River Regeneration and the Reviving of Community
In 1985 Rajendra Singh, inspired by Gandhi, went to live in dry and arid rural Rajasthan, India, with the intention of introducing modern education and medicine to that impoverished area. But soon the villagers made clear their primary need was for WATER. Over the next few years, harnessing the villagers’ traditional wisdom, the river systems in the region were regenerated, dramatically transforming that arid land into a lush, green area of well-being and productivity.
What was done
Over 28 years, 7 entire river systems, previously dried up for 80 years, were revived. Over 10,000 Johads (small earthen dams) were built by the villagers at strategic places. Underground aquifers were recharged, rivers began to flow again and food supplies were secured helping those villages to become thriving communities again. Now the project is being replicated across India.
How it was done
Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), www.tarunbharatsangh.in the organisation that Rajendra set up for this work, began its work in the village by nurturing the Village Council, a traditional body comprised of representatives from each household, where all decisions are taken by consensus. Here, villagers agreed to contribute resources (labour and materials) towards building the Johads, thus developing their sense of ownership and ensuring their ongoing commitment to maintenance. The first fruits of their labours were realised in the very next rains when the river began to flow again.
Outcomes of applying this strategy of facilitating community-driven decentralised water management & conservation:
- it encourages disciplined use of natural resources, ensuring sustainable water availability
- creates an increase in agricultural and milk production, thus ensuring food security
- restores the area’s ecology
- regenerates healthy, prosperous communities
- strengthens democracy and political transparency and even changes government practices
- its overarching vision of recharging the groundwater on the planet delivers long lasting, proven, comprehensive transformation of communities
The river regains its rightful position as the physical and spiritual centre of life.
The method addresses two separate universal problems:
- Communities everywhere are losing the capacity and will to fend for themselves; and
- Communities are increasingly threatened with shortages of natural resources, even in the developed world.
These issues are resolved holistically at community level by applying the community’s inherent capacities to address endemic problems.
Working with actual communities, TBS has shown that rather than imposing generic global solutions, facilitating the flow of traditional wisdom as well as introducing appropriate modern knowledge will resolve issues like river flow and further strengthen their capacity to adapt to other threats such as climate change.
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