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Kundis sustain life in Thar

The resilience of the people of the Thar is remarkable, making it the most densely populated desert of the world. And what has sustained them are some traditonal water harvesting structures.

india Updated: May 22, 2003 18:30 IST

Ratan Lal of Raja-ki-dhani village of Churu district says just one thing is keeping him in his drought stricken village this year - the water in his village kundi.

Despite the fifth consecutive year of drought in Rajasthan, the kundi, a traditional water harvesting structure of the area, supplies him and the other villagers with water. And this is the only source of water in a village where other water sources included piped water and wells.

Prolonged drought: The effects of the longest drought in recorded history are showing. Not just is there hardly any trace of surface water, even ground water levels have fallen to dangerously low levels.

As the groundwater in the Thar is found at 100-125 feet below the surface and is too salty for human consumption, traditionally the people have had to collect rainwater during the monsoon months and store it throughout the year. Not that the monsoon rains are generous in this area - the annual average is about 900 to 1000 millimetres. Hence, collection of water has been of primal importance for survival.

So, how have people managed? By making kundis. But what exactly is a kundi? A kundi is a traditional water harvesting structure found all over the Thar. In existence for centuries, it is the kundis that have made existence possible in this extremely inhospitable climate. Found all over the desert, the kundis have definitely played a crucial role in making the Thar the most densely populated desert in the world.

It is only with the setting up of the state government after independence that the role of kundis declined. And not by the choice of the local communities. The ownership of water changed from being managed by the local people to the government, which also in effect told the people it was responsible for supplying water. As it laid pipes to individual homes, the use of kundis reduced.

However, the last five-odd decades have seen the government repeatedly being unable to fulfill its obligation to supply adequate water, people have had to increasingly fall back on kundis.

First Published: May 22, 2003 18:30 IST