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LEARNINGS FROM THE PAST: INDIA’S INDIGENOUS WATER CONSERVATION METHODS

Today India is a water stressed nation, standing on the brink of an acute water crisis. Water, the very element that supports life seems to be drying out of this country. Hence, it’s more important than ever before to revisit our past traditions to take inspiration from water conservation methods that evolved centuries ago and have sustained till date.

News18.com | Updated: August 25, 2021, 12:45 PM IST

India is endowed with a wide variety of terrains and topographies. From high mountains, to extensive plateaus and wide plains traversed by mighty rivers. Just like the ever changing landscape and culture of India that is ingrained in its past, water conservation methods to date back to several centuries. 

Today India is a water stressed nation, standing on the brink of an acute water crisis. Water, the very element that supports life seems to be drying out of this country. Hence, it’s more important than ever before to revisit our past traditions to take inspiration from water conservation methods that evolved centuries ago and have sustained till date. Traditional societies have always consciously cared for anything emanating from nature and tried their best to respect and conserve it. This ecology centric and reverential belief of traditional societies towards Mother Nature gave birth to water saving methods which is prevalent in rural India till date. 

The Apatani tribe of Ziro Valley in Arunachal Pradesh till date practices the wet rice cum fish cultivation. Ziro Valley is a plateau where the main source of water for households and irrigation is from a single small river and some spring wells. Irrigation of the paddy fields in the entire valley happens through a network of irrigation canals and channels. The water used in the paddy field flows to more fields in the valley downstream. These merge back to the small stream which flows back to the river at last. In this way, there is perennial source of water in the valley. Strict rules are followed in the valley for not constructing modern structures in the vicinity of paddy field as this will disturb the ecosystem.

Bamboo Drip irrigation system of water conservation is practiced in Meghalaya where usage and conservation of water is done usi9ng bamboo pipes. Practised in Meghalaya, its primary purpose is to irrigate plantations. This 200-year-old system involves 18-20 litres of water entering the bamboo pipe system every minute to irrigate the fields downhill. A brilliant drip irrigation system, it uses bamboos of various sizes and reduces the output to 20- 80 drops per minute, which is splendid for betel leaf and black pepper crops.

In Nagaland, Zabo system of water conversation is practiced since centuries. Zabo which means impounding water is a unique combination of water conservation with animal care, forests and agriculture. Zabo is used to deal with a lack of drinking water supply. During the monsoon, rainwater that falls on the hilltops is collected into the pond like structures that are carved out on the hillsides. The water is then passed onto cattle yards below from where the water enters the paddy fields rich in manure. 

Alwar district of Rajasthan is one of the driest regions in India with water scarcity being a common occurrence. After the drought of the 1980s, the villagers attempted to revive the traditional method. Johad, a crescent-shaped small check dam built from earth and rock to intercept and conserve rainwater, was thus reinvented. This helps to improve percolation and increases groundwater recharge.

One of the oldest water conservation systems in India, Eri (tank) of Tamil Nadu is still widely used around the state. With over a third of irrigation in the state being made possible due to Eri, the traditional water harvesting system plays an important part in agriculture. They also have other advantages such as prevention of soil erosion, recharge of groundwater, and flood control.

The above indigenous traditions of saving water highlight how water wisdom lies in community ownership, participation and taking collective responsibility. Traditional water wisdom is not taught but is rather inherited and preserved. It’s not modern science that will give a solution to our water crisis but our own heritage. The way we can avert the impending water crisis is by choosing between constructing and preserving water bodies. It’s imperative that lakes, ponds and step wells in modern cities are revived not by modern cementing but by traditional water conservation methods. 

And to reiterate how Mission Paani’s aim of creating a healthier India with abundant water is a fight each one of us must contribute to, we have Akshay Kumar, the common man’s hero, exhorting one and all to join the initiative, on World Water Week. His endorsement of the message showcases the magnitude of the mission, and is the perfect rallying cry for a battle which will determine the shape of our future. 

You can watch Akshay Kumar’s stirring message of hope here below. 

Be part of the change. Log on to https://www.news18.com/mission-paani/ and join the movement. 

The Biggest Water Conservation Movement for Better Health, Hygiene and Sanitation.

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