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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Water Wednesday: Water wise

Nubra Valley
© Dr. Gebhard Gaukler
CC Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works
Water crisis. Water famine. If you're paying attention to water news, you know that for many, these are not words, but facts of life.

Worldwide, nearly one in six people have no access to safe water.

Two and a half of those six (crazy statistic, yes?) have no access to a toilet.

Think of your six closest friends and family members. Line them up in your head. Pull one out and imagine her dipping her hands into disease-infested water, cupping them, bringing them to her lips, again and again--every day of her life. Pick two or three from the lineup and imagine them squatting in the street, their street, your street. No tissue. No place to wash up afterward.
That's our world right now.

Water wise

In the Himalayan valleys of Ladakh, where the annual rainfall is less than four inches, the primary source of water is snow-melt and glacial runoff. Opinions differ how long that runoff will last, if we don't stop polluting our atmosphere and are unsuccessful slowing climate change, but any one who lives in the region or has visited the Himalayas over time knows the glaciers are retreating dramatically. While some predict water famine is at hand for billions in India due to glacial shrinkage, for the time being, the Ladakhi, those who are fortunate still to farm traditionally, may not have to suffer.

They've been water wise for hundreds of years, perhaps dating to the fourth century A.D. In her book, Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, Helena Norberg-Hodge gives us a glimpse of Ladakh use of glacial runoff to green their valleys.
In most villages, irrigation is regulated by a churpon, who is appointed or elected from within the village. He operates the flow of water, blocking and opening the canals as required. Householders are allotted a certain period of time every week when they can divert the main channels into their own fields.
Watching a mother and her two daughters watering, I saw them open small channels and, when the ground was saturated, block them with a spadeful of earth. They managed to spread the water remarkably evenly, knowing just where it would flow easily and where it would need encouragement: a spadeful dug out here, put back there; a rock shifted just enough to open a channel--all this with the most delicate sense of timing. From time to time they would lean on their spades and chat with their neighbors, keeping one eye on the water's progress.
Helena Norberg-Hodge
Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, pp.20-21
The Ladakh are careful, too, to avoid contaminating water for those using it downstream. Dr. Norberg-Hodge tells of washing her clothes in a stream shortly after arriving in Ladakh.
Just as I was plunging a dirty dress into the water, a little girl, no more than seven years old, came by from a village upstream. "You can't put your clothes in that water," she said shyly. "People down there have to drink it." She pointed to a village at least a mile farther downstream. "You can use that one over there; that's just for irrigation."
Helena Norberg-Hodge
Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, pp.20-21
Barefoot College--Learning and teaching water wisdom for 38 years
A school boy from Tilonia drinks from a tap from a rainwater harvesting tank that provides clean drinking water for the school children. The rainwater harvesting system collects rainwater from the roof of the school. It is filtered and stored for drinking in this semi-arid region of Rajasthan, India.

Many villages in Ladakh still manage their water in traditional ways, but others in India are not so fortunate. For myriad reasons, they have forgotten, lost or stopped using traditional water management skills and tools.
The Barefoot College in Rajasthan has been relearning, reclaiming and marrying traditional ways with modern technology, then teaching it to ordinary citizens from rural communities since 1972.
Preservation and accessibility of water in poor rural communities, has been of primary concern to the Barefoot College since its inception in 1972. This holds true particularly for communities that suffer from scarcity of water or are drought-prone, as well as those that lack hygienic sanitation and drinking water sources.
Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) is a lost cost method with maximum benefits. It provides sweet water for drinking to not only people but also livestock; both, important criteria for rural communities that depend on agriculture and animal husbandry. RWH helps to replenish or rejuvenate groundwater tables directly as well as indirectly. While some methods of RWH like trenches, anicut, contour bunding, and dug wells recharge groundwater tables, directly, by holding the rains long enough for the soil to absorb, other methods like construction RWH underground water tanks and small ponds, indirectly, help to preserve groundwater by creating alternative sources of water for people and livestock, thus reducing the use of groundwater for at least 4-6 months.
Still, there remains a vast, unmet need to help families and entire communities develop life-saving, potable water connections as quickly as possible. is one organization I've mentioned before that is on the site and on the job. This is one of their success stories.

Taking heart

Our global village is expanding in many ways, as we get to know one another better and learn from each another. I'm deeply heartened by the examples of the Ladakhi, the 38 years of experimenting, training and building of the Barefoot College, and the many national and international organizations focused on saving lives through simple projects like those of Each in their own way are working to build a world more like that of the Village of Ordinary, and I give gratitude for them.

Share and tell!

Each of us has a unique contribution to make. What is yours today? It doesn't matter how great or how small, I'd like to hear about it. If you have a helpful water wise or #WaterWednesday link to share, (as long as it's not spam, which results in instant comment deletion), I'd love to see it.
Special thanks to Abhishek Nayak for pointing me to Barefoot College.
We make peace in a million small ways every day.
All text and images, unless otherwise noted, copyright L. Kathryn Grace. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Deb Shucka said...

Thank you for a very informative and inspiring post.

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