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Water

Our Work So Far 

For fifty years Barefoot College has brought clean, reliable water to drought-prone rural villages. We start by talking to the people who live there, bringing them in to make sure the system will continue. Our work ranges from rain water harvesting, reviving ponds and lakes, and treating uplands to raise the water table. 

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In the 1970s, giving Rajasthan's villages clean water was a Barefoot College priority. We dug wells, installed hand pumps, and built tanks to collect harvested rainwater. Geologists and engineers brought modern technology and combined it with traditional wisdom and skills to create water harvesting, desalination, and sanitation systems. We trained local people to become Barefoot water engineers. This work also gave us a blueprint for water conservation and management which is now used in many other Indian states and countries abroad.

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Three Major Programmes

To conserve and manage water in remote, drought-prone rural areas Barefoot College runs (1) rainwater harvesting (2) water filtration and (3) groundwater recharge programmes. In Rajasthan the problem is particularly bad not just because the groundwater is salty and full of fluoride, but levels are falling. Monsoons sometimes fail, giving low rainfall. Women often walk miles to get a pot of drinkable water. Our programmes aim to achieve water security, target remote rural schools, use existing local structures, materials and know-how efficiently, tailor programmes to communities and empower them through their active participation.

Our Initiatives

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Mountain Rain

In 1994 Barefoot College established a sub-centre in the Himalayan village of Sadam to help build a rainwater harvesting system. By the early 2000s 50 tanks holding 25000–200000 litres had been constructed in the drought-prone villages of South Sikkim’s Sumbuk block. They were installed in government schools, farmlands, and community centres, to share the benefits as widely as possible. The local government and other organisations copied the model. Sadly, in 2011 an earthquake damaged many tanks so that today nearly three quarters of them under-perform. When the systems were fully functional, the tanks stored nearly 3 million litres, enough water to last through a 6-month dry period.

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Rainwater harvesting in poly ponds 

It was clear that, because rainwater harvesting was Sikkim’s only way of collecting water, we needed to try something more robust. So, in 2022, Barefoot College began a pilot initiative to create a more robust water storage system for the area. Since harvesting tanks are prone to earthquake damage (and expensive) we created ten poly ponds of 20,000 to 50,000 litres. At a fraction of the cost of RCC tanks (10%) they now store nearly 3,00,000 litres of water from rain and seasonal springs. This benefits 20 farming families directly.

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Safe, Filtered Drinking Water

For years, over-exploitation of groundwater meant that Rajasthan’s water table fell drastically, degrading its quality. Now, in schools where children drink groundwater accessed through hand pumps, fluorosis –  a water-borne disease caused by the presence of excess fluorides in drinking water – is becoming common.
In most villages in rural Rajasthan, natural ponds used to be an alternative water source. But today many are almost dry, partly because people have over-used them,  not realising how important they are to collect rain water run-off.

Something more was neeeded. Barefoot College used to set up solar-operated desalination plants to help provide safe drinking water.  Today, where water quality is poor, the College helps villagers to install community operated Reverse Osmosis Plants. 

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Groundwater
Recharge 

Groundwater amounts to 30 % of the fresh water on earth and is in high global demand for drinking, industry and agriculture.  In India’s rural areas it accounts for over 80% of domestic water, and about 620 million people depend on it for their livelihoods.

Rajiv Gandhi’s National Drinking Water Mission, begun in 1986, aimed at safe drinking water for all. Although there has been tremendous progress, that goal is yet to be achieved, which means  there is tremendous pressure from both State and private users to keep on using groundwater. Because of this It is essential to recharge and maintain crucially important resource.

Developing Rainwater Harvesting Ponds and Improving Groundwater for Drinking and Farming

Barefoot College Tilonia’s community-centric ground water recharge programmes include

  • Restoring earthworks: In the month before the rain, talabs [ponds], nadis [pools], bandhas [dams], and kunds [translation] are cleared, with silt removed.  This improves the recharge. 

  • Creating and restoring anicuts and bandhas (two types of dams) After talking with local people, Barefoot engineers create and restore these where necessary. We establish a regular maintenance programme for desiliting them,inspecting for cracks, breaches and chipping before undertaking repairs.

  • Planting:  The land is treated [HOW? WHY?] then local knowledge is drawnon to identify the trees that will prevent soil erosion best and help water to move through the soil.

Primary responsibility for maintaining each structure lies with the village pani samiti (water committee).  However, while assisting pani samitis as needed, during the course of the project SWRC (Barefoot College) takes overall responsibility. Our involvement will gradually taper off once the project has been completed sucessfully.

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