A random idea given by a villager during in an informal talk with Bahraich’s district magistrate in 2009 is changing the way the administration fought floods in the state. Called ‘elevated hand pumps’, the implementation of this idea since 2010 floods has been doing wonders in nearly 300 villages of Bahraich and many other villages of UP.
The idea was first recognised by the Uttar Pradesh Planning Department and was adopted by UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who formed a state committee under his secretary Amod Kumar in December 2015, to implement it across the 21 flood prone districts of the state.
And before the onset of monsoon this year, a total of 2549 hand-pumps in all the 21 districts were raised above the highest flood level (HFL), making it biggest self-sufficient potable water management for the flood-hit areas in the world.
“Now, when floods sweep any village that has elevated hand pumps, the villagers can get potable water by reaching these hand pumps. But, they have to wade through the flood water or reach in boats. Most flood villages have a boat or two,” said Virendra Pandey, a flood activist in Bahraich.
In August and September, floods often attain severity in UP’s 21 flood prone districts. So now, when floods occur, villagers at least have access to drinking water.
Subsequently, the idea was also implemented by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Delhi.
What’s the idea?
Bhaggu, 69, of Sohras village in Kaiserganj district of Bahraich says: “Since the age of 5, I remember that Ghagra flooded my village every year and the government has been a mute spectator of our sufferings.” His main concern is the availability of drinking water during floods. “During floods, we have water everywhere, but not a drop of potable water. All wells, ponds, taps or hand pumps get submerged. When floods occur, government machinery or NGOs distribute food packets, tarpaulin, kerosene, match-boxes, but no one ever bothers to do something for drinking water.”
Dharmraj, 46, who holds the same view, says: “So the villagers drink muddy water, either as it is or by sieving it through a cloth.”
This often resulted in outbreak of several water-borne diseases during the floods or as the floods receded. So, Rigzin Samphel, the then DM of Bahraich, ahead of the 2010 monsoon, began talking to villagers. An unidentified farmer sitting with folded hands suggested, “What if we raise existing hand-pumps from their ground level above HFL.”
“The idea looked appealing, and we realised that it did not require formulation of any new project but would only need elevation of the existing hand-pumps with minor funds,” said Samphel, who is now one of the officers in CM’s team.
The Economist magazine, in 2008, rated Samphel as one of the hardest working bureaucrats in the world. Soon after, the union rural development ministry awarded him for implementation of the rural employment scheme MGNREGA.
The district administration formed a team from Jal Nigam’s flood division. The engineers designed a prototype for elevated hand-pumps with a broad base to withstand flood water pressure. And in 4 months, drawing funds from the respective panchayats, raised 300 existing hand pumps in many villages above the HFL.
WhatsApp group for monitoring
When the CM’s ‘Hand pumps’ team comprising officers from Jal Nigam, Panchayat Raj, Rural Development and Rural Engineering Services began to work on it, they created a WhatsApp group of officers in all the 21 districts for day-to-day monitoring of the progress.
Engineer Utkarsh Shukla, the technical consultant for Ballia, wrote on the ‘Hand pumps’ WhatsApp: “All the gram pradhans are so impressed with the project that they are doing elevation of existing hand pumps in non-flood zones as well.”