World Water Day: Water for desert communities at the fore-front of GRAVIS’ work

Water is one of the earth’s most essential resources and every year on March 22, people around the globe mark the World Water Day.

The event was started by the United Nations in 1993 to put a focus on the need to sustain freshwater supplies.

This year’s theme centers on wastewater, with a push for conservation through a campaign called, ‘Why waste water?’

According to the UN, more than 80 percent of the world’s wastewater goes back into the environment without being reused.  As such, the organization is advocating for the proper treatment and recycling of wastewater for purposes such as business and garden use.

However, when waste water that hasn’t been properly treated is reused through consumption it can cause significant health concerns. For example, 1.8 billion people get their drinking water from an area contaminated with waste, putting them at risk for a myriad of illnesses including cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio, according to the United Nations. What’s more, the UN reports inadequate sanitation plays a role in close to 850,000 deaths each year. Exacerbating the problem is developing countries’ lack of sufficient infrastructure and resources to efficiently manage and sustain waste water treatment.

One of those developing countries is India. Though India holds the title of the fastest growing major economy according to widespread reports including the The Economic Times, many of India’s rural villages lack toilets. In fact, India’s 2011 census reported that less than half of Indian homes contained latrines. The issue has garnered increased attention in the media through stories of a bride requesting a toilet as a wedding gift, the requirement of grooms to prove their homes contain a toilet before a government-led mass wedding ceremony, and the government paying people to use restrooms.

Without a bathroom available, people often openly defecate which leads to health, sanitary and hygiene issues.

To remedy that, GRAVIS is working to ensure rural villages are equipped with a proper toilet to provide a private space for bathroom duties. Since 2012, GRAVIS has been working alongside 20 villages to equip them with latrines. To date, GRAVIS has installed more than 500 toilets in rural India which are complete with a pump that deposits waste into a pit.

Moving away from wastewater and onto drinking water, GRAVIS’ efforts to provide safe, accessible drinking water to the estimated 25 million people living in the Thar Desert are many.

One of those measures is the installation of bio-sand filters which improve drinking water quality. The filters work by using local materials such as gravel and sand to sift the water. A layer of liquid removes pathogens.

world water day 3 by laura
Samdu Devi (on left) has enjoyed better health since receiving her bio- sand filter

Samdu Devi and her eight children who live in the village of Mahadev Nagar, Chirai drank straight from a naadi, or pond before their home received a bio-sand filter. Drinking unfiltered water caused stomach pains, headaches and other overall health issues for the family, Devi said

Further, the water tasted and smelled unpleasantly.

“Before, when she was drinking out of naadi, it smelled like they are drinking with sand with mud,” Samdu said through a translator.

However, after Samdu’s family received the filter, their health problems improved.

“They are having good quality of health, no headaches, joint pain or stomach pain,” Samdu said through a translator.

GRAVIS’ goal is to install bio-sand filters in conjunction with the each of the 6,635 taankas, or water storage units, and 588 beries, or percolated wells which it has constructed in rural India as of 2016.

On the topic of water conservation efforts, growing crops with the measly 4-12 inches of rain the Thar Desert receives annually is an obstacle for rural Indian farmers.

For example, in the village Chandaliya, the limited rainfall makes it difficult to grow healthy food such as fruits and vegetables. This poses a challenge for people like Arjun Singh, a farmer and father of two young children.

“It is compulsory to have nutritious food especially for the children,” Singh said through a translator.

In an effort to help Singh provide his with children the nutrients they need, GRAVIS created a garden of fruits and vegetables that can survive on limited rainfall such as pomegranate, lemon and gunda on his property.

“If they (the children) are having nutritious food and a balanced diet, they can improve their immune system,” said Singh through a translator.

From providing toilets to improving water quality to ensuring families receive adequate nutrition, GRAVIS celebrates the role water plays in the lives of rural Indians on March 22 and every day of the year.

* by Laura Michels, Volunteer

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