Before leaving the University of Iowa, I decided to end my undergrad career with a final course in India. This blog entry recounts my journey with full detail about my experiences in India, a country of contrasts.
Around 3:30 a.m. on December 27, 2011, I arrived in Gurgaon, India. I went to India with the University of Iowa’s India Winterim Program. The India Winterim is a three-week course in which students spend their winter break studying far from home in India. Students can pick from several three-semester hour courses to learn first hand about pressing global issues such as sustainability, poverty, rural development, and public health. Each course is partnered with an NGO to strengthen students’ experience as well as give them an opportunity to put their knowledge into action during their stay in India.
Women collecting water at the well
To fulfill a project course requirement for my sustainability certificate, I enrolled in International Perspectives in Water Sciences and Management. The course’s objective was to gain a deeper understanding of both the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of climate and land use change on the quality and quantity of water in agricultural landscapes by using case studies in the Mewat District of Northern India, a rural district less than two hours away from the bustling capital of India. The Mewat District is home to more than one million people living in an agrarian, backwards society. Most of the water in the Mewat District is saline; less than 60 villages out of 491 have access to fresh ground water sources. Villagers face several problems stemming from lack of fresh water including low education/literacy rates, poor sanitation, increased morbidity and mortality rates, and overall decrease in quality of life.
IRRAD, Institute for Rural Research and Development, hosted our group of fourteen students from various academic backgrounds to tackle water management issues in Mewat. IRRAD “envisions rural people across India empowered and motivated to make their lives more secure and prosperous through education, better health, improved skills, and supportive governance.” Our class worked closely with IRRAD’s water management program. The first few days of our journey we visited several IRRAD intervention sites in Mewat. Immediately, we learned IRRAD has spent a significant amount of time and money in Mewat to improve water quality through education programs and introduction to filtering technology; they have worked to preserve and retain freshwater pockets through construction of recharge wells and check dams. IRRAD has also made an effort to provide access to fresh water by building community tanks and tube wells throughout the Mewat District. Even though Mewat’s problems appeared to have been significantly mitigated by IRRAD, there is still much more work to be done and issues to be addressed through new technologies and research.
IRRAD's community tank in Patkhori
After returning to Gurgaon from a weekend trip to Roorkee and Haridwar, we started working in small groups focusing on specific water management efforts in Mewat. My group’s objectives were to analyze the impact of water intervention by making a comparison between Patkhori, a village with IRRAD intervention and Chainpori, a village with no IRRAD intervention. Our other goal was to show if bacteria were present at the source and/or at the point of use, ie. storage containers, because water quality may worsen with transportation and storage. In the days following, we gathered necessary information through water collection efforts and subsequent interviews.
Our group of four plus a translator and an IRRAD field worker spent three extra days in the villages. I helped fill vials with water samples from IRRAD’s community tank and hand pump in Patkhori. In Chainpori we were unable to test the source water because their water relies on electricity and while we were there the electricity was not running. After testing the source water, we walked household to household to interview women villagers. The women were asked if they had a latrine, their source of income, recent illness, and their process of collecting drinking water. Simultaneously, we collected water samples from their storage containers. To see if the water was fit to drink, the water samples were tested for salmonella, citrobacter, coliform bacteria, and other pathogens.
collecting water samples at a hand pump
After compiling the data we learned only 6 percent of the 29 respondents had a latrine in the household, a majority were experiencing illness, 100 percent transport and store their water in the same bucket/bowl, and less than 25 percent wash their storage containers with detergent. More importantly we learned that 42 percent of the respondents’ drinking water in Patkhori were contaminated and not fit to drink. In Chainpori, 50 percent of the respondents’ drinking water samples tested positive for bacteria and therefore, not fit to drink. The source water for Patkhori also tested positive for contamination. We did not have a significant amount of data showing difference in water quality between intervention and non-intervention villages. However, our tests and interviews proved these villagers have a serious problem with drinking water contamination.
While collecting samples, villagers proclaimed water is the main crisis. Many said they need more healthy drinking water. I learned most of the women spend their entire day fetching water; some even wake at 2 a.m. to collect water. At home we take water for granted. Thus it surprised me that these villagers’ lives revolved around collecting fresh drinking water. As we were about to leave, a man started yelling at us. In Hindi he said, “You come, take samples of our water and leave! Why do you come and leave?! We need your help, we need water!” This man’s words struck a chord in me. I knew I would not be coming back. However, I wanted my experience to make a positive difference in their lives.
We finished with a final power point summarizing our goals, methods, results, and recommendations for IRRAD. My roommate, Kristina Craft, and I made sure to leave something tangible for the villagers, though. We created a poster informing all villagers how to improve their water quality with simple steps. Please see the final product below.
The poster reads… Illness>Why?
Water testing by U.S. students
Water contaminated-causes sickness
What can we do? Women, you can stop illness and are responsible for removing it!
This is simple! 1.Clean your water by: cloth, boil, solids 2. Wash with soap-hands and bowl
3. Use ladle to pour drinking water
4. Use latrine
5. Raise your voice about your needs