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Two Indian villages in drought area prove that local water management can bring prosperity

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Two small but determined villages in a drought-stricken area of India have demonstrated convincingly that even in the face of climate change and increasing desertification and drought, local people who choose to work together to manage their water effectively together using a model of self-governance and self-reliance can create a sustainable and prosperous life in their villages.

Ralegan Siddhi and Hiware Bazar (also writtten as Hivre Bazaar), both located in one of India’s most drought-prone areas, have received national and international recognition as models and “outstanding examples of holistic development and sustainable poverty reduction”. In fact, the achievements of Ralegan Siddhi inspired the villagers of Hiware Bazar to undertake a similar initiative. “The dramatic transformation in these villages and the improvements in the quality of life of the entire village community need to be understood, analysed and replicated,” says the Chronic Poverty Research Centre.



Raleghan Siddhi

In 1975, when Anna Hazare, a retired army man, went back to his village in Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra, he found a dire picture. Seventy per cent of the villagers lived below the poverty line. The village grew only 30% of its own food, and 15-20% of villagers were underfed. The villagers were heavily in debt to moneylenders, who had thus acquired most of the village land. Only those who brewed illicit alcohol were making money, but alcohol was causing vandalism, street fights and theft.

Today Ralegaon Siddhi is considered a model of effective social change, environmental conservation and sustainable energy use, showing how to rebuild natural capital in partnership with the local economy. Treeplanting, terracing, canals, solar power, biogas and a windmill have helped to ensure adequate water and power year round, and the village has a grain bank, a milk bank, and a school.

In May 2007, a Chronic Poverty Research Centre team visited the village during the hottest time of the year. They found lush green trees lining the village streets, mango, guava and tamarind trees growing around the Training Centre, wells with plenty of water, and good drinking water available throughout the day. It was a huge contrast to the dry and barren landscape surrounding the village. They also observed that the village also was incredibly clean, with no garbage littering the streets.

Social reforms, and action to address corruption, were as important as the environmental and energy generation initiatives. When Hazare arrived back home, for example, he found that due to corruption, a government-funded percolation dam intended to store rainwater had been built so poorly that it leaked and the water drained away within two months. Social changes were based on creating equity, reinstilling moral values, and ensuring that the poorest people also were part of the village economy. Alcohol was banned, people were encouraged to have smaller families, and such things as community marriages were introduced, at which many couples married, thus reducing the financial demands of weddings on individual families.

As villagers realized that good water and soil management was key to building a sustainable economy, they donated their labour to repair the dam, to plant trees and terrace the hills to keep soil from eroding and retain rainwater, and to dig irrigation canals. Cooperatives were created to dig wells because many individual farmers could not afford to do so by themselves. As a result, the water table rose considerably, so wells and tube wells are never dry and farmers can raise three crops a year where only one was possible before. Changes took place in the crops that were grown, in the use of common grazing areas, and in the kind of animals that were raised. Schooling and health care was addressed. Steps were taken to help people get out of debt to money lenders, and eventually, a credit society was created to help those who did need to borrow.

Social development, water and soil management, and alternative energy sources (including biogas) thus were inter-linked. Participatory governance through committees and cooperatives, and consensus planning and decision making by villagers at regular village meetings, also is key to sustaining the changes. One person from each household is a member of the village meeting known as the gram sabha, and women are active participants in all activities. The emphasis has been on using and strengthening local assets, and grants from national or international agencies or other external sources have been discouraged. Most of the funding came from bank loans and national government programs.

Anna Hazare and Ralegan Siddhi’s achievements inspired both other villages, and governments. During the 1980s, a program of 42 model watersheds was begun across India, leading in 1990 to a National Watershed Development Programme for Rainfed Areas. The government of Maharashtra created the Adarsh Gaon Yojana (Ideal Village programme) as an initiative to replicate the Ralegan Siddhi model in 300 Maharashtra villages. Hiware Bazar, located in the same district as Ralegan, was the programme’s early and biggest success.


