Bjelkeman's travel notes

Travels with the cloud in my pocket.

A community meeting in Gafh

A community meeting in the village of Gafh, 1.5 hours drive south from Ahmedabad, Gujerat, India.

We went with Arghyam and the local organisation Utthan, which is implementing drinking water, sanitation and hygiene projects in this part of Gujerat. We went to attend a meeting with about 20 or so village community members. These villagers are responsible for 2-3 villages each in the effort of improving hygiene in their villages.

The have been encouraging all households to install leach pits to take care of all household waste water (washing, dishwashing etc.) instead of letting it run out on the street. This was achieved in the end by essentially threatening to cut off water supply to households which didn’t comply with the new rules. So far the effort seem to have been a real success and everybody is really liking streets which are not like public sewers.

Filed under: Arghyam, Development aid, India, Social and economic policy, WASH technology, Water management

Watershed as the foundation to stand on

Abhijeet Kavthekar from WOTR is explaining about the Darewadi watershed project.

Today we visited a small watershed management area, Darewadi, which has been implemented by WOTR and the inhabitants of the villagers in the watershed. The project was implemented between 1996 and 2001.

The improvement of the ecosystem is visible to the naked eye and the groundwater level has risen from 6 meters depth to 3 meters. Villagers have managed to go from one crop per year to two or three crops. There is no need to bring in tankers for drinking water, there is less distress migration, the ecosystem is healthier, children spend more time in school, there is much better collaboration in the village, there is less soil erosion, over one hundred thousand trees and plants have been planted which soak up carbon dioxide (more than 95% of the trees survive today). The list just goes on and on.

The villagers have gone from selling 2 million Rs worth of agricultural products per year to nearly 12 million Rs. The total budget for the watershed work was 9 million Rs. In other words, after the work has been done, you earn back the investment every year. With a return like that you should be able to make a business case for this, rather than hunting hard to find grants.

Filed under: Development aid, Hydrology, India, Water management

Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR)

Today we travelled to Pune, in the state of Maharashtra. Pune is about three hours drive from Mumbai. In Pune we are visiting the Watershed Organisation Trust. We first met the executive director, Dr Marcella D’Souza, and the co-founder of the trust, Crispino Lobo, at the World Water Forum conference in Istanbul last year. We got an overview of WOTR’s work and then travelled to their Darewadi Training Centre and also visited an ongoing watershed project with a tribal population in the nearby hills.

Filed under: Development aid, Hydrology, India, Water management

No water, now what?

Women who work with textiles at the Mahalar Aran Trust.

Today we went to visit Mahalar Aran Trust at Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu, India. The trust offers counselling, housing, job training and support for women in need (abused, divorced, abandoned, widowed). They have about 100 women housed there at the moment including some very young.

One of the three wells on the lands of the Mahalar Aran Trust. This is a deep open well, traditional south Indian style, with hardly any water. During the monsoon the well can be full up, but this soon infiltrates into the ground and back down to the base level of the groundwater.

They grow much of their own food in the fields, have a textile production facility and a small poultry farm. One of the major challenges is that they have a real shortage of water were they are. The wells are often very low on water and growing food is not possible during large parts of the year, due to water shortages.

We got to see the biogas production, from cow dung, which allows for free cooking gas for 100 people. They have started installing rainwater harvesting, but currently recharge the groundwater with this through the open wells. They don’t actually store it in a drinkable form. They are looking for advice on eco-sanitation, urine separation and rainwater harvesting, which we will discuss with Biome here in Bangaluru tomorrow.

Filed under: Development aid, India, Water management

Stormwater management

Today and tomorrow I will be going with a university course from the University of Iowa, who are visiting a number of Arghyam’s partner organisations.

Today we went to Rainbow Drive Layout in Bengaluru where we learned about how rain water harvesting can help a community who has borewells which are running dry. Also good rainwater harvesting and ground water recharge wells can be superb infrastructure to have when the monsoon is causing flooding in the neighbourhood. Managing communities of this type (Rainbow Drive is an affluent community) can be a real challenge and the gentleman who was managing the residence association showed a superb skill and parted with some very interesting advice on this subject.

Filed under: Arghyam, Hydrology, Water management

Getting back into things

Today was mainly a “catch up day”. Getting used to be at work again, trying to catch up on email and tasks. Attended the bi-weekly Arghyam meeting, where the past weeks and the next couple of weeks were reviewed.

My job at these meetings, is to be the “outsider”. To ask questions, based on my perspective. The key question today was related to perceived demand by different organisations who have seen the ASHWAS report, they essentially “Hey, can you guys help us with something similar“. So Arghyam is working on a toolkit to help people do that. But I suggested that they should also team up with an outside team, with trainers and maybe consultants to help these organisation use the toolkit and the method, as Arghyam is not staffed to deal with something like that. Something which they hadn’t thought about.

Filed under: Arghyam, India, Water management

Anupam Mishra: The ancient ingenuity of water harvesting

In this excellent TED India talk Anupam Mishra shows us how communities in some of the most “water poor” environments have solved water shortage in very practical and ingenious ways. Ways which have lasted for hundreds and nearly thousand years. He contrasts this with how modern efforts to solve water problems which do not engage the local community and fail miserably.

Today Mr Mishra had a discussion with Arghyam about how this applies to their work. Below are some excerpts of what was said and how people interpreted this.

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In order of appearance, Anupam Mishra, Praveena Sridhar and Deepak Menon.

Filed under: India, Water management

Integrated Urban Water Management

Today I attended a status meeting of the Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) programme which Arghyam are participating in for the town of Mulbagal in Kolar District of Karnataka. The programme has many participants, from the street level, where community participants are involved, to regional and state level. The programme has been running for about 20 months and it is considered a research and development project by Arghyam. According to Sunita Nadhamuni, the CEO of Arghyam, IUWM is practised in many towns in Europe, but most of the planning and implementation procedures are in-appropriate for Indian conditions, for many different reasons.

The most interesting thing I think the team and I learned today was the the hardest area for the programme to make good progress in was in communications. Communications between team and the community, between the team and the politicians and also, to some degree, within the team itself. We know how to measure water quality, we know how to build appropriate systems to solve problems, but to get buy-in from everyone who has a stake and agree on how things should be paid for etc. to ensure that a long term, sustainable solution is conceived is the major challenge. What one has learned from earlier efforts is that with communities where education levels are low, democratic participation and oversight weak and community engagement problematic, you easily end up with a solution which easily falls apart. Few pay services fees, nobody maintains wells, pipes or other technical systems, nobody cares about broken sewer pipes and soon you are back where you started.

In the end it is all about people and making people talk to each other. An interesting day.

Filed under: Arghyam, Hydrology, India, WASH technology, Water management