Safeguarding the wellness of wells – Kerala action research experience

The southern state of Kerala comprises of 14 districts covering 38,863 sq. km. It is divided into three distinct natural zones, namely, highlands, midlands and coastal planes. The highland region forms part of the Mountain ranges (Western Ghats) extending to 600 km at the eastern extremity.  On the western periphery lie the coastal planes in close proximity with the Arabian Sea.  The State is blessed with a moderate climate with sufficient rainfall.  44 rivers are flowing through the region having a wide network irrigating the soil reasonably to sustain the agriculture.   Acclaimed for its rich biodiversity and splendid panorama, the State has a vibrant popular movement committed to protect its flora, fauna, water sources and ecosystem. In spite of all these abundances, it is strange that there is acute water shortage forcing the people face the dry wells during summer season.

Kerala Social Service Forum  (KSSF) with the facilitation of Caritas India and  CRS is undertaking the Capacity strengthening of 31 Diocesan Social Service Society ( DSSS) partners and their stakeholders through documenting best practices and participatory action research mainly aiming at improved knowledge on water management. Training on water literacy to the key staff of DSSS,  training on participatory well inventory and analysis and field assessment of well inventory data are the major areas. 39 staff from 27 DSSSs were trained by Dr.Haridas, Caritas India NRM Thematic Manager in the month of July, 2017. All the DSSS conducted water literacy programme for the leaders of children and youth clubs. IEC material on water literacy like  25000 leaflets called  “Jalasaksharatha”   and  10000  handbook called  “Jalajeevanam”  were published and circulated all over Kerala.

Well inventory analysis comprised of identification of interested DSSSs and site locations for research activities, intensive training for the DSSS personnel on the participatory analysis, developing formats for data collection and finalising 18 open wells for research in 14 Districts across Kerala and completing the well recharging through rainwater harvesting method. The research is initiated from May 2017 and will continue till September, 2019. On the morning of every 1st day of the month, water is measured and recorded. Regular field assessment and monitoring is conducted to assess the progress of this explorative initiative.

On 8th of July, 2018, a participatory joint evaluation was facilitated by Dr.John Arokiaraj, Caritas India South Zone Manager, Rev.Dr.Celestin, Consultant for CRS and Mr.Antony Vivek , CRS Programme Officer. The team had interaction with Fr.George Vettikattail , Director of KSSF and his staff team. They were explained in detail the evolution of this concept, coordination and monitoring mechanisms, capacity building initiatives, water literacy campaigns, and challenges faced.

The team visited the research site,  one of the 18 wells under study. It belongs to one  Mr. Jose Njanjilath of Kooroppada Village Panchayat under Kottayam district. Handholding support is given by  CHASS through the field co-ordinator Ms. Alphonsa Varghese. “ I am able to trace the aquafers and accordingly invite the flowing water into my well by making adjustments in the slope even though the path is disrupted. The water level is gradually increasing in my well and we use only this water for drinking and domestic chores” says Mr.Jose.  The rainwater from the roof is harvested through pipes and after purification process automatically gets into the well. He is appreciative of KSSF efforts for guiding with simple engineering methods and it became all the more handy as his house construction was nearing completion when this idea was introduced.

Antony Thuppalanjiyil, the Panchayath member present during the visit said that seeing the benefits of this method and to support families who suffer for want of water, his Panchayat has supported 100 wells for recharging @Rs.10000/-. The main criterion for support being that the owner of the house should have less than 1200 sq.ft of roof area. The idea of well recharging is creating ripples even among the poor beneficiary communities.

“One needs to be punctual in making the inventory of water level data at a particular time. It calls for commitment. We give the responsibility to women who keep the inventory card safe along with other important documents. It is an accompaniment of two years” says  Alphonsa Varghese, who is monitoring the process.

Dr.John Arokiaraj said that though the study on these 18 wells may not lead to arrive at a definite conclusion for the entire State but still can become a replicable model and a case for study. Dr.Celestin said that if the Panchayats can support similar initiatives in their respective areas, the compilation of inventory analysis and the findings at each panchayat will validate the efforts of KSSF and throw open the study for accurate findings. KSSF team through dialogue with partner DSSSs will make use of Grama Sabha as a platform to float this concept and for subsequent support. The technical support will be given by