A loud cheer rents the air. Children run helter-skelter screaming and running up and down the hilly track. Water is finally flowing from the tap installed in their homes, they shout excitedly. Welcome to Methgharkila village, 40 km from Nasik in Maharashtra. A five km hilly track off the main road brings us to this sleepy village. Trudging to and from the nearest water body has been part of the daily grind for the residents of this village for as long as they can remember.
“In my own lifetime this is the first time that I am seeing running water from a tap. I’m so happy. I no longer have to tread nearly two kilometers of dangerous hilly road to fetch water,” says 50 year-old Lakshmi Bai Jadav her voice choked with emotions. Until now, Lakshmi Bai had to repeat her trip to fetch water up to three times a day.
Lakshmi Bai was not alone. With water hard to come by, the women of the region invariably have to make the rounds of the village well to fetch water for their families to drink and bathe, fill their kitchen pots, and do the family laundry. Finding enough water for family chores in the dry summer months was even harder.
Methgharkila village is one of the last few remaining villages under the Jalswarajya project still getting its water connection. Piped water was to reach their homes two years ago, but an inaccessible terrain with no road made logistics difficult. That’s when the villagers came together and built a road making it easier to transport equipment and material to lay the pipeline.
What is true of Methgharkila is also true of 26 of the 33 districts in rural Maharashtra where a change is sweeping the countryside brought about by the Jalswarajya project, the Maharashtra government’s innovative rural water supply and sanitation program, which began in the middle of 2003. The World Bank supported the project with $181 million.
Tap water reaches village homes
“Over the years we have taken great pains to get water to our homes. The village well does not have enough water. We have to wait for it to recharge after midnight and only then can we fetch water. I even fell into the well once while drawing water. Now we shall save so much time and effort,” says Chandrabhago Jhole of Methgharkila village.
Now, for the first time ever, village homes in large parts of rural Maharashtra are not starved for water even during the dry summer months. Today, some 1.2 million households in the region receive clean drinking water in their homes; more than half a million of these families live below the poverty line.
In a tribal village the villagers contributed 5 percent of the cost, while the Jalswarajya project provided the rest. Whereas in a non-tribal village, the villagers contributed 10 percent and the rest was from the project.
Access to sanitation has also improved
Not only has the project achieved many firsts in the area of providing access to water but has also been recognized for its initiatives in the sanitation sector.
Most of the houses in the project area now have both a water connection as well as a toilet. More than 1800 Gram Panchayats in the project area have been declared free of open defecation.
Bhargurdi village some 60 km from Nasik had no toilets till only five years ago. The water source would invariably get contaminated during monsoon leading to a number of health problems for villagers.
“We helped villagers build low cost toilets and used children and schools to influence people to make healthy changes,” says Santosh Yadav, a government employee and also a sanitation ambassador of the project.
“Today teachers regularly talk about cleanliness and the importance of washing hands. Thanks to the availability of water, our school is now growing vegetables in its own compound which are cooked for us for the midday meal,” says Dhamshree Deore, a class 9 student. The village has also introduced an incentive system - Rs 51 as award for those who identify offenders of open defecation and a fine of Rs 250 for the offender.
Community-owned water scheme
The project has made everyday life much easier for families, especially saving the womenfolk hours of backbreaking labor to fetch water each day. The project has brought water to village homes by putting local communities in charge of managing their own water supply schemes.
The project achieved this by empowering villagers to plan, operate and maintain their own water supply systems, reversing the age-old ways of the top-down centralized bureaucracy deciding and delivering on local schemes.
“Earlier, people would start their day with fights over water. Women would get up at 4.00 am to queue up for water and there would be many fights. Today there is a total change. When the Jalswarajya project came to the village they wanted villagers to participate in executing the project. People realized the importance of coming together. Women too started participating in gram sabha meetings,” says Santosh Yadav.
Households have come together to identify sites for village wells with the help of local NGOs. Local contractors have been hired to dig the ground and lay pipes and pumps. Very early in the phase of the project, villagers realized the importance of maintenance.
“The distance between the well from where water is drawn should not be far from the water tank so that time taken to fill the tank is less. This brings down the cost of maintenance,” Santosh adds, reflecting the project’s focus on issues related to maintenance of such water supply schemes.
The project has raised the level of local leadership. Several women are actively involved in the operation of the water supply systems. The gram sabhas (village assembly) in the project area have been galvanized by the active participation of women brought out on the vital issue of water.
“Our village has been shortlisted for a Nirmal Gram Award given by the President of India. This is a salute to the women of our village. Not so long ago they wouldn’t even come out of their houses, but today they actively participate in village meetings,” said Bagul a school teacher in Bhagurdi.
The Jalswarajya project has also shown that the poor are able and willing to pay for water. Vaishali Barve, a 24-year-old post-graduate student from Thergaon village some 30 km from Nasik travels to the city everyday for college. “Earlier, we had one standpost for at least 7 homes and it would take us an hour to fill water. I would fetch water before going to school. Today, I’m able to save a lot of time and instead concentrate on my studies. We don’t mind paying a nominal fee for getting this water,” said Vaishali with a smile.
The World Bank first piloted this community driven approach in water and sanitation services under the Swajal project in 12 districts of Uttaranchal between 1996 and 2003.
The project receives People First Award
The project has also received the World Bank’s Social Development unit’s “People First Award for the year 2010”, for its excellence in inclusion, innovation and results.
“The project has shown remarkable achievements in improving the water and sanitation services in the villages of Maharashtra, by involving the community in the decision making process. We faced numerous challenges during implementation – the geographical spread across 26 districts of Maharashtra, covering a milieu of regions from hilly terrains to drought prone plains. Despite this, the Government of Maharashtra and the World Bank took on the challenges to ensure that even the last tribal person on a remote hill had access to sustainable water and sanitation services,” says N.V. V. Raghava, senior infrastructure specialist and the World Bank team leader for the project.