“Only when people demanded water did we get involved, because we knew that without their participation, it would fail.”
Sarita Yadav is a determined woman. Growing up in Indore, she saw first-hand how dirty water impacted her community. “We had no options,” she recalls. “It was either the borehole water or no water, and people were sick all the time.”
One of the main ways humans experience the impact of climate change is through water. Wet areas are getting wetter, while dry areas are getting drier. Indore faces noticeable water deficits in both quantity and quality. Most of its water comes from the Narmada River, located about 70 kilometers from the city, making access both costly and energy-intensive. Even when water is available, the quality tends to be low. The communities who suffer the greatest from lack of access to water are more often than not at the lower end of the income spectrum.
TARU Leading Edge, the local partner in the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN), supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, and the Indore Municipal Corporation, are implementing a water management project to tackle these problems by diversifying Indore’s water sources.
Working with Sarita’s local community mobilization organization, Basti Vikas Samiti, where she is the President, they are leading a movement to get safe, clean drinking water to residents of her communities.
This includes piloting efforts that build reverse osmosis drinking water facilities in a large slum, Rahul Gandhi Nagar, installing rainwater harvesting systems and community storage tanks at Devshree Nagar, a local community, and setting up individual storage tanks in another local community, Narwal Kankad.
She acknowledges that it hasn’t always been easy to convince people that the reverse osmosis (RO) water plant will benefit them. The land was originally earmarked for a temple, but Sarita persuaded the community that access to clean drinking water would answer their prayers for good health.
Before getting started, TARU undertook an extensive context analysis survey to gauge community demand. Megha Burvey, a consultant at TARU, explains that engaging local volunteers to get the community involved was important. “This type of social mapping helped us determine what areas to work in,” she says. “Only when people demanded water did we get involved, because we knew that without their participation, it would fail. Thus, the project design also factored in the availability of strong local leadership.”
Rahul Gandhi Nagar was the first slum to benefit from a reverse osmosis water plant, which was supported by land and electricity subsidies from the Municipal Corporation. Basti Vikas Samiti then prepared people for the operating and maintenance costs.
According to Sarita, the local people still weren’t entirely convinced at first. “They thought the taste was bitter,” she recalls, “but they did realize the benefits.”
“Now, clean water gets stored in the community tanks for our use whenever we need it. We no longer have to wait for electricity to pump water through the bore wells.”
These projects initially required community financial support, with households each contributing 100 rupees (US$ 1.65) to build the stands needed for the tanks. The community ultimately decided that it was also ready to pay five rupees (US$ 0.08) per 20 liters of water, and this made the project financially viable. Now 200 households use the water for drinking and cooking, and disease incidence has since seen a sharp fall.
TARU is in the process of handing over the operation of the RO plant to the community. Success of this pilot project will help the Indore Municipal Corporation plan more decentralized, community-owned water management solutions in other areas.
Individual and community storage tanks are now saving people both time and electricity. Dinesh Malviya, from Devshree Nagar, where two community storage tanks have been installed, recounts that people sometimes had to wait in line at the bore well for hours, making them late for work.
“This would cause fights every day,” he says. “Now, clean water gets stored in the community tanks for our use whenever we need it. We no longer have to wait for electricity to pump water through the bore wells.”
Through ACCCRN, the project is building local capacity, implementing solutions, and slowly working toward building resilience in their communities. “This is only where we’re beginning,” says Sarita as she reflects on her experience. “We have the knowledge we need now. We have much more work to do, but we have shown that when we work together, we can identify not only problems, but the right solutions as well.”