Making the most of precious water resources

On recent field trips to Kumbhalgarh and Kankroli we saw how Seva Mandir, with the help of two Indian corporate sponsors (Larsen & Toubro, and JK Tyres, respectively), works with villagers to make the best use of the scarce water in this region.


The background

Most of Seva Mandir’s work area in southern Rajasthan is semi-arid and hilly.

Rainfall is almost entirely limited to the monsoon season, and, when it comes, it is liable to erode the hillsides, washing away the precious soil. The hills also make irrigation difficult, so, unless farmers have access to a well with a pump, they can typically only grow crops on 20% of their land.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the largely tribal people of this area but it is subsistence farming. Over 90% of the population live on less than Rs 30 a day (around 50 US cents or 37 GB pence). Most farmers are unable to grow enough food and animal fodder for their families’ needs throughout the whole year, let alone to produce extra produce to sell in the market.


Many of the things westerners take for granted are only a dream to these rural folk: clean drinking water, water on tap in or near their house, toilets and bathrooms affording some privacy.


Deep wells are a common source of water, but they are very dangerous and there are many cases of women falling in and drowning, and of children stumbling into them when they are not protected by walls.  Seva Mandir helps villagers build higher walls to stop this happening.


The wells often dry up during the summer months.


Handpumps are often the nearest source of water, so they are used for washing (of people, clothes and dishes) and for water collection, but they too frequently dry up in the summer months, and they also break down from time to time.


The task of carrying water for kilometres from the nearest well generally falls to women, so a source of clean water in the village is a real contribution to their lives.


Channelling water to improve lives and livelihoods

Over 50 years, Seva Mandir has worked with villagers to make the most of what water is available. We saw firsthand many of the ways in which this is done.


More than 70% of the land in Seva Mandir’s working area is common land, to be used by the entire community, but this land is often encroached on by the private individuals and thereafter denied to the villagers.


Seva Mandir has helped villagers to build and maintain boundary walls and to resist and prevent encroachment, thereby ensuring that whole communities can grow fodder for their animals. Within the pastureland, efforts are made to improve water retention and prevent erosion.


Check dams are built to help slow down the rush of the rainwater in the monsoon and to prevent soil erosion.



Saplings like this are planted to fix the soil, helping to prevent erosion and retain water, and they also provide fruit.


Anicuts (small dams) are built to retain as much as possible of the monsoon water so that it lasts as long as possible. This often means that farmers can enjoy more harvests in a year than would otherwise be possible. In some areas women cultivate fish to add to their modest incomes.


Water systems in a village

On our recent visits we saw how Seva Mandir is providing an entire water system for villages in this area.

Water often rises high in the hills.


It’s a steep climb up to the source.


So an open reservoir has been built a little further down, with the water flowing constantly from the source above. Villagers carried all the materials up the hill, with the help of a few camels.


It is not practical to chlorinate the water in this large body of water, which is constantly flowing.


The dam makes a good place to sit and chat.


Just below the reservoir there is a chamber with taps which allow villagers to control and direct the flow of water to the village and fields further down the hill.



Water on tap

Some of the water goes to a 4,000-litre closed water tank, where it can be chlorinated to make it safe for drinking. Women and children collect the water from taps on the tank and take it their homes. The tank provides a welcome meeting place where women can chat.

There are plans to package and sell excess water.


Using gravity, the water is piped to houses in the village. The panchayat has provided the piping.


Pipes ready to take the water where it is needed.


There are also water channels, where water can be collected and animals can drink.


It’s a good place for a bath!



Throughout India, open defecation has traditionally been the norm. For many years Seva Mandir has been helping villagers to build toilets. In recent years they have added bathrooms so that women have a place to wash in private. The women have been involved in the design of these bathrooms and they often lead the way in persuading families to use the new facilities.




Some toilets use water and soak pits, but Seva Mandir has pioneered the installation of Ecosan toilets which are well suited to this water-scarce region as they use no water. Solid waste is treated and stored in chambers behind the toilets until it becomes odourless manure to be used on the fields.



Water transforms what appears to be barren land into green fields. With sixteen chambers controlling the flow of water for irrigation, villagers told us that it now takes 2 ½ minutes for the water to reach the fields, whereas it used to take an hour.


When we were there, wheat was being grown and grass dried for fodder.


Villager involvement

As always when Seva Mandir is invited to help a village with its development needs, the villagers contribute financially and by providing labour.

Men build a new water tank in the tribal area at the top of a village in Kankroli.


The women, as ever, play their part, working hard all day to mix cement and carry it to the tank for the bricklayers.






Cement ready for use.


Development for tomorrow’s villagers





Our thanks to : Larsen & Toubro and for the project in Kumbhalgarh, and JK Tyres for the project in Kankroli.