Children in Tilwari draw pictures of how the clean water tap has changed their lives
Photo: Rachel Cernansky
If you live in a rural area in the developing world, in a home where water doesn't flow through pipes and out of a faucet, you likely spend hours every day gathering water from the nearest source (clean, if possible), which can be miles away or in the case of Tilwari, a village in northern India, down a steep slope—think the last stretch of your last hike up a mountain—off the main road. People in Tilwari are fortunate to have access to a relatively clean source of water because of a fresh spring that's fed directly by runoff from the peaks of the Himalayas, but until a gravity-fed pumping system was installed recently, the water was exposed to whatever contaminants might be in the air and open for animals to share the same drinking source as people.
That all changed last year. Tilwari was chosen by the Global Greengrants Fund to receive a grant for a clean water project after the local regional advisor had visited several projects in the region but picked Tilwari as having the greatest need as well as best qualifications for fulfilling that need.
Greengrants provides small grants for grassroots groups all over the world, and while much of the organization's funding comes from individual donors and grants, the funding for the Tilwari project came from Aveda, which also funded my trip to India. Aveda has a longstanding relationship with Greengrants as a major, and one of the only corporate, sponsors of the organization.
Several projects in India receive support through this partnership, some of which are focused specifically on clean water because of Earth Month, a global campaign that Aveda runs around Earth Day every year.
Filling a Void
The regional advisor for Greengrants told me that when he first visited Tilwari two years ago, he saw a long row of girls lined up, holding pots, waiting for their turn to fill up with water. He also described the abnormally dry conditions, though it's not clear if that was due to a short-term drought or a gradual but continuous decline in the regional water supply. "Normally you have to cross over a bridge to get there, but my jeep just drove over the river—there was no bridge," he said.
There hadn't been any drinking water available anywhere, except at the spring. (Unlike many developing rural areas, the region surrounding Tilwari does have capacity for running water—but, local residents said, the system breaks down regularly, and for extended periods of time. They rely on the government to make the repairs, but it seems that the more remote the village, the more the government tends to postpone delivering its services.)
The water is piped from the source directly to taps that people can access in town; another pipe at the source provides water to anyone that needs it
The benefits of the water system are visible, and tangible. Women are saved hours' worth of work every day, time that they can now spend on other activities, either to increase other aspects of productivity or to improve their personal lives—or in most cases, both. Sanitation has improved because families can bathe and wash their clothes more frequently. And women have more time to spend with their children now. And around the house or even relaxing. "It's time saved for ourselves," said one woman (thorugh a translator).
Model for Success
An important thing about Tilwari is that its people are organized. They formed a water and sanitation committee to manage the operations and maintenance of the project—and have done so effectively, despite what a daunting task that can be, depending on the local politics of a region and the various needs that need to be represented.
Now the committee meets frequently, if not at consistent intervals—basically whenever an issue arises, the committee members talk. And it's gone well so far: the regional advisor who selected Tilwari for Greengrants praised the committee's, and the village's, dedication and honesty in particular. After the delivery system was installed, for example, there was a surplus of funding, and the committee decided to use that money to start a nursery for small plants as well as launch an educational campaign. Which may not be tangible, a committee member recognized, but is important nonetheless.
And together, the neighboring villages share a collective ownership of the project. They may have differences of opinion on other issues, one man said to me, but on water they agree.
More on rural access to clean water
So Water is a Human Right Now. What Does That Mean for Water-Scarce Regions Around the World?
Five Poverty-Fighting Clean Water Projects and Designs
Millions May Gain Access to Clean Water After Clinton Global Initiative 'Mega-Commitment'
Global Greengrants Fund: Where Green Ideas, from Sustainable Agriculture to Mine Restoration, Sprout Around the World