Two children stand near the old well, watching some men working on a cemented pit nearby. They move out of harm’s way as the men hoist a long PVC pipe from the ground to the roof of their house and connect it with a pipe that goes into the pit. Their father, 42-year-old schoolteacher Santosh Kumar Kushwaha smiles as some other passersby also stop to observe the construction happening here.
This is the first water recharge pit being constructed in Beni ka Purwa village (Block Badokhar Khurd, district Banda) with the assistance of WaterAid and field partner Akhil Bhartiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan ABSSS, and it is attracting a fair amount of interest. “Given the crippling drought we all face here every summer, everyone here is desperate to find a solution,” says Kushwaha. “Most of us farmers anyway make ridges in our fields to trap rainwater – when I learnt we could also harvest rainwater and use it to recharge individual wells, I was excited to be part of the project!”
The old well, constructed by Kushwaha’s neighbours decades ago, used to be a valuable alternate water source for many households in the vicinity in the summer when the ponds and even tube wells dried up. “Imagine our consternation when this too ran out of water about five years ago!” he says. “In fact, in the last five years, every single well in our village has become defunct. Even some of the tube wells have started running dry, or giving very little water in the summer.”
Sitting outside his blue-painted house and overlooking the well he is hoping to revive, Kushwaha talks about the several reasons why groundwater levels in his village have fallen so drastically in the last few years. “The biggest reason for the drying up of our underground water is its rampant extraction through tube wells,” he says.
“Much of this water is piped to the city, so we don’t even get to use it!” He has also noticed a change in rain patterns in Bundelkhand in the last decade. “We no longer receive as many days of rain during the monsoon as I remember from my childhood,” he says, “but the magnitude of rain on those rainy days seems to have increased!”
Intensely heavy downpours cause lakhs of cubic feet of water to inundate the fields around Beni ka Purwa momentarily. “This is the water we need to harness to recharge the underground water levels here through recharge pits!” he says. Just a few days of heavy rainfall could recharge underground aquifers significantly, as long as proper recharge pits like this one are constructed. “It’s ironic that we experience drought year after year,” he says, “and yet we place little value on the power of rainwater…”
The concept of using rainwater to recharge a water source is simple. Rainwater from Kushwaha’s rooftop will collect and flow through the pipe into the recharge pit. From here, it will pass through layers of natural filters before it seeps into the underground aquifer beneath the well. The filters will ensure that the aquifer is recharged with uncontaminated water, which in turn will ensure that the water in the well is clean.
Today, as the recharge pit nears completion, not only is it a symbol of hope for the village, it is also teaching them the value of rainwater. “Every year, for a little while, our fields are inundated with rainwater and then the rest of the year, they are parched,” says Kushwaha. “Recharge pits like this one could actually enable us to hold on to this rainwater for a much longer time…”
Already, one of his neighbours is in the process of constructing a similar pit to recharge a tube well. “My own children are waiting eagerly for the monsoons to see what impact it will have!” he laughs.
Kushwaha knows very well that all these little actions will bear fruit only in a couple of years, but they give him hope for a better future. As he gazes upon the children playing in the schoolyard where he teaches, he says: “if not for us, perhaps measures like this could ensure our future generations don’t suffer from the lack of water every summer like we have done…”
[All photos: WaterAid/ Prashanth Vishawanathan]