Logo Deutsch Sitemap Contact
Welcome to Germany The Embassy Foreign and EU Policy Infos for Germans Economy Culture

German Agro Action Seminar in Pune:
Harvesting Water

By: Rainer Hörig 

In the summer of 2004 Indian meteorologists predicted a "good" monsoon, meaning plenty of rain. Not much later news reports about a major flood in eastern parts of India and Bangla Desh appeared. The world sent emergency teams and supplies. At the same time millions of people suffered a drought in Rajasthan and central India. Drought and floods are two sides of the same coin. For the peoples of South Asia a good monsoon is necessary for survival. But rains can turn from blessings to curse when natural resources are destroyed or misused by man.

Through the Hindi-word "jangal" the forests of South Asia have presented the world with the prototype of a rich, thick tropical vegetation. But since colonial times many of these forests have been plundered mercilessly. Conservationists estimate that there is just a third of the original forest cover left in India. A healthy forest is able to absorb a large amount of water and release it in small doses over a long period of time. That is why many rivers carry water even in the dry season. But today in areas where the forest has been destroyed the monsoon rains often rush down naked hills and flood the plains. In the hills many springs dry up shortly after the rains stop.

The wild rivers emerging from Himalayan heights were to be tamed by high dams and long embankments. Through these structures man has robbed the rivers of their freedom to expand in times of high water availability. If embankments break, the river's water flood vast landscapes. Since it can not retreat back into the river, the floods last for many weeks and months. In Bihar, e.g., scores of villagers are thus not able to farm their lands.

Poverty forces the poorest to search for livelihood in risky environments like river islands, marshes or steppes. Unfortunately they are also most affected if any disaster occurs.

Droughts and floods are the harbingers of a much more broader water crisis which countries like India are heading for. While the demand for water is rising steadily, sometimes rapidly, the resources are being depleted. Where the destruction of forests has not stopped, in future rivers will carry less water. In regions with intensive agriculture groundwater is often either poisoned with nitrates and pesticides or depleted beyond repair.

Citizens of wealthy countries share the responsibility for such disasters. Eighty million Germans pollute the earths atmosphere with as many gases as one billion Indians do. The world over our climate is been thrown out of balance. Storms, floods and droughts occur more frequently. South Asia is no exception.

The water crisis will dominate this century and will lead to numerous conflicts, said development expert J.K.Arora while addressing participants of a workshop held in Pune recently. Donor agency "German Agro Action" had invited Indian partners to discuss water issues in Maharasthra's boom town. In his opening lecture Arora, a retired civil servant, referred to India's experiences with the Green Revolution and large irrigation projects. Large dams have in most cases not lived up to the expectations set in them. In his view, In spite of thousands of big dams water will get scarce in many regions of India in the near future. Conflicts over water will rise manifold, predicted Arora and pointed to the river Kaveri in South India, where farmers and riparian states have consistently failed to arrive at a consensus on the sharing of river waters.

Water expert and former World Bank consultant Sudhirendar Sharma estimates that not even half of all Indian villages operate a proper drinking water supply system. For the poor staying in city slums the supply situation is even worse, Sharma emphasized in his lecture. Achyut Das, director of the development organisation "Agragamee" which works in the hills of Orissa, reported how the construction of large dams and opening of mines have destroyed local water resources and put villagers into trouble. "Rivers are dead, their water unusable," said Das.

Over three days development experts exchanged experiences and networked their groups scattered over the whole of India. Most participants agreed that the privatization of water supply, as supported by the World Bank, would not provide an adequate solution for India. The poor would not be able to afford the higher costs of private water supply. But most of water problems could be solved in the villages itself, by regenerating natural water resources. What is known as "watershed development" is a low-tech solution which directly involves local people. Some call it "water harvesting".

Villagers dig shallow ditches along the contours of the hills surrounding their village, put up series of mini dams made from bolders and mud in small rivulets, construct small dams and reservoirs in local rivers. Cost-effective water structures like these help to catch the rain water where it falls, give it a chance to percolate into the ground und replenish groundwater stocks. People plant trees and feed their cattle in stalls so that natural vegetation can recover. With progressing regeneration water collects again in the wells. Soon water is available for a second harvest. Many a village has achieved a surplus in food production this way.

More and more NGO's dedicate themselves to watershed development. The Center and many state governments run programs to propagate it. But in order to succeed, it is crucial to ensure active participation of local residents, emphasized participants of the German Agro Action workshop in Pune.


German Agro Action was established in 1962. It is today one of the largest private organisations working in the area of development cooperation and humanitarian aid in Germany. German President Horst Köhler is its patron. Donations from the population at large as well as grants from the German government, the European Union and the United Nations fund its work in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Project work is carried out through local partner organisations and concentrates on:

  • agriculture and environment

  • survival and reconstruction

  • children and youth

  • drinking water supply

  • crafts and business

  • strengthening self-help groups and partner organisations

Currently German Agro Action carries out 240 projects in 45 countries.

About the Author:
Rainer Hörig is a freelance journalist living in Pune

 Previous Article   Index   Next Article
publication data