Water struggles

November 26, 2023

Ponds built to harvest rainwater are making access to safe drinking water possible for people in Thar

Water struggles


he people of Thar face several challenges: from a lack of healthcare facilities to scarcity of clean drinking water and harsh climactic conditions to low literacy rates. They face multiple daily struggles.

Water struggles

Safe drinking water, vital for humans, is difficult to find in many villages of Thar. Acute shortage of drinking water is not a recent issue. For most locals, the only source of drinkable water are wells. In some areas, women and children have to walk long distances daily to secure a few gallons of safe drinking water. The scorching heat of the desert adds to their troubles.

Sometimes, these families use donkeys and camels to carry water home. On most days, however, women carry the water by themselves in pots carried on their heads.

Before 2013, the village of Dedhsarh faced significant challenges related to its water supply. The sole source of drinking water available to the villagers was the wells. Unfortunately, high salinity made the water undrinkable, posing a great challenge for the community.

However, a ray of hope emerged as the Sukaar Foundation, an NGO along with the Village Development Organisation of Dedhsarh, decided to tackle this issue.

Through collaborative efforts, they embarked on the construction of a large man-made pond designed to harvest rainwater. The artificial pond proved a life-changing intervention for the villagers.

The pond stores rainwater during the monsoon season, ensuring a sustainable supply of water for up to six months after that. This is a tremendous relief for the approximately 300 households in Dedhsarh, comprising diverse communities such as Chara, Mandhra, Kolhi and Meghwar.

Groundwater in Thar often contains a high concentration of minerals such as fluoride and arsenic that can gravely impact human and livestock health. The polluted water has been a leading cause of diarrhoeal diseases and dental fluorosis, joint deformations and thyroid and kidney problems in many parts of Tharparkar.

“Despite their differences, these communities coexist harmoniously, fostering an atmosphere of happiness and peace,” says Khalilullah Hakim Charo, the district coordinator for Al-Khidmat Foundation Sindh, Dedhsarh.

Groundwater in Thar often contains a high concentration of mineral contaminants such as fluoride and arsenic, which can gravely impact human and livestock health. The polluted water has been a leading cause of diarrhoeal diseases and dental fluorosis, joint deformations and thyroid and kidney problems in many parts of Tharparkar.

It has been nearly ten years since the construction of the pond. It continues to provide significant benefits to the village. During the rainy season, villagers use camels and donkeys to fetch water from the pond, which is then stored in small tanks for filtration. The Sukaar Foundation has also installed water filtration plants in every home in Dedhsarh, ensuring clean drinking water is available for the community.

The pond is bowl-shaped, with a depth of 16 feet and a width of 80 feet. It has the capacity to hold 16,000 litres of water. Such ponds can be replicated across Tharparkar to ensure a sustainable water supply for approximately six months. The stored water can be used for both drinking needs and domestic chores.

The estimated cost of a 90-foot-diametre and 15-foot-deep pond is Rs 1 million. In the past, the residents of Dedhsarh were burdened with the high cost of purchasing drinking water, particularly during the dry seasons when earning opportunities were scarce. The price of a single water tanker ranged between Rs 4,000 and Rs 5,000.

In Tharparkar, using rainwater for sustenance has been ingrained in the culture for generations. For a long time, there was no concept of constructing small ponds or tanks to collect rainwater. People used to rely on the natural ponds in their area. These natural reservoirs used to provide them water for drinking, bathing, cooking and more.

Traditionally, the people of Tharparkar possessed a remarkable ability to gauge the longevity of rainwater in these natural ponds through astute observation. The practice of manually constructing ponds to store rainwater only found its roots with the establishment of non-governmental organisations in Tharparkar around 1995.

Since then, these NGOs have worked to build ponds in various villages, ensuring a more sustainable water supply for the locals.

Today, more such ponds are being built. However, many villages still lack access to safe drinking water. It is vital that the government extends support to areas that cannot afford the cost of building these ponds.

“Providing small water tanks will alleviate their burden and ensure access to a vital resource. Thar Water Canal project could offer a permanent solution to the water scarcity issues faced by the Thari people,” says Khalid Jogee (Kumbhar), an anthropologist studying tribes and landscapes of Tharparkar.

The writer is a teacher and climate and human rights activist. X handle @ChandaniDolat

Water struggles