Maharashtra state has witnessed uneven and skewed agricultural and economic development throughout the state with Marathwada comprising of 8 districts (Aurangabad, Jalna, Beed, Parbhani, Hingoli, Nanded, Latur and Osmanabad) becoming the most neglected region of Maharashtra in terms of major developmental indicators, as it is drought prone and lacks major natural resources. Nearly 32% of its area comes under the rain shadow region receiving less than 750 mm of annual average rainfall with drought being a recurrent feature. In addition to poor rainfall patterns, unregulated ground water exploitation due to increased water demand with scant attention to ground water recharging and water management practices has created a drought situation in Marathwada region.
Agriculture is one of the most important economic sector of the region with about 70% of the area under cultivation, 60 % held by small and marginal farmers. With only 16% of the agriculture area covered by irrigation, most of the farmers depend on ground water for their agriculture purposes accessed through bore wells and open wells/tanks. Factors like low rainfall, absence of water retention structures, poor water management, adoption of inappropriate resource intensive cropping patterns (over dependence on sugarcane) has led to the over exploitation of the ground water resources creating a drought situation in the region. Season after season of scanty monsoon rainfall resulting in crop failures, huge debts and lack of alternative income sources have led to migration of the rural community seeking alternative livelihoods (mostly construction work), poverty and destitution and in many cases farmer suicide. Farmer suicide has been reported to be on the rise in the Marathwada region with an average of 1000 deaths every year for the past three years. The main reasons being heavy debt, infertile lands and water scarcity. Water scarcity has also led to large scale migration of more than 10-15 lakh rural farmers, to cities ending up as labourers for construction sites or sugar cane industries. Separated households, disrupted or non-existent education of children, growth of urban slums, unhygienic living conditions and exploitation of the rural farmers are the norms in this scenario.
Women are the worst hit during this crisis as they are responsible for providing household water facilities. Women trudge long distances to fetch water spending hours on filling the ever hungry ever empty pots and drums of the household, repeating this strenuous process every day often involving girl children. This prolonged activity not only takes a toll on the woman’s health but also gives her very limited time to provide quality care for her family and take part in developmental activities or creative activities. Girl children lose out on their education as they are required to be involved in household chores and water carrying activities.
IIRD has implemented water conservation and water management programmes in 20 villages in 5 districts of Marathwada, namely Aurangabad, Jalna, Hingoli, Parbhani and Beed. The programme includes initiation of water conservation measures and water management systems resulting in water accessibility to these villages.In these villages, IIRD works through “Paani Sevikas” or water animators who are trained to mentor and coordinate the water conservation activities of their respective villages. Village water committees are formed and they are facilitated to come up with their plans to improve their availability and accessibility of water both in their farms and households. The village plans are facilitated to be implemented through partnership with national and international development agencies like NABARD, Bread for the World (BftW), Bajaj Auto CSR, and AFARM. IIRD in coordination with the village water committees and paani sevikas have been successful in the construction of 10 check dams, a number of gabion bunds, sunken and farm ponds, water absorption trenches "WAT" or continuous contour bunds as well asdeepening , widening and desilting of 24 streams. At least four of the villages have been transformed from "tanker fed" (water tankers provide water to each household for at least 300 days in year) to "tanker free" villages. Effective planning and deployment of water conservation structures in the villageshas significantly improved the access to water for irrigation and household purposes.