arrest rainwater through catchment areas, directing it towards the ponds and replenishing groundwater. By 2018, the villagers’ contribution had helped conserve 15 crore litres of water.

He then took up water conservation works in Aabhone Tanda village, where “Earlier, the villagers sourced water tankers twice a day to meet drinking and domestic water needs.”

“But all that has changed now. We revived three lakes and created four ponds through water conservation works in two years,” says Gunwant.

Since then, there has been no looking back. So far, he has helped 26 villages conserve 165 crore litres of water, which has benefitted 50,000 farmers.