Today I want to share with you an inspiring story of success. It’s a sort of rags-to-riches story. But this story doesn’t have to do with money (specifically); it has to do with the power of water. This story starts in 1975 in the Indian village of Raleghan Siddhi.
Raleghan Siddhi is in a drought-prone and rain-shadowed area of India, receiving between 450-650mm (17.5-25.5 inches) of water annually in a place where temperatures can reach 44 degrees (111 degrees fahrenheit). In 1975 this was a place of poverty and hopelessness. The abuse of their natural resources coupled with water runoff and soil degradation meant that this village of about 2,500 people, mostly farmers, was un-farmable. Any well that was less than 400m deep ran dry, and those that were deeper had a very limited amount of water to supply. This led to 70% of the households living below the poverty level. It also led to people having to struggle to find drinking water during part of the year. Because fodder couldn’t be grown livestock could not be raised which added to their struggle. People borrowed money and food where they could, promising to pay it back, but most of the time not being able to. This unfortunate situation led to a number of secondary problems.
One was the people started leaving Raleghan Siddhi in search for work and a livelihood elsewhere, an understandable choice considering the situation they were facing. However, often they found that they would be working long hours for little pay, making their situation only marginally better. Back in the village things seemed to start spiraling out of control. Local alcohol production started, leading to marginal prosperity for the producers, but alcoholism and more poverty for everyone else. 40 alcohol dens were in business at one point. This led to vandalism, fighting, theft and a sharp rise in domestic violence. Society was breaking down. The little water they had was being used and re-used, leading to contamination and disease. Children weren’t being educated. Local government officials, as desperate as anyone, became corrupt; taking money that was meant to help alleviate the poverty for themselves. But, just as it seemed that there was no hope for Raleghan Siddhi, a bright light emerged.
That bright light was a man named Shri Baburao Hazare, or ‘Anna’, meaning elder brother. He had grown up in the area, and moved to Raleghan Siddhi when he was nine. However, he ended up moving to Mumbai in order to get an education. When he returned to Raleghan Siddhi in 1975 he was saddened by what it had become, and based on successful projects he had seen elsewhere decided to do something about it. He began talking with the community, spreading his ideas, and getting people involved in water conservation and harvesting. He knew that the only way that the village could be revived was with the participation of the entire community, especially the youth. Anna started a youth society and village assembly to spread ideas and organize the village. It is from these stages that he spoke out against, and eventually eliminated, one of the larger problems holding the community back: alcohol.
With the village sober and motivated he started taking concrete steps towards bringing back their livelihood. He helped some get seasonal jobs, but recognized that these jobs would not be enough. They needed to bring back what they knew: farming. Thus, to bring back water, and eventually farming he undertook a project with the villagers to construct nalla bunds, something similar to what is shown here (click for larger image):
The purpose of nalla bunds is to eliminate soil and water run-off, catching useful nutrients and allowing the water to percolate into the soil and recharge the local aquifer. Anna enlisted local labor and constructed six nalla bunds in this first stage. The village later constructed a further 31 nalla bunds throughout the village with a storage capacity of 282,183 cubic meters. Along with these nalla bunds they also constructed contour bunds and shaped the land to direct water and soil into the bunds.
The village’s next task was to renovate an old percolation tank that had been built in the past. The tank was built with good intentions, but because of technical faults failed to hold water for more than two months, letting it seep out of the sides and be wasted. A percolation tank acts much like a nalla bund, holding a large amount of water and allowing it to slowly percolate into the soil. Money was donated by those who could give, and government grants were also received to support the project. Further, to help keep the soil permeable and help with percolation trees were planted around the tank. Once the tank was renovated it could hold 323,378 cubic meters of water! They were now well on their way to recharging their groundwater.
