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Water Availability in Bundelkhand

Unfavourable rainfall patterns and geological and topographical conditions (see Impact of Bundelkhand's geo profile on human life) make Bundelkhand a region prone to water shortages. A popular saying in the region is 'Gagari na phoote, chahe balam mar jaye’ (let the water pot not break, even if the husband should die).

Severe water shortage is experienced in years of poor rainfall.

According to various estimates quoted in a WaterAid India paper on the 2003-2007 drought, more than 5000 tankers were deployed in May-June 2008 throughout the Bundelkhand region, to meet domestic water needs, as the majority of handpumps yielded no water [WaterAid].

A study of the water situation done in 131 villages of UP Bundelkhand, reported in the WaterAid paper, found that only 7% of villages had enough water to meet domestic needs throughout the year. In more than 60% of the villages, drinking water was available for only one month. Throughout the Bundelkhand region, women had to spend an average 4-5 hours a day to secure around 20 litres of drinking water.

Water shortages are bound to increase even in good monsoons years with increasing population, urbanisation, quarrying and use of tubewells.

Planning for future water use in Bundelkhand is a daunting task, as shown by a recent study by Development Alternatives (DA), which has a technology centre near Orchha. The study focussed on on availability of water in Tikamgarh and Jhansi districts [DA].

On the basis of Census 2001 population data and assuming minimum per capita domestic water requirement to be 40 litres per day (lpcd) in rural areas, 70 lpcd in towns without sewerage and 140 lpcd in towns with sewerage facilities, total domestic requirement for water in Tikamgarh district was estimated to be around 22 million cubic meters (mcm) per year.

Going by decadal population growth rates since 1961, this requirement would increase by at least 25% every 10 years, the study noted.

Taking into account the irrigation requirement of all the crops grown in the district (wheat, rice, jowar, maize and pulses such as tur, moong, urad, barley, mustard, sugarcane, fruits and vegetables), the study estimated that  total irrigation water requirement for the district was 1740 mcm/year under current cropping patterns. Increase in area of land cropped more than once, which is desirable, will require more water.

The water requirement for livestock in the district was estimated at around 11.2 mcm /year, on the basis of 2004 livestock population figures. There is no significant demand for water for industrial use in the district. The total annual water requirement was thus around 1770 mcm/year.

Looking at availability of water, the study made a gross estimate of volume of water available through precipitation, without taking into account inter-district variations. While during a year of average rainfall (1000 mm), the district was estimated to receive around 5084 mcm of water , in years of poor rainfall (around 650 mm), the volume was estimated to drop to 3100 mcm. Much of this water does not percolate through Bundelkhand's hard rock substratum; the water flows away uselessly, taking along with it a lot of top soil.

Annual availability of groundwater resources in the district was estimated at 630 mcm. There is little scope for increasing availability from this source under current conditions as many blocks of Tikamgarh are already in the 'overexploited' category (see Groundwater Use).

It is difficult to estimate district-wise availability of water from reservoirs of dams, as the catchment and distribution areas extend beyond the boundaries of districts. What is to be noted is that many reservoirs in Tikamgarh are substantially dry for several months of the year. In any case, canal irrigation accounts for only 8% of the net irrigated area of the district (see Irrigation Sources). Of the 420 odd large tanks in the district, more than half the tanks were filled with a thick layer of clayey silt, the DA study noted.

Actual availability of water in the district was thus much lower than required, and showed wide seasonal fluctuation. A participatory rural appraisal exercise done in one village showed that between July to October, water availability was equal to or more than demand, but between May and June, less than 40% of drinking water needs were met and no water was available for agriculture.

Whatever water was available was found to be unfit for human consumption in 59 out of 64 samples taken from five villages, due to presence of nitrates and coliform bacteria - the result of  poor sanitation practices such as water sources surrounded by domestic sewage and cow dung. Incidence of diarrhoeal infections, cholera, typhoid, Hepatitis A, gastroenteritis, skin diseases and dental problems was found to be high in all surveyed villages.

Households that did not have adequate groundwater resources in their agricultural land were meeting irrigation needs by hiring diesel pumps linked to water sources, at the rate of Rs. 45-60 per hour, with diesel costs extra.

In the district's towns, water was made available through pipes or handpumps. Supply was found to be poor due to frequent breakages in pipes or malfunctioning of handpumps. Several parts of towns did not receive water every day and the gap between days of supply  increased from one to three or four days in the peak of summer. Households had therefore adopted costly alternative strategies like digging tube wells, installing electric pumps, constructing reservoirs, and using unauthorised connections secured by paying bribes.

In slum areas, mostly populated by wage labourers,  people lost an average 2-3 hours a day in fetching water. People relied on multiple sources as there was only one source for 75-100 households, against the norm of one public tap for 30 households or one handpump for 20 households.

Water markets were well established: water was supplied through tankers at Rs 150-250 for 2500 litres and Rs 350-400 for 3500 litres. The rates went up during the wedding and festival season and in the summer.

The DA study shows that Bundelkhand's water problem cannot be seen only as one of availability of water.

We cannot also ignore the plain fact that there is already a strong informal market for water, and people are paying a steep price, apart from indirect costs in terms of loss of working hours and poor health.

Reducing the burden of these costs requires increase in groundwater recharge, conservation and recycling of water, improved irrigation practices, equitable distribution of water, improvement in sanitation practices and facilities,  and maintenance and repair of existing systems.


  • WaterAid, 'Water and Sanitation Perspective 01' (September 2008)
  • Development Alternatives, 'Water Resources in Tikamgarh and Jhansi Districts' (undated)

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