Meherben, 54, a housewife of remote Warli village in Banni, Gujarat says, “Our life was miserable without water. We used to fetch water from a government water supply point 4 km away from the village”. A perennially drought prone state, Gujarat is plagued by depletion of ground water resources and increasing salinity. General water stress is a constant cause of worry for the women as the traditional water “managers” in families. Banni, once a great grassland, now forms part of the desert in the Kachchh region of Gujarat, where salt encroaches the land and water relentlessly.
The Gujarat government has used all sorts of engineering approaches to carry water over long distances so as to ensure some measure of water availability in every village. In 2002, UNICEF partnered with the state government to develop a demonstration Cluster Storage project in five villages of Kachchh. In 2002, UNICEF partnered with the government to develop a demonstration Cluster Storage system in five villages of Kachchh. The objective was to promote a model for equity in water supply both geographically as well as socially. It meant bringing water closer to all sections of the population in a village through decentralized storage and distribution. With a sigh of relief Meher Ben says, “Now the women do not have walk miles to fetch water. Thanks to the Cluster Storage Scheme a water tank is installed in every “Phadia” (cluster) to provide water to all the pockets of the village. This has saved us from the age-old drudgery of carrying water from long distances”.
The Cluster Storage Strategy consists of dividing the village into clusters of 20 to 30 families and providing a separate storage tank for each cluster. Through a set of valves on the feeder pipe, each tank receives water proportionately. From the cluster storage tanks, the water is then made available to the community through the stand posts or individual connections. The supply to each cluster is secured and delivered at their request. The pattern of water consumption by individual families does not have an adverse impact on the hydraulics of village distribution system.
In addition to the equitable distribution of water in the village, a strategic feature of the Cluster Storage is the ownership of the system by the community. A "Pani-Samiti" (water committee) has been constituted to oversee operation and maintenance of the project. All the construction activities were also carried out through the Pani-Samiti. .” In Padhdhar, each family pays Rs 5 per member per month towards operation and maintenance costs.Out of the Rs.10,000 collected every month, Rs.5,000 goes toward the salary of two valve operators and the rest is earmarked for repair and maintenance.
Says Bhojabhai, Sarpanch of Padhdhar village, “We were earlier approached by Gujarat Water Supply Board (GWSSB) to opt for the scheme. At that time we said “No” because we did not understand what it would do for us. But later on, when officials of UNICEF and GWSSB explained the scheme, we decided try it. Now water is available in every house. This has become like our own scheme for which people are willing to pay. "
The Cluster Storage Scheme has not only saved the women of Warli and many other villages like Padhdhar, Arendawali, Kama Guna, Dhori and Sumrasar Seikh from hauling water from distant places, they are gainfully utilizing the time saved by earning additional income through embroidery and alternative work .