The Grundfos Foundation has donated solar panels and pumps for a project that will bring water to 100 villages across India within a year. The project is executed in collaboration with Sunlit Future and local NGOs.
Kalampada, Palghar District, Maharashtra: You see them everywhere in the dry hilly landscape north of Mumbai. Tribal women carrying water from the wells at the bottom of the valleys to the villages on top of the hills. You see them alone, in small groups or in long colorful lines balancing two or three full water containers on their heads. It looks easy and elegant when they are climbing the steep hills in the soaring heat. But it is a hard and time consuming task to carry 20 or 30 liters of water up the hill several times a day. Most of them have to walk down to the well and back to the village six or seven times every day to fetch water for their families. It takes hours. They do not expect any help from the men in the village. To bring water to the house is one of many duties for these women.
But in Kalampada and other villages in Palghar District in the north of Maharashtra the women no longer need to fetch water from far away. Since the beginning of 2015 they can collect it from water taps at several locations in the village itself. The village is part of a project that aims to bring water to remote villages across India. Initially the project intends to install 100 solar pumps in 100 villages across India.
The Grundfos Foundation in Denmark has donated the money for all the solar panels and pumps.They are installed by Sunlit Future from Auroville, Tamil Nadu, while Pragati Pratishthan, a local NGO, has chosen the villages and funded other parts of the project.
The villagers have also contributed to the project by doing all the civil work related to the project.They have built a 10,000 liter tank from where the water is piped to the village. They have done all the digging necessary for laying the pipes connecting the well with the water tank and further from the tank to the dispensing points in the village.
“It is important that the villagers are involved and feel responsible. Projects like this are doomed to fail if there is no local ownership. It does not work if people from outside are coming and doing all the work. Many villages have applied to be part of this project, but we have turned most of them down because they were not prepared to establish a water committee, pay for part of the project, do the civil work or take responsibility in other ways”, explains Sunanda Patwardhan. She is chairman and co-founder of Pragati Pratishthan and has worked in the tribal areas of Maharashtra for more than 40 years.
“Many villages in rural India do not have access to water and electricity. Both are fundamental for any kind of development. Without electricity and clean water you cannot address other problems like health and education.” Sunanda Patwardhan also points out.
The only solution
Most diseases in India are water born. That means if you want to improve the general health you have to provide clean drinking water in the rural areas. Electricity is almost as important as water. But even if a village has access to electricity it will only be single phase. In order to pump water uphill over long distances you would need a three phase connection. So the conventional electrical pump does not work here. That is why solar pumps are the only solution for most tribal villages in India.
“We have worked with solar energy for more than 15 years and we have installed solar pumps in hundreds of villages. We always use Grundfos pumps because they can run for many years without repairs and maintenance. We do not believe that poor people should have poor quality solutions just because they are poor. They are depended on the water and they cannot afford to travel and pay for repairs all the time. That is why we give them the best quality pumps we can find”, says Rishi Kapoor, managing director of Sunlit Future.
Up till now Sunlit Future has installed 11 pumps in the Palghar District as part of the 100 – 100 project. More villages will be selected for the project later this year when the local funding is in place.
When the rain comes
It is a four hour drive from Mumbai to the town of Jawhar where Pragati Pratishthan has is main office. From there it takes around two hours on bad roads to get to any of the villages in the project. In the middle of the dry season it can be hard to believe that this land can be cultivated. It is even harder to understand how the skinny cows manage to find something to eat on these scorched slopes. But when the rain comes everything changes. The hills become green; all the trees have leaves and the villagers grow rice and vegetables all over the place; and in the rainy season the women do not need to fetch water from far away. There will be water in the wells and manual pumps you can find in many villages. But they dry up when the monsoon is over and for the most of the summer months the villages only have whatever water the women are able to carry on their heads.
“A solar solution is the only way we can have water throughout the year. That is why the entire village voted to join the project. It makes everything easier for us when we do not have to spend hours every day in the hottest summer months to carry water up the hill to the village”, explains one of the women who is fetching water from one of the taps in the village.The other women around the tap agree with her. But they also point out that they will still be busy because they have many things to take care of during the day.
“We get up around 4 o’clock in the morning to prepare breakfast for family. We have to cook, clean, do the laundry, help with the farming and many other things before we can go to bed around 9 o’clock in the evening, so we do not sit idle” as one of the women says.
There are 80 houses in the village. 700 people are living there.The village has its own school for students up to 4th standard. Older children have to travel outside the village to go to school.There is a health center five km from the village. The center can take care of the most basic health issues. The nearest hospitals are hours away.
“If people fell sick a few years back we would have to carry them to the hospital. It is easier today. Some of the young men have motorbikes now so if it is necessary we can take people to the hospital on the bikes”, the villagers are explaining.
They stress again and again that they like the village way of life and that they do not want to leave if they can help it. They can only farm the land for four months of the year during the monsoon. In order to survive many of them have to leave and go and find work as migrant workers in the dry season. But they all return to the village when the rain starts at the end of the summer. With the solar pumps life has become a little easier for them.