India, the second-most populous country in the world, with about 1.3 billion population is one of the largest consumers of water. And its extremely high demand for water coupled with poor and unequal water distribution throughout the country has left people finding it extremely difficult to access water. As per Water.org, about 541 million Indians (41% of the population) lack access to improved sanitation. About 99 million (7%), don’t have access to safe water.
Jakhau, a village in Gujarat, is one such place where people are suffering from horrid water access. Located in the Kutch district of Gujarat, this village is 15 km away from the Jakhau port where it meets the Arabian Sea. Due to its proximity to the sea, groundwater in Jakhau is often saline and hence not consumable.
To access water, the people of Jakhau dig pits and wells to store the rainwater. This is the only way they can access freshwater during monsoons. Digging wells is in fact not as easy as it sounds since they risk letting the seawater mix with the freshwater if the well is dug too close or too deep to the ground level where seawater has seeped in.
But how do they know till where it is safe to dig?
One needs to be wary of digging wells in Jakhau since haphazard digging can end up mixing seawater with the freshwater. Due to the proximity to sea, there are layers of limestone underground which have absorbed seawater through the surrounding land. Often, geologists study and analyze the layers that are underground in Jakhau and help the villagers by suggesting the depth till which they can safely dig a well.
But the digging of wells is just half of the job. Once these wells are dug, the women from all the households line up waiting for their turn, hoping to fill their pails with water before the well dries out. It might take about three to four hours for some women to wait for their turn and finally fill their pails with water. And all this is only possible assuming that there were good monsoons to fill up the wells with enough water for 4000 people in the village. During summers or when there are no enough rains, the people are left at the mercy of a few government-owned or privately organised water tankers.
This has been the plight of the people of Jakhau for several decades now. This doesn’t stop here. The poor quality of water often causes many water-borne diseases in the people of Jakhau. The nearest town, Naliya, where they could find decent health services is about 30 kilometres away from Jakhau. While the residents continue to use the wells for their water needs, few know about the health hazards poor water quality can cause.
Meanwhile, they continue to build check dams and dig lakes and pits to ensure that when the rains pour down, there are enough pits to store the water for their foreseeable future.