Liquid relief

Conservation, protection and augmentation are at the core of managing water resources, and women are at the forefront

Every facet of every effort that the Coastal Salinity Prevention Cell (CSPC) undertakes through its multifaceted programme spread in the regions along the Gujarat seaboard is related to water. This is the elixir at the heart of it all and it demands protection, conservation and augmentation. Managing quality and quantity is, in the context, critical if any sort of success is to be wrested from what is a near-calamitous situation.

Groundwater and the aquifers that sustain them are severely stressed across India. A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology stated that aquifers in 16 Indian states are contaminated. The groundwater reality is grimmer still in Gujarat, and much more so in the coastal belt of Saurashtra where CSPC’s endeavours are concentrated.

Water resource management underlines CSPC’s work, particularly in agriculture. The intent is to use water efficiently in farming, reduce the need for it and enhance its availability. Villages and the wider community are the most important factors in making that happen. The infrastructure and equipment required to help them — water-harvesting structures, check dams, farm ponds, well recharge mechanisms, moisture meters and irrigation systems — bolster the cause.

“There are two approaches that CSPC has adopted,” says Divyang Waghela, who heads the water programme at the Tata Trusts and is a director with CSPC. “We try to improve water-storage and water-recharge capabilities at the individual and community levels. At the individual level, we promote small-scale solutions that are affordable and durable. For the community, we look at larger water-storage structures where investment support is provided, either by us or through government funding.”

On the supply side, CSPC has enabled the building of water-harvesting structures such as check dams, farm ponds and percolation tanks. On the demand side are drip, sprinkler and laser irrigation systems, the promotion of drought-resilient crops and the installation of water and moisture meters. A highlight in the overall effort is ‘fracturing-led recharge’, a technique to find the sweet spot of aquifers and rejuvenate them.

A farmer with his watermelon crop in Royal village in Bhavnagar district
A farmer with his watermelon crop in Royal village in Bhavnagar district

Harvesting the elixir

Rainwater harvesting is another method that CSPC has pushed hard on with individual households. “We have supported close to 5,000 families in building rainwater harvesting structures,” says Mr Waghela. “This takes care of their drinking and cooking needs. It’s freshwater and it’s available at their doorstep. Crucially, it saves women the labour of trudging long distances to fetch water.

Women are the ones most affected by Saurashtra’s water woes, and most welcoming of projects that lighten their load. A number of women collectives have emerged as a result, forging their own identity and challenging entrenched power setups. “They have a voice now and they say what needs to be said,” says CSPC chairman Apoorva Oza. “They realise that unless they assert their power a patriarchal society and patriarchal governments will not listen to them.”