The mainstream media often tends to ignore some of the core challenges faced by the marginalized sections of society. Evidence suggests that there is minimal coverage of news relating to the people of rural Marwar in the mainstream newspapers and news channels. As a result, the people of this region do not have the means to voice their grievances and bring themselves to the forefront to initiate or demand policy change.The concept of community media has been developed especially to provide a voice to those sections of society whose problems are rarely heard by the outside world.
Jal Bhagirathi Foundation has set up a Community Media Unit (CMU) called Jal Chitran to create awareness and to provide a voice to the marginalized communities of Marwar. The unit produces and screens regular video magazine programmes focusing on critical issues in the villages, short films to generate awareness, and training films to capacitate communities for water resource management, sanitation, and hygiene. These films are an effective way of accelerating social transformation as well as bringing about policy change. This is a remarkably powerful and cost-effective way of reaching large numbers of people.
The inability to access safe drinking water is a burden that contributes fundamentally to poverty, malnutrition, poor education, gender inequity, ecological degradation, and conflict. At any given moment, approximately half the people in the developing world suffer from a disease caused by drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food, and 3,575 million people die each year from water-related diseases. The Marwar region is not an exception to this observation. Due to the unavailability of potable water in the desired quantitiesand the consumption of contaminated water have adverse impacts on productivity as well as on health of people in this region
JBF has piloted community-driven micro-level water enterprise projects under a public–private–community partnership model to demonstrate safe drinking water solutions through skill enhancement and the adoption of new technologies. This project not only ensured the availability of safe drinking water but also improved livelihood opportunities for self-help groups (SHG) members in the village.
It set out to design a business model for the provision of safe water to the community, and facilitated a micro-level water enterprise project.
The initiative emphasis on strengthening the role of communities in implementing appropriate drinking-water purification technologies.Community based institutions such as Jal Sabha and entrepreneurs are capacitated to run and manage water treatment plants as well as distribution networks.
There is a wide consensus that the surface temperature will increase by at least 2°C in this century with Rajasthan been identified as one of the most vulnerable states in India that will be adversely impacted. With temperatures reaching 50°C in summer, average annual rainfall of only 200mm with annual 40% chance of drought, this region faces acute water scarcity and climate vulnerability.
Already, nearly 64 per cent of the people in the project area do not have access to safe drinking water, and more than 75 per cent of villages have groundwater problems, associated with high TDS, nitrate, and fluoride content. This acute water scarcity in the region has lead to chronic poverty and vulnerability, forcing people to compromise on water quality, sanitation, and hygiene, which has long-term impacts on their health. With the worsening perspectives, there is a huge need to take action.
Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF) promotes the revival and construction of rainwater-harvesting structures, an excellent example of ingenuity of the local people in using inexpensive, simple traditional technology to address the drinking water needs of drought-stricken human and livestock populations. The organization encourages village-level institutions to undertake micro projects to revive or create traditional rainwater-harvesting systems.
A community-led water management system has been evolved, which taps runoff from the catchment area through water or feeder channels to a surface water-harvesting structure (talab, nadi or nada) located on the outskirts of the village and from water-harvesting structures to community water-harvesting tankas (underground rainwater-harvesting tanks) in the vicinity of the village
Financial sustainability and community ownership is ensured through a transparent system of Jal Kosh (Development Fund), in which people deposit at least 30% of the project cost and nominal water charges for development and maintenance of the micro project.
Unlike most of the JBF’s interventions that aims to revive traditional (existing) water harvesting systems, in the current action, Jal Bhagirathi Foundation started a pilot Sand Dam project, the first of its kind in India, with support from the Excellent Development and African Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF) in the three different villages namely; ThumbakaGoila, District Jalore, MahinganiyokiDhani, District Barmer and Jasol, District Barmer.
The Thar Desert is one of the most densely populated deserts of the world with 84 to 90 people per sq km (compared to 36 in other deserts). The human population has increased from 5.8 million in 1950 to 22.5 million in 2001. Similarly, the livestock population has increased from 13.7 million in 1961 to 32 million in 1997. Unsustainable human and livestock pressure (overgrazing, encroachment, and over-harvesting of forests) is leading to degradation of land resourcesforests, pastures, habitats and speciesand water sources. Grazing of livestock is intensive, affecting soil quality and destroying native vegetation.
In recent years, there has been a breakdown of the traditional natural resource management regime characterized by community managed lands. Grazing lands have effectively become open access resources with no system for controlling and monitoring their use.
JBF works to restore and sustain collective natural resource management. It focuses on reviving the common property resources of villages, where the development of catchment areas and pasturelands addresses the issues of land degradation and biodiversity loss, which plays a crucial role in providing the necessities of life for the rural poor, in form of food, fodder, manure, and water. The process of implementation follows a decentralized approach that ensures the capture and integration of climate change variables into natural resource management. It stands on the pillars of community mobilization, people’s participation, and capacity building of village-level institutions to increase the sense of ownership of community resources.
The community-based institutional framework for the management of the commons through collective wisdom and action has broken down due to centralized control, resulting in the absence of community ownership and increased dependence on the government. This has led to the poor usage of the institutionalized support system and to the neglect of democratic processes. The socio-political system has held back the emergence of an appropriate civil society response to the need for the sustainable development and social empowerment of local communities
JBF enables collective community action by creating an institutional framework based on volunteers and networks that develops and enhances people’s ability to work together on a decentralized water management system and on other endeavours of common interest. For successful water management a social capital is built within a village which involves establishing social norms and networks which develop and restores people's ability to work together, leading them to revive age-old collective wisdom for community based action. JBF thus ensures that principles of democratic governance are practiced through a four tiered governance framework established from the village level, called the Jal Sabha (village water user association) to the organizational level, called the Jal Sansad (water forum), ensuring active participation of the community. Through meetings, public awareness campaigns, participatory appraisal exercises, and other activities communities are brought together around water. By doing so effective and accountable village water associations are facilitated to plan, manage and implement community based projects on traditional rain water harvesting.
