About 256 districts across India and a population of at least 330 million are in the grip of a severe drought in India. Such disasters, going by statistics from 1900, when 1.25 million people were killed, to 2002, when 310 million people were affected, have and will occur in the future as fears of climate change and global warming get only too real.
Water management thus is now a key requirement to mitigate the drought crisis India, where there is so much diversity in topography, geology, land cover and land use patterns. Extensive research needs to be done on water budgeting, water sharing, water governance and water markets. “Thus, water experts need to work together and develop integrated solutions for sustainable management of water resources,” says Pradnya Mathur, an MTech in aquacultural engineering from IIT Kharagpur. While studying for MTech, Mathur also did a one-year project in GIS (geographic information system, which uses computers to capture, store, check and display data related to earth’s surface) and remote sensing as she felt “it had good scope for agriculture and water management.”
A whole lot of questions started bothering Mathur when she was working in a rural development project, studying drought-prone villages. Seeing people struggling to reach a water source, trudging up and down hills to fill very small vessels with water which would be easier to carry back home made her wonder how they would manage if the source dried up. Watersheds to collect water and drain them to fields and villages had been developed, but these had run dry. Finding solutions then to work on community-based water management and climate change became a mission for her.
Mathur has been part of a team that handled drought situations in the semi-arid regions of Maharashtra. “One of the solutions we developed was a water budgeting tool. With the help of the community it was used for participatory crop planning based on available water in the community’s watersheds.” Drip irrigation (saving water by allowing it to drip slowly through pipes, valves to various parts of plants) was promoted as was composting to secure soil moisture for a longer period and kitchen gardening to utilise kitchen waste water. Farm ponds for collecting rain water were dug, thereby discouraging pumping of ground water.
Now a freelancer, Mathur, who was born in Mumbai and brought up in Dapoli, in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, has done extensive work in participatory water budgeting, crop planning based on water budgeting, irrigation advisories using CropWAT (a computer programme for the calculation of crop water and irrigation requirements based on soil, climate and crop data), hydrodynamics modelling using Excel, watershed net planning using GIS and aquaculture livelihood development. Her research interests are in community-based adaptation, water management, sustainable agriculture, GIS and remote sensing, training and capacity building.
Mathur, who loves travelling, has worked in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Meghalaya to study water dynamics. “And I am not done yet. This is just the beginning,”she says.