Nurses—Making a Difference in Global Health

Nurse Stories:  Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger

Water and Development

Almost 30 years ago, in drought-prone villages like Zikree and Khandavi, in rural Maharashtra, India, impoverished families lived on the brink of starvation. Deaths due to dehydration and malnutrition were a regular occurrence. Subsistence farming was next to impossible because the villages lacked water and were surrounded by infertile wasteland.

Today, although annual rainfall is only 14 inches, Zikree and Khandavi are prosperous farming communities with sufficient water in the village wells to provide all villagers with safe chlorinated drinking water year-round. Sorghum crops are being harvested and many other crops are growing. Villagers are healthy and happy and very proud of their achievements, and so they should be!

With the help of engineers and the Comprehensive Rural Health Project (CRHP), as well as some government funding and food-for-work incentives, 35 villages in rural Maharashtra built continuous contour trenches to keep rainwater where it is needed for crops, and to keep topsoil from eroding during monsoon rains.

Refilling trenches were also constructed. Good soil was kept on one side of the trench and the poor hard soil on the other. In the trenches, villagers planted trees then refilled the trenches with only good soil. In the beginning, villagers carried water to the trenches to keep the trees alive but now the hardwood trees have deep roots and need no care at all. These trees help to prevent soil erosion.

The monsoon rains carve natural gullies in the soil following the slope of the land. Rainwater, flowing down the gullies, carries away a lot of topsoil. Villagers strategically built rock gully plugs in several locations along the gullies to a) slow the speed of the water flow, b) encourage water to infiltrate into the soil, and c) capture the eroded topsoil. Gullies were rerouted so rainwater refilled village wells.

Gabion structures were built using local rock bound into square blocks with wire mess, making a step like structure on a natural slope leading to a water catchment pond. The rock-steps slow water flow, reducing topsoil loss. Gabion structures were also built for groundwater recharging and stabilizing walls of water channels and catchment areas.

Wooden and concrete check dams and Nala Bunds (mini percolation tanks) were constructed to slow and store water for irrigation and also for ground water recharging.

Armed with hand tools and determination, it took each of the 35 villages about 5 years to get the construction part of the project completed. Patience is a virtue with watershed projects. It takes 15-20 years for the soil quality to improve, but improvement is definitely seen.

In Zikree and Khandavi, as in the other rural villages, the watershed project:

  • Increased the amount of fertile soil

  • Improved crop productivity, and

  • Increased the water table level

The project increased availability of work close to home, decreasing the need for seasonal migration for work and resolving issues of landlessness and bonded labour.

Implementing a watershed project, where community participation was essential, promoted community organization, engagement and empowerment and started a process of social development, which allowed for progress in the areas of health, education, and income generation.

Zikree and Khandavi now have village health workers, farmer's clubs and women’s groups. With safe drinking water and nutritious foods, these villages are able to run nutrition programs for poor children. All children have the opportunity to go to school because they have a permanent residence. Living conditions have improved with the increase in cash flow. Now homes are constructed of cement, with doors and window screens to protect against mosquitoes-borne illnesses, and there are toilets and soak pits to manage wastewater.

Access to water has made starvation and dehydration a thing of the past for the 35 villages involved in the Watershed project. Access to water allowed villages, like Zikree and Khandavi, to develop and thrive.


Comprehensive Rural Health Project

Author’s Contact Information

Lee Mantini RN, MHScN
Health and Development Consultant
RR3 Picton, Ontario Canada, K0K 2T0