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Revival in the hills

Springshed development projects in Nagaland and Mizoram are enabling villagers to get their fill of water and improve their daily lives

Years of living with water scarcity has made communities in India’s Himalayan regions see natural springs drying up in summer as an inevitable fact of life. Consider Enhulumi village in Nagaland’s Phek district. When the Tata Trusts and Nagaland government began efforts in 2018 to revive Enhulumi’s local spring, called Mewi Dzukhou, the villager’s reaction was lukewarm. “We didn’t believe that it was possible to recharge the spring,” says resident Kotele Lohe. 

But something marvellous happened. The building of rainwater-recharge structures in Mewi’s catchment area brought the spring back to life, and also led to two new springs emerging from below it. Says Ms Lohe, who would earlier spend an hour every day  fetching water: “We have additional water to irrigate our crops.”

Mewi Dzukhou is one of the 106 springs revived by the North East Initiative Development Agency (NEIDA), an associate organisation of the Trusts, across Nagaland. The initiative was implemented in partnership with the Nagaland government’s Land Resources Department and Rural Development Department. At the project’s conclusion in 2021, it had benefitted nearly 12,000 households in 100 villages.

A similar NEIDA project in Mizoram, implemented in association with the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, has revitalised six springs in Serchhip and Lunglei districts and currently benefits more than 350 households.

NEIDA’s goal is to head off a serious water crisis in the Northeast, where nearly half of the extended region’s three million springs have reportedly dried up. The crisis has been especially hard on communities in Nagaland and Mizoram, where people get 80-90% of their water from natural springs. “Our survey showed that communities were spending up to three hours daily on fetching water during the lean seasons,” says Khrolhiwe-u Tsuhah, a Nagaland-based senior project associate with NEIDA.

Spring in their step

Dire effect

The seemingly perennial water crises in the two states have had a dire effect, not only on the availability of drinking water during the winter months but also on agricultural productivity and, consequently, household earnings. “People are forced to buy water at high rates and many locals end up migrating to other villages,” says Samuel Lalthazuala, a senior project associate with NEIDA in Mizoram.

NEIDA’s spring-rejuvenation programme involves supporting communities in building recharge structures such as trenches and ponds, and in promoting tree plantations that replenish the springs’ aquifers. While NEIDA oversees the technical aspects of the work, monitoring and management of the springs is done by village water and sanitation committees. The agency also trains para-hydrogeologists and local data collectors to sustain the intervention’s impact.

These efforts have met with success, with the lean-season discharge of treated springs in the two states increasing by 30-50%. In Nagaland, where NEIDA’s springshed project was the first fruitful multi-stakeholder partnership of the kind, the number of days of water shortage reduced by 24% within a single year.

In Chhuanthar Tlangnuam village in Mizoram’s Serchhip district, local farmer Lalngaihsanga says that the availability of water allows farmers to grow a wider range of crops. “People now earn more from farming,” he says. “Waterborne diseases have also gone down since we no longer have to rely on contaminated sources.” An added benefit is that 144 hectares of forest land in Mizoram have been conserved, thanks to bans imposed by village councils on felling trees in catchment areas.