Catching the rain
Low-cost rainwater harvesting is ideal for poor families. SHREE PADRE on one such experiment in rural Karnataka.
Narayana and Baby with their `funnel to the sky'.
NARAYANA is a poor radio mechanic who lives in Vittal, Karnataka, and has a four-member family. They live in Punacha, a village 12 km away. Their three-room house was built five years ago on five cents of land allotted by the Government.
Though 22 such sites were allotted in this locality, only two families went ahead with constructing their houses. As there is no water connection nearby, water had to be fetched from far-off.
Fortunately for Narayana, his neighbour had permitted him to draw water from his well. But there was a hitch. The well is nearly a furlong away. During the rainy season, the steep path turned slippery. Narayana's wife, Baby, was unable to fetch water.
It is then that the radio mechanic had a brainwave. As rain is bountiful here, why not hold a funnel to the sky? The next day, Narayana bought a polythene sheet from the town and built a pandal. Whenever it rained, the water collected on the sheet. Through a hole pierced in the centre of the sheet, water would trickle into the vessel kept beneath it.
A polythene sheet of the size eight feet by four feet costs Rs. 30. But it doesn't last even for a season as the sun destroys it. Because of this, two sets of sheets were required for a monsoon season. This year, Narayana decided to get a GI sheet instead of a polythene sheet. (If oil is applied on it as a coating, he hopes it can be used for a few more years.) But all the Rs. 404 got him was a smaller sheet five feet by four feet. The family's "catchment area" had thus decreased.
A coastal district, Dakshina Kannada receives the highest amount 3,500 mm of rainfall in the State. "In a normal season," points out Baby proudly, "we get three kodas of water in an hour." The first three kodas are reserved for drinking and cooking.
The couple has two daughters, Priyanka (13) and Swathy (11). The family's daily requirement of water for other uses is about 15 kodas - 225 litres. Anything in excess of three kodas is stored for purposes such as washing clothes, bathing or cleaning the toilet. Their house has a tiled roof. A portion of the roof water is collected in a barrel. This comes in handy for non-potable uses. "On some days, after our daily quota is filled, we let out the rain water," says Baby. A few buckets, vessels and a barrel provide them a storage capacity of around 300 litres. In an average year, they have got their full or partial requirement of water this way for 80 to 120 days.
The poor couple's dream of an independent water source is still unrealised. They have spent Rs. 3000 and many man hours to sink a well. By the time it reached 13 ft, all their resources were exhausted. Elders say that to get water, the well has to reach at least 30 feet. Narayana has submitted representations to the panchayat to provide them some arrangement for water. And the response has been: "If and when houses that occupy around five cents of area are built, you will get the water."
Responding to the suggestion given by the Maitri Trust, an NGO based near Mangalore that is creating an awareness on rain harvesting, Narayana now diverts all the excess roof water and run-off from his house-site into the half-finished well. "Let somebody get the benefit, if not me," he says with a smile.
Another farm labourer, Narayana in Kepulakodi, about 20 km away, also follows the same system to help tide over his water problem. It's his wife Janaki's idea. They use an old sari in lieu of a polythene sheet. (Silpaulin, an ultra-violet stabilised tarpaulin sheet is available in the market in various grades of thickness. Though initially expensive when compared to a polythene sheet, it might last longer.)
This low-cost rain harvesting arrangement is ideal for poor families and those who have no other alternative but to use hard and contaminated water. An added advantage is that this system doesn't require water-filtering. It can be dismantled and stored during summer. As such, there is no wastage of space.
These poor families might not be aware of the by now popular phrase and concept called "rainwater harvesting". Nor did anybody teach them the technique. It's sheer commonsense that they have used.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karnataka.
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