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From Rags to Riches - The Miracle Water Village in Upper Godavari

From Rags to Riches – The Miracle Water Village in Upper Godavari
Abstract: As the world reels under the threat of unrelenting climate
change, erratic monsoons and fast depleting groundwater reserves, The
Miracle Water Village narrates the inspirational story of impoverished
farming community in India that reversed its fortunes through its
visionary model of water management.
Lying in one of the worst drought-prone regions of India, the village of
Hiware Bazar in the upper Godavari region, Ahmednagar district of
Maharashtra battled many decades of sparse rain and failed crops.
However, in 1990s, the entire village came together to script a silent
revolution by designing a rainwater-harvesting model that saved every
drop of the scanty rain they received. Today, the village is literally an
oasis in the middle of the desert, boasting of bumper harvests, dairy cooperatives, millionaire families and visionary farmers.
Hiware Bazar still receives the scanty amount of rainfall it used to in the heart of its most drying years, but what has changed is
the way it has managed its water and created a miracle with this most precious liquid resource!
Unfolding of the story of the Miracle Water Village
Many years ago, in mid-1960s, Yadav Dada Thange took the toughest decision of his life. Even though he owned 15 acres of
agricultural land in Hiware Bazar, he had to migrate to Mumbai to earn a livelihood. With scanty rain, whatever crop he grew kept
failing year after year. The meagre wage of INR 50 that he earned as a daily wage labourer in Mumbai was better than being a
farmer in his village.
Yadav Dada Thange’s story could easily be the story of millions of farmers in
India. In a country where more than half of the population engages in
agriculture for livelihood, every drop of rain becomes a precious lifeline for
each farmer. Even though India is blessed with ample rainfall, a majority of its
population lives with a nightmare of acute water scarcity. This water crisis is
born out of mismanagement, inefficient planning and wastage. In addition,
relentless pollution and non-renewable mining of groundwater are rapidly
threatening the existing supply of water. With the onslaught of climate
change, India’s water crisis presents an even more frightening picture.
However, while the rest of the country was finding ways to battle nature’s wrath, one village in Maharashtra was reaping a
bumper harvest. Yadav Thange left for Mumbai in 1965 and worked there for 35 years. He heard about how people in his village
were successfully fighting drought by recharging rainwater. He then decided to quit his job and come back to his village, Hiware
Bazaar. The empty wells he had left now had plenty of water for his crops. Because of collective community participation, what
has happened in his village is nothing short of a miracle!
Nestled in Sahayadri range of Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district, the village of Hiware
Bazar lies in a rain shadow area. While the Konkan region on the west side of Sahayadri
enjoys a bounty of 4000 mm of annual rainfall, Hiware Bazar lying on the east receives a
scanty average of about 400 mm annually making it one of the driest and most droughtprone regions in the country. However, such persistent failures of monsoon and chronic
droughts did not break the villagers. Instead, Hiware Bazar is today an oasis in the middle
of the desert.
The year 1989 marked the beginning of Hiware Bazar’s reversal of fortunes. The villagers
unanimously elected Popatrao Pawar as the village head and believed in his vision of
change. Water management demands strong community participation. He convinced every villager of the importance of managing
their own water. The soil in Hiware bazar is shallow and suffers from low fertility. Realizing the answer to their problems also lies
in this very soil, the villagers designed a watershed program with rainwater harvesting at its heart. A watershed is a series of
traditional water structures that help in trapping and storing rainwater. The villagers
adopted a top-down approach to their watershed management. They started by
constructing contour trenches in the upper regions of the hill that surround the
village. Contour trenches are ditches all along the hill side in such a way that they
run perpendicular to the flow of rainwater. The soil excavated from the ditches is
used as a fertile ground to plant saplings.
When it rains, the water flows into these trenches and seeps into the soil while also nourishing the saplings. Gradually, the roots
of the trees trap rainwater, check surface run-off and prevent soil erosion. This in turn replenishes the water table and revives the
wells in the village. In the middle reaches of watershed, earthern bunds have been built to collect the rainwater as it flows down
from the upper region. These small bunds are made by compacting black soil as it prevents water from flowing through it.
Simultaneoulsy, these bunds also allow water to percolate directly into the soil. Excesss water that flows to the channel built
alongside the bund. In the lower region, farms have been levelled to build compartment bunds ensuring rainwater gets trapped
in the farms and seep directly to the soil. A series of other structures that work on the same principle of soil and water conservation
have been built all around the village. Gully plugs and loose boulders in the upper reaches of watershed rest the velocity of water
and prevent soil erosion. Percolation tanks and cement bunds help in collecting water upstream from rainfall. This water
percolates into the soil during the lean months thereby increasing the ground water table. With more water available for
irrigation, the harsh landscape layered with basalt rock has transformed into hues of green. Land under irrigation increased from
40 ha to 550 ha from 1992 to 2009.
Reverse migration to Hiware Bazar started after the tremendous
success of its watershed program. Many villagers also switched
from traditional flood irrigation to drip irrigation saving 40%
water. Ban on borewells increased groundwater table from 60 ft
to 15 ft. Collective decision-making has become the hallmark of
Hiware bazar’s success story. The cropping pattern is now
decided by measuring the level of water in the percolation tanks
and the earthern bunds. By popular decree, the entire village of
more than 1300 people curbed the temptation of growing water
intensive cash crops like sugarcane and banana. The effect of ban
on free grazing has led to exponential increase in grass
production from 100 MT to 7500-8000 MT during 2000 to 2009.
This has further increased fodder availability for cattle and milk
production. Milk production increased from 150 lit per day in
1992 to 4000 lit per day in 2009. Today agriculture and dairy
cooperatives are flourishing due to effective water & soil
conservation efforts. 16 solar lights electrify the village, over 1700
toilets were built under the sanitation project and 112 biomass plants provide fuel, electricity and manure to the village.
Recognizing its exceptional efforts in water management, the Government of India awarded Hiware Bazar, the National Water
Award in 2007. The village still receives scanty rainfall it used to in the heart of its most drying years, but what has changed is the
mindset and attitude towards the management of its precious liquid resource to create this miracle.
One must keep in mind that the water recharged through soil conservation and water harvesting work will not be sufficient if
people overuse and overexploit. This requires the management of the plenty as much as that of scarcity. The key here is village
institutions like those in Hiware Bazar. Though every village may not be able to restrain use of water or control cropping patterns,
the local leaders will have to find ways to deal with sustainability. Failure of rains is unavoidable but the question is if they can
make sure when the rains fail, drought is not inevitable!
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