Conserving Water the Traditional Way

Conserving Water the Traditional Way

The United Nations Development Programme-supported water conservation project in the arid Marwar region of the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan has shown that traditional knowledge and community involvement goes a long way in saving every precious drop of water.

Helping Communities Help Themselves

Treading long distances in search of water under the scorching sun is a thing of the past for Pappi Devi from Godavas village in the arid Jodhpur district of Rajasthan. A 60 kilo-litre tank constructed by her village community that stores and supplies fresh water to 12 families in the village has saved her an ordeal that used to take up her three to four hours everyday and leave her exhausted.


  • Helped renovate and construct over 250 traditional water harvesting structures in the Marwar region of Rajasthan
  • Over 200,000 people belonging to socially marginalised groups have benefited from this initiative
  • 251 Jal Sabhas or water management councils were formed that play an integral role in ensuring a participatory process at the village-level
  • A 140 percent reduction in cost of water supply per family has indirectly had an impact on issues of poverty alleviation

Conserving water the traditional way“With this tank, we have benefited a lot because it is so close by. It helps collect rainwater. Water is clean and sweet. Earlier, we used to drink saline water,” says Pappi Devi. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-supported project, implemented by the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF), and financed by the Italian Development Cooperation, has helped to renovate or construct over 250 traditional water harvesting structures in the Marwar region of Rajasthan which is one of the most arid regions in India. While UNDP provided technical expertise, JBF manages the programme. Over 200,000 people, who belong mainly to socially marginalised groups such as Dalits, tribespersons and Other Backward Castes have benefited from this initiative.

The focus of the joint initiative was to evolve solutions in confluence of local community members with an aim to achieve community-based disaster reduction and recovery through participation of communities and local self-governments. The initiative is also a thrust towards achieving India’s and the Millennium Development Goals to reduce the proportion of people with sustainable access to safe drinking water.

To illustrate, the Kakrala pond that was constructed in Gulab Nagar village of Jodhpur district was a result of financial contribution of the community members themselves. This resulted in positive and enduring changes. The pond collects fresh rainwater, which lasts up to seven months. It is a vital source of water for almost 365 households. “This pond that we have constructed has helped us a lot. Earlier we had to pay tankers to get water or our women had to walk long distances to collect water. Now, we have easy access to fresh rainwater for our families and our cattle,” says Koja Ram Dundi, a 60-year-old resident.

Through series of community meetings, 251 Jal Sabhas or water management councils were formed. These Jal Sabhas have played an integral role in the success of the initiative as they have been created through a participatory process at village-level and are empowered to plan, supervise building, monitor and manage one water body each.

The construction of harvesting structures through the project has helped to create an additional water storage capacity of 1.8 million cubic metres of water. It also brought other significant changes. An evaluation of the project from 2006 to 2008 showed that women have to walk less to fetch water. Families can have water during shortage periods, which can range from three to six months. These small efforts have ensured that the community has played a critical role in improving the availability of fresh and clean water in the parched region of Rajasthan. The evaluation report also indicates an indirect impact on issues of poverty alleviation through a 140 percent reduction in cost of water supply per family. This initiative has demonstrated that community participation, traditional knowledge and a little guidance is an effective combination in developing sustainable solutions at the grassroots level.

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