Planet Care

361: Johad dams


In the 1980s, the Alwar district in the North-Western state of Rajasthan had become one of the driest in all of India, even though older villagers remembered that its rivers used to flow in the past. The annual rainfall is very low, between 17 and 23 in. (500 and 600 mm) and the water can be unpleasant to drink. Many farmers were migrating to the cities, as there was no longer any means of subsistence from the land.


When Rajendra Singh, a 26-year-old volunteer from the NGO Tarun Bharat Sangh, arrived in the area in 1985, he discovered the alarming state of children’s health in the villages, because of malnutrition, a consequence of the drought.

From an elder of the village Singh learned of the former existence of johads, earthen ponds used to retain runoff water so that it infiltrated the soil instead of s’ drain and evaporate. Johads in Haryanvi language and Rajasthani language are also called sarovar, and taal and talab, respetively in Hindi language.

Johads could collect and store water throughout the year, to be used for the purpose of recharging the groundwater in the nearby water wells, washing, bathing and drinking by humans and cattle. Some johads also had brick or stone masonry and cemented ghat (series of steps and/or ramp).

Dating back to the 13th century, johads were considered unhealthy by the occupying British Raj and replaced by the provision of water through pipelines in some cases from very long distances, from dammed reservoirs

It has emerged that the traditional water-collecting methods are more robust in case of a poor monsoon than the large reservoirs, which sometimes dry up completely.vSingle-handedly, Rajendra Singh first decided to build a water johad to see how it would work. He then brought together groups of villages to build others or rebuild old ones. When the villagers had constructed 375 johads, the river began to flow after having been dry for several decades.

Through his Tarun Bharat Sangh NGO of which he became President, Rejandra Singh formed the Haryana State Waterbody Management Board to rejuvenate and manage 14,000 ponds in the state, including the development of 60 lakes in Delhi NCR. By 2003, despite bureaucracy and the mining lobby, over five thousand johads had been built leading to the rejuvenation of 2,500 old reservoirs, providing irrigation water to 346,000 ac (140,000 ha.) and to 700,000 people across more than 650 villages in Alwar district..

By 2015, that number had risen to 8,600 johads bringing water back to 1,000 villages, reviving five rivers in Rajasthan, Arvari, Ruparel, Sarsa, Bhagani and Jahajwali. Rajendra Singh attributes the success of the johads to the fact that the technology encourages people to work together, building community while addressing essential needs.

This is in strong opposition to the large government-built dams, which have displaced millions of people in India and, on average, have increased poverty. Singh, who won the the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2001 and Stockholm Water Prize in 2015, is known as द वाटर मैन ऑफ राजस्थान (“the Water Man of Rajasthan”).

Discover Solution 362: Straw drinking-straw

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