India’s women water warriors are transforming parched lands

India struggles to meet the water needs of its 1.4 billion people – a problem that will get worse as climate change makes weather patterns more unpredictable

As the monsoon storms sweep over India, a devoted group of women hopes that after years of grueling labor, water shortages will no longer leave their village high and dry.

The world’s second most populous country is struggling to meet the water needs of its 1.4 billion people – a problem that is getting worse as climate change makes weather patterns more unpredictable.

“Our elders say this stream was full all year round, but now there is not a single drop,” said Babita Rajput as she guided AFP past a bone-dry crack in the earth near her village.

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Three years ago, Rajput joined Jal Saheli (“Friends of Water”), a volunteer network of about 1,000 women working across Bundelkhand to restore and revive lost water sources.

Agrotha, where Rajput lives, is one of more than 300 villages where women are planning new watersheds, reservoirs and revitalization of waterways.

While not yet self-sufficient, the residents of Agrotha are no longer among the roughly 600 million Indians who face acute water shortages on a daily basis, according to a government think tank.

Water utilities in the capital New Delhi fail to meet demand during the summer, with trucks regularly entering slums to supply residents who cannot get water from their taps.

– ‘Government has failed’ –

Civil society activist Sanjay Singh helped train women in Agrotha to harvest and store rainwater after the surrounding land was dried out by drought.

“But the government has failed to provide water to every citizen, especially in rural areas, forcing villagers to return to the old practice,” he told AFP.

In India’s villages, fetching water has traditionally been the responsibility of women, several of whom have faced violence from their husbands after not being able to find enough for their household, Singh said.

But since its inception in 2005, the Jal Saheli Initiative has helped more than 110 villages become self-sufficient for their water needs and helped reverse the outbound flow of people.

In the nearby Lalitpur district, the elderly Srikumar has seen the initiative turn her community from a dustbin into an oasis.

Most of the farms in the area had become barren from a lack of irrigation, and desiccated livestock died in summer temperatures nearly 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

With the help of Singh’s charity, Srikumar and a dozen other volunteers dug a football field-sized reservoir near the village that could hold up to three meters of water after the monsoon rains set in.

“Things have changed forever. We now have enough water not only for our homes but also for our livestock,” she told AFP.

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