The logical next step was to dig wells near the tank, however, digging wells takes money, and the villagers didn’t have very much. To deal with this problem Anna brought together 16 poor farmers that held continuous plots (plots adjacent to one another), and they dug a well that was to be shared among them. Half of the cost was offset by labor provided by the farmers, and Anna borrowed the other half for materials. This well provided a regular supply of water for 35 acres of land, and was the first of eight community wells constructed over the next two years. Once all of the wells were constructed (and there was a supply of water due to the water harvesting projects) they were able to irrigate 700-800 acres of land and had water year round! To bring even more water to the community gully plugs and contour trenches were built, and shrubs, trees and grass were planted along the hillsides all around the village.
One last project specifically related to bringing irrigation water to the Raleghan Siddhi was to lift water from a canal 3km away. There had been 100 other attempts to lift water from this canal by other people, and they all had failed, but Anna and the people of Raleghan Siddhi succeeded. How did they do what so many others couldn’t? Their success is attributed to the formation of the Krishna Pani Purvatha Society to oversee the project and to maintain it. The society provided leadership, an administration system and held people accountable for doing their jobs and following the rules. There are 260 members of the society, 11 of which are chosen to be part of a committee that meets regularly. They have rules and guidelines to decide how much each farmer is charged for electricity and water based on cropping patterns, and each farmer has to outline how much water they will require, and failing to give this information results in a rate increase. People are held accountable to do their jobs, and are disciplined for failing to do so. However, discipline is rarely required because everyone is working towards a common goal of a productive and healthy Raleghan Siddhi.
Other projects Anna organized the village include the installation of boreholes and handpumps to provide drinking water, the planting of 400,000 trees, the introduction of “social fencing” to keep cattle from grazing indiscriminately, and stall feeding of livestock with cultivated fodder from their 500 acres of grassland. Drip irrigation was also introduced and successfully implemented by a number of farmers in order to conserve their precious water.
It should be noted that all of this success came from simple, traditional technologies that have been around for centuries. In this day and age everyone’s looking for the newest technology to solve the world’s problems, but a lot of the time we should be looking to the past for the solutions we seek.
Because of the work Anna and the people of Raleghan Siddhi have done their village now has plentiful amounts of water and is no longer a place of despair. People are happy. They have time to talk to one another and enjoy their neighbors. Their village is self-sufficient and they can grow crops year round. People and their crops are more productive than they’ve ever been and they are able to grow a wider variety of crops. Milk production has increased by four times the amount villagers previously were able to get. They no longer have to worry about having drinking water year round, and the woman no longer have to walk long distances to fetch water. Children can now get an education. There are too many great things going on in this village for me to write about them all, but needless to say, the people of Raleghan Siddhi are much better off now than they were pre-1975. But why did it work out this way?
When Anna came back to Raleghan Siddhi he brought with him a strong value system based on sharing, compassion, and equality. He organized the community and convinced them to implement the practice of sterilization (I am assuming to help control the population), a ban on addiction, ban on felling trees, and a ban on grazing. In addition, it was expected that everyone in the village would participate. With each new task the village would decide on an amount of time for each person to spend providing labor. This made sure that everyone did their part, and that no one had to do more than their share. It was a fair system and was the cornerstone of Raleghan Siddhi’s success. Participation gave the people of the community a sense of ownership and pride, and improved monitoring of the projects once they were complete to ensure they lasted for years.
When people get involved it motivates them. All of the sudden you’re not sitting around all day thinking about your problems, you’re taking part in the solution. You’re making a real difference in your community, and one that could be seen. Raleghan Siddhi turned itself around in 10-15 years. Yes, that may sound like a long time, but some things were completed within one year, some within the next few years, and so on. Everything built upon the project that was completed prior until the entire village was what it is today (and it continues to be improved).
There are a lot of communities around the world that are living today in the conditions that Raleghan Siddhi was living in in 1975. The story of Raleghan Siddhi is a story of hope. It is there to show you that anything is possible even in the darkest of times. If you’re a normal reader of HydrateLife you know that I write a series called Water Heroes. I could have made this a Water Heroes article about Anna, but this story isn’t about one man. Yes, Anna was the motivation, but it took the entire community to make this change happen and to make it last. Hopefully this article can inspire others to motivate their community to make some real and positive changes, and bring happiness to their home.
Below you’ll find a video that talks about what has happened in Raleghan Siddhi. Thanks for reading.