Children unite to conserve water in Maharashtra
10 February 2006 - The students of Pandhurna Bujurg village in Ghatanji block of Yavatmal district in the state of Maharashtra recently constructed a vanrai bandhar, a type of check dam, on a nullah near their school. Seventh-grade student Komal Wankhede remembers the day and on a serious note says “in just a day’s time we children could construct a check dam. If the entire village comes together to volunteer, imagine the change we can bring about.”
Over the years, little rainfall in the district, lack of planning and misuse of water has led to depletion of groundwater. As a result a large number of villages in the district have become dependent on tanker water during summer. In 2003-2004, there were 54 tanker-fed villages, the number increasing to 265 villages the following year.
However, last year Yavatmal district received more than average rainfall – 1024.89mm, which prompted Dr. Shrikar Pardeshi, Chief Executive Officer of Zilla Parishad, to reflect and plan ahead. “I saw it as an opportunity. A large scale drive to conserve water helped in creating awareness and sensitizing people to its benefits. The initiative and enthusiasm of school children and teachers helped realise the dream.”
The focus of the district administration was to conserve rain water by tapping its flow through the simple means of constructing check-dams, which allowed water to percolate underground gradually.
Over 5000 check-dams were constructed in villages across 16 blocks of Yavatmal district in a month-long campaign in October 2005. Children from the 1800-odd primary and upper primary schools alone contributed to the construction of 2048 small check-dams – 40 per cent of the total 5087.
According to Laxmikant Pandey, Education Officer (Primary), “It was an experiment in project-based learning. For the children it was a hands-on experience. And looking at the children’s enthusiasm and the scope for learning, quite a few teachers too realised the importance of such an activity.”
For the children it was an enjoyable experiment in environment education. Children not just learnt about check-dams and water conservation but also about harmful effects of chemical fertilizers and insecticides. The dams were constructed entirely with the help of local labour, local resources and with no financial allocation. The children were involved in planning, mobilizing resources, working together and, above all, feeling responsible towards their environment. “In our geography lesson we learnt that 70% of our earth is covered with water. Yet there is a scarcity of drinking water. We need to create awareness about the importance of saving water,” said Shraddha Shinde, a 7th grade student.
The construction technique used was simple and did not involve any cost. Empty cement bags were filled with sand, stitched and laid across rainwater channels to prevent the water from flowing away.
In many villages, the school teachers enlisted the support of community groups. Panchayat members, village youth and women’s groups worked together with school children. It helped strengthen the confidence of farmers and community members about water conservation and their own capacities.
While agriculture and other departments focused on rivers and rivulets, children from zilla parishad schools tapped every possible stream, drain and slope where rain water flowed. The three-foot high check dams constructed by children, brought to the forefront the issue and importance of water conservation.