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One aspect that finds little space in discussions of water management in the Marwar region is the role of women in evolving, controlling, and administering water systems. Women’s central role as users of water resources is well known; they are responsible for cooking, cleaning, maintaining health and hygiene, and raising livestock. However, as in other spheres of their lives, women’s involvement and participation in water provisioning and use has been on inequitable terms. Their social subordination, the invisibility of their productive roles, and their inability to claim their entitlements over natural resources have all contributed to their exclusion from decision-making. Further, the dominant policies and strategies in the water sector have seldom challenged these biases
JBF has taken a participatory approach in water management by facilitating equal participation of men and women in the decision-making process in the Jal Sabhas and thereby enabling inclusive governance. At least one woman is encouraged to occupy a leading position in a Jal Sabha, thus ensuring that the voice of women is heard in community decision-making. Greater awareness among women about safe drinking water practices, health and hygiene has been generated through various training programs, which has in turn contributed to better health of community. JBF ensures that women are engaged in number of participatory exercises to make sure that they are included in the mainstream of the project. Women are also encouraged to form self-help groups. These groups consist of 10-15 women who come together, are involved in monthly savings and undertake small income generation activities. The Foundation assists these groups in establishing links with banks and leverage loans.
Attendance in schools is strongly linked to availability of drinking water. Water scarcity means that schools in the area are forced to close for prolonged “water breaks”. In the region less than 5 per cent of primary schools have water and sanitation facilities, and more than 70 per cent of the health problems of children in primary school arise from inadequate water and sanitation facilities.
Water shortages at home also affect school attendance because children (especially girls) help their mothers fetch water for the family. School children in the Thar Desert spend more time fetching water than receiving an education. The current educational profile and the future development of the region depend on the availability of potable water in schools.
JBF has responded to this challenge by supporting schools in the construction and maintenance of rooftop rainwater-harvesting structures to ensure drinking water availability for children throughout the year. Indirectly JBF involves working with the community as a whole to alleviate water shortages in villages through the construction or revival of rainwater-harvesting systems. This liberates children from their domestic water-fetching responsibilities and hence increases their school enrolment and attendance rates. Children’s groups named Jal Dal are established to oversee the management and maintenance of school water-harvesting tankas ensuring volunteerism and community service, and allowing children to learn about their environment in a practical manner while exposing them to local traditions of water management
Improper sanitation exacerbates the problems stemming from the limited availability of safe drinking water. In Marwar region, poor hygiene practices, open defecation and minimal environmental sanitation take a major toll on public health. Such customary practices, entrenched over time, have led to deep-seated behaviours, which are hard to change. With increased populations, these practices have become a major cause of health hazards. Rajasthan has only 34 percent sanitation coverage and is ranked 24th among the 28 Indian states (CCDU Department, 2005). Studies conducted by the JBF reveal that over 70 percent of health problems of school going children are due to inadequate water and poor sanitation facilities and only three percent of the rural population in Marwar has access to toilet facilities (national average being 36.4 percent).
To secure people’s access to safe water resources and adequate sanitation, JBF has adopted a multi-pronged strategy: creating supportive arrangements for households to make decisions, promoting the demand for sanitation, initiating behavioural change, and providing financial support for the construction of household toilets. The thrust has been on creating awareness and on mobilizing communities to regard sanitation as a priority, leading individuals to take effective and appropriate action. To ensure interest in, and ownership of, toilets, households have to contribute 50 per cent of the cost of construction. More importantly, communities have been educated on the need for liquid waste management, and they are constructing household soak-pits without any financial support. The approach relies heavily on the community to trigger individual action for building sanitation facilities
The water crisis is essentially a crisis of governance. Weakness in governance systems has greatly impeded progress towards sustainable development and retarded efforts aimed at balancing socio-economic needs with the requirements of ecological sustainability. The accountability of water management initiatives is being increasingly questioned and the overall water problem compounded by inefficient water governance.
Participation of people is vital for the success of any policy on water governance. There is a need for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs) to work together to strengthen the participation of civil society in formulating water policy, sharing knowledge, linking stakeholders, raising awareness, organizing meetings, and building consensus on water laws and governance.
JBF works to strengthen the accountability of water governance and to foster the participation of civil society in the formulation of a water policy through sharing knowledge, linking stakeholders, raising awareness, organizing conferences, and building consensus on water laws and governance. JBF has developed a comprehensive advocacy strategy that focuses on creating awareness, generating constructive responses, forming partnerships, and encouraging conscientious citizens at local, regional, state, and national levels. At the local level, the strategy focuses on developing an effective network of villagers who can act as a pressure group for institutionalizing rights-based governance. At the regional and state levels, the strategy concentrates on forming partnerships and on interacting with opinion makers and politicians to sensitize them about the dominant issues, along with offering feasible solutions for overcoming problems. At the national level, the strategy entails the organization of conventions, conferences, and workshops to bring government agencies, local bodies, and voluntary and community organizations working on the issue on a common platform to discuss and debate national-level policies.