By Divya GS
Idukki (Kerala), Aug 16 (IANS/ 101Reporters) Sudha (43) can easily divide her life into two episodes – one before the tap water reached her house and the other after. No other event has had such a significant impact on her life, at least not since she moved after her marriage to Ward 10 of Mazhuvadi village in Kanjikkuzhi panchayat of Idukki district some 25 years ago. year. She was then 18 years old.
The big change happened only two years ago, before which Sudha’s daily routine began long before daybreak. “After I woke up around 4:30 a.m., I would rush to the small spring on the hill to get water. Then, using a coconut cup, I collected the little water available and I poured it into a pot. One lucky day, I got a pot of water within half an hour of waiting,” Sudha told 101Reporters.
In accordance with the agreement between the families who depended on the limited water resource, Sudha was the first on the list to take water. The four to six pots she managed to fill and take home in the allotted time slot – between 5:30 and 7:30 a.m. – would be enough for cooking and other morning chores for her family of four.
To check off the other water-dependent tasks on her list, including feeding livestock, she had to walk to a pond at the bottom of the hill and climb to her house, which is located at the top of a steep hill. , almost 15 to 20 times. one day. The physical exertion was more than his body could handle. As a result, Sudha suffered from tonsillitis and shoulder pain throughout her life. Busy with the dreadfully monotonous routine, she had no time to lose, neither for personal care nor for any day-work.
“My life was nothing but fetching water and doing household chores. At that time, I dreamed of living a day without fetching water,” Sudha recalls.
Health takes a hit
Sudha was not the only woman in the village to experience such a situation – women from the 42 households that depended on the pond had to endure the grueling repetitive labor of fetching water, a gendered activity in itself. A multi-country anthropological study has shed light on the global inequality in access to water and the vast gender gap associated with its appalling physical labor. As many as 13% of survey respondents said they had injured themselves while fetching water. Although Sudha escaped serious injuries, she experienced deficiencies and ailments.
Explaining the demographics, Celimol UC, who worked as an Anganwadi teacher at the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) center in Mazhuvadi, said, “People in this area belong to the low-income category and are generally engaged in animal husbandry. cattle. generally prioritized feeding their children before they ate. With limited access to nutritious food and regular strenuous tasks to fetch water, almost all of the women suffered from underweight and low blood pressure. Most women, including nursing mothers, weighed less than 40 kg.
“To make women aware of the importance of good nutrition and their own health, we had to organize regular awareness classes,” she added.
Sudha had no respite even during her menstrual days, these being all the more painful and tiring. Every night, she slept with the anguish of having to wake up at 4:30 am to fetch water; so that things go well for her husband and children. “Things would go haywire otherwise, and God forbid if guests were to arrive, especially those with children,” she exclaimed. Such worries about existing and additional loads added to his mental stress.
“Even during pregnancy I had to fetch water, although my husband was helpful and tried to fetch as much as possible before leaving for his daily wage labor.”
But few local women were as lucky as her, as they received little help from the male relatives.
The water path
The women of the village received a huge respite just two years ago. With the support of Oxfam, an international NGO, the panchayat was able to provide water to the 42 households that depended on the community pond.
Water is usually supplied to rural pockets through the Jalanidhi project, launched by the Kerala government in 1999. Rolled out in a phased manner, the project covered a total of 227 grams of panchayats, with Idukki-Kanjikkuzhi being covered in phase 2 However, he failed to solve the water problems for Mazhuvadi due to topographical challenges.
During the summer seasons, the water sources in many pockets would dry up. To alleviate the crisis, the panchayat had built a reservoir as part of a village-level intervention (not Jalanidhi), but it had become obsolete. Oxfam renovated this tank and built a slow sand filter. From the pond, water was pumped to the filter, and after filtration, it was stored in the tank and then piped to domestic taps.
“The panchayat started the water supply project about eight years ago. However, it stopped due to technical problems and topographical peculiarities,” said Pushpa Gopy, a member of Kanjikkuzhi ward panchayat. She added that when the representatives of the international NGO approached the panchayat to offer support for the water supply projects, they directed them to Ward 10.
According to Gopy, “the NGO has done a good job ensuring the supply of filtered water to households by making the most of some infrastructure already built by the panchayat.”
Apart from this, the government’s new initiative, Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM), has also helped many households meet their water needs. As part of the annual action plan on the implementation of JJM in Kerala, officials have set the roadmap for the fiscal year 2021-22. The plan recorded that the state has 67.15 lakh rural households, out of which about 21.55 lakh have tap water supply. The idea would be to meet the rest under the Har Ghar Jal program by 2024.
Lead by example
According to a government report, water has been named as one of India’s biggest crises in terms of spread and severity, affecting one in three people. Speaking specifically about Kerala, the report established that despite being one of the wettest places in the country, the state was behind Rajasthan in terms of per capita drinking water availability. Experts believe that features of the state’s topography – the steep slopes of the Western Ghats bring rainwater directly into the sea – have meant that nearly 40% of water resources have been lost in the form of runoff.
Parmeshwar Patil, who led the water supply project in Mazhuvadi as humanitarian program coordinator for Oxfam India, found Kerala’s water supply system to be much better than that of other states.
“I have worked in more than 10 states over the past decade, and the situation in Kerala is much better. In most other states, women often go to remote places to fetch water. But in Kerala, I saw this as a rarity. Also, the local panchayat authorities are generally well aware of the areas where people are struggling. The availability of water supply is starting to reflect on health and the women’s well-being,” Patil told 101Reporters.
The improvement in women’s health could attest to Patil’s statement. “The average weight of women in the region has gone from 47 to 50 kg,” Celimol said, citing Sudha as an example.
“Sudha’s weight was as low as 39kg at one point, but she weighs 51kg now.”
Sudha has not fully recovered from tonsillitis and her shoulders and back are still in pain, but she is very relieved that she no longer has to walk up the hill to fetch water. Additionally, she now has free time to spend with her family and has uninterrupted sleep in the morning.
“Exhausted after fetching water, I always wanted to lie down. It even affected the way I managed my family. Now I have time to relax and do things I love, like sewing dresses and talking to my children. After managing household chores at home, I can also work outside for money,” said Sudha, who gets paid work under the national program of Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGS) With a daily wage of Rs 311, she also started to feel more financially empowered.
Her biggest dream – to see a day when she won’t have to fetch water – has finally come true.
(The author is a Kerala-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of local journalists.)