In scorching sun, UP villages without a drop to drink
The scorching midday sun beats down on Adari Devi and her 10-year-old daughter, Reeta, as they make their way down a steep slope to the almost-dry river Malia in eastern Uttar Pradesh, empty aluminium pitchers in their hands.
Adari Devi digs a pit in the riverbed and waits. In a while, water starts oozing out of the ground and, once it clears a little, she fills the two pitchers. She places one on her daughter’s head and one on her own, and then the duo begin the steep climb back to their hilltop hut in a forested area in Son Nagar Tola under Jorukhad village panchayat in Sonbhadra district.
A neighbour, Pramila Devi, watches them go through this drill at least twice every day. The minute Adari Devi reaches her hut, her husband Sudan drinks the water.
Hand pumps don’t work in this village in eastern Uttar Pradesh, in many pockets of which the water level has dipped below 300 feet. Many villagers drink water directly from the pit on the river bed, for lack of a better option. When the pits go dry at the height of summer, the villagers trek 1.5 km to nearby Mehuli to fetch water. “Fetching water from a pit in the river bed is my daily routine. Sometimes, I have to go there thrice a day. After all, we have to quench our thirst. The water problem gets really bad after February,” Adari Devi says.
Sudan says the water collected by digging the pits is much cleaner than the little that remains in the river. “We have no choice but to dig a fresh pit in the riverbed every three or four days,” he says. “As we dig, muddy water oozes out. We wait for five to 10 minutes. Soon, the water becomes clean because the sand and soil begin to settle at the bottom. Then we fill our pitchers.”
One of his neighbours, Arjun, too, does the same. He is a marginal farmer, and his family members as well as his goats and cows quench their thirst the same way. He says that every year the water crisis returns to haunt the village and it is high time the government does something about it. The authorities are aware of the problem, he alleges, but have not bothered to take any steps.
Son Nagar is among 200 villages across Sonbhadra district facing an acute water shortage. Twenty of these villages, including Majhauli, Katauli, Basin and Beldandi, are in Duddhi developmental block that shares its boundary with Jharkhand. There is also Ghorawal development block, declared a dark zone around three years ago because of declining ground water levels. In certain pockets, the level has gone below 300 feet, especially at Hirankundi village.
Gopal Das, a villager, says, “Most of the hand pumps in my village have gone dry. The water level has fallen to 300 feet in many villages. Getting water for our daily needs is a luxury. We rely on tankers deployed by the district administration to ensure water supply in villages like Khaddweur and many other hamlets.”
Rajesh Kumar, who lives in Khaddewur, points to a dry hand pump in front of his house to highlight the plight of the region. The local people say over 120 villages in the block are facing an acute water crisis since the first week of March. “We want a permanent solution to this water crisis, which troubles us every summer. In many villages, people have to ride a cycle rickshaw for about 1.5 km to get drinking water,” another villager, Balwinder Kumar, says. Nothing has changed in the last three decades, the villagers claim.
Prashant Kumar, who is home on vacation from NIT Sikkim where he is doing his B Tech, says he has been seeing this water crisis since his childhood days. The cattle also feel the heat, so much so that their owners give them water before taking them out into the fields.
Ghorawal block development officer, Niranjan Mishra, concedes there is a water crisis in over 70 villages. “Over 200 tankers ensure there is water supply to the affected villages daily,” he says, adding he personally monitors the water supply in Ghorawal area.
Chief development officer, Ajay Kumar Dwivedi, who is the officiating district magistrate, says, “We [the district administration] have taken many steps to address the water crisis in the district. Around 600 tankers supply water to villages across the district. We ensure that water is supplied to every village that faces a crisis.”
The district administration is working on a plan to harvest rainwater and has set a target to dig 5,000 ponds, says Dwivedi. Digging of 1,600 ponds began on World Environment Day on June 5 and these are expected to be ready by the first week of July. The rest will be dug up in the next three months. Work is also underway to construct underground water tanks at various locations, he adds.