Hiware Bazar – the Miracle Water Village


Posted on You Tube by blackticketfilms on Oct 12, 2010


In 1994, Hiware Bazar was an impoverished farming community where no one could make a living from its dry soil because water was so scarce. The village land was mostly rock, with only half an acre capable of growing water-intensive crops. Only five per cent of its 182 families lived above the poverty line, and many people had moved to nearby cities to find work. Alcoholism, crime and conflict were common, and social indicators such as health and education were poor. For government officials, the village was seen as a ‘punishment posting’.

It still gets the same amount of scarce rain – but its program of self-governance and self-reliance has created a miracle. In 1995, the village began an intensive program of water management and social change, led by newly-elected sarpanch (village chief) Popatrao Pawar, who left the village as a teenager for education and returned with a Masters’ degree in Commerce from Ahmednagar University.

Between 1995 and 1998, they focused their energy on developing three watersheds covering 1000 hectares, and planting trees. The village assembly banned the digging of tube-wells, the cultivation of water-intensive crops like sugarcane and bananas, and field grazing. The water table rose dramatically; whereas before 1994, water could not even be found at 100 feet, it is now available at between 20-25 feet.

Drip irrigation was introduced for sorghum and maize. Additional water led to higher productivity, enabled cultivation of cash crops such as potatoes and onions which were sold to nearby villages and in Pune and Mumbai, and enabled cultivation of green fodder to sustain cattle and livestock. The profits from higher productivity were used for diversification into dairy production and milk production rose from 300 litres a day to 3000 litres a day.

The sarpanch also focused on education, health, and sanitation. Learning how Ralegan Siddhi had been successful encouraged villagers to voluntarily adopt the same practices. Thus the village banned liquor, adopted family planning, mandated HIV/AIDS testing before marriages and re-instituted old programs of voluntary labour for village development. Where earlier no girls had ever gone to high school, 18 households donated land for schools and the existing primary school was converted into a high school.

A temple was built and, even though only one Muslim lives in the village, so was a mosque. Social integration also was encouraged by forming women's thrift groups; a women's milk dairy society; bhajani mandal (a devotional songs group); youth societies; a cooperative society; a common crematorium; a common drinking water source; and the adoption of a one family one child approach. Toilets have been built in each house and are proudly shown to visitors.

By 2010, the village’s average income had increased twenty-fold, 50 villagers had become millionaires (in Indian rupees), and only three families were below the poverty line. Thirty-two families that had previously migrated to Mumbai and Pune have returned. The village had the highest GDP in all of India, and plans a Hiware Bazar brand for selling their local produce. The Government of Maharashtra state declared Hiware Vazar an “ideal village”, and in 2007, during the National Ground Water Congress held in New Delhi, the village received the "National Water Award" from the Government of India.

The village’s story, and encouragement to other villages to do the same thing, is told in the film Miracle Water Village made by Black Ticket Films of New Delhi.


This story is based on a number of sources, with a primary source being Escaping poverty – the Ralegan Siddhi case, by Aasha Kapur Mehta and Trishna Satpathy, published by the Chronic Poverty Research Centre and Indian Institute of Public Administration in New Delhi, India. I also drew on the Hiware Bazar website ; articles about Ralegan Siddhi and Hivre Bazar in Wikipedia and on the Rainwater Harvesting site, and a story in The Better India entitled Hiware Bazar: Model Village for the Nation, by Rahul Anand, Dec. 22, 2010. You can learn more about the visionary Anna Hazare at his website. The picture of the watershed development at Hiware Bazar comes from the village website.


For more inspiring stories about locally-driven solutions to desertification and water shortages, see:

Healing the land provides a model for sustainable community life in southern Portugal

Rebuilding eroded land brings orchards, community gardens to Ethiopian village

Chad starts planting wall of trees to fight drought on denuded land

Harvesting fog brings clean water to mountainous areas around the world

Water from the air brings safe drinking water to small Indian village

Mumbai rainwater harvesting ensures water in dry times

Rainwater harvesting brings water, social empowerment to rural women in southern Pakistan

Saving rainwater solves water supply challenge for Swazi grandmother

Rainwater harvesting allows Indian women to fill their water pots each day


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