In the past few decades, many states in India have been experiencing continued levels of extreme drought throughout many regions, classifying them ‘dire situations’. Water is often inaccessible in the dry season and has in recent years become increasingly unreliable in its annual rainfall amounts. Women must resort to walking many miles, often daily, to collect it for their families. The high saline levels in many water bodies also make them an unfavorable choice for drinking straight from the source.

Even in the areas with adequate rainfall, there are water-related crises because no measures were taken to conserve water. In order to tackle these water-concerned problems, it is necessary to harvest each and every drop of water which falls from the sky. Collecting water when it comes- and storing it for times when rains fail to come- is highly beneficial. It also greatly reduces travel times and distances for women, enabling them to focus on other tasks.

Barefoot College’s Rainwater Harvesting Program was piloted in 1986, in response to the growing need for clean water. This program involves a committee of the organization’s staff, women & men from the community, and various stakeholders in an inclusive and participatory fashion that invites everyone to share responsibilities.

Throughout the country, to date the organization has constructed 1,600 rainwater harvesting tanks in government schools & community buildings, benefitting more than 2 million people. Of these, 500 tanks were constructed under a project by Minister of Water Resources, including 220 village ponds which benefit more than 0.12 million people, 15 anicuts benefitting more than 0.15 million, 45 dug wells recharging more than 130 million litres of rainwater and 4 small dams benefitting around 48,000 people reaching poorest of the poor communities across 18 states.

These programs have proven effective when globally replicated for testing in almost all kinds of terrain (plain, desert, hills, plateau, etc.). What began out of a response to increasingly critical situations are bearing fruit still. This success could be credited largely to the blending of both traditional techniques along with modern technological innovations that enable everyone’s engagement and cooperation.

Constructing rainwater harvesting tanks in schools contribute to the success of the program’s 5 intended benefits, which include: immediate provision of a clean water source for students & staff, directly impacting capabilities of the community, improving the quality of life of children, the sourcing of environmentally sustainable water with a complete filtering mechanism and improved Child Nutrition. It also enables the schools to install functional toilets, improving quality of life for many students and also a start with plantations, supporting a lively environment.

Such methods lead to the empowerment of the local community, equipping them with skills and monetary control so that they are self-sufficient. A joint bank account, including the monitoring duties of appointed signatories, a purchasing committee and account keepers, for example, encourages collective investment in the project at large. Everyone is equally held accountable, being depended on with directing some key aspects of the system. People coming from poorest of the poor communities are given a chance to work as laborers and masons.

In 2006, Barefoot College had installed India’s first Solar Powered Desalination plant in Kotri village of Ajmer district. This plant uses Reverse Osmosis technology to purify saline water. The output of this plant is to provide 750 litres of potable water to local communities making them free from many water-borne diseases. With local communities successfully adopting this technology, this has been replicated in 5 other villages providing potable water to nearly 5,000 people living close to Sambhar saltwater lake belt in the state of Rajasthan.

Around 80% of India’s population is dependent on groundwater to meet their drinking and domestic water needs. Excessive use of groundwater is lowering the groundwater table which is directly affecting water quality. A more ideal approach could be an integrated water resource management system, where ground & surface water is equally utilized. There is a need for developing water conservation structures which could provide water whenever necessary for agriculture and livestock.