In Indian culture, one of the noblest acts a person can do is provide water to someone who is thirsty. In the western part of the Indian state of Odisha, from March to June, communities are faced with three major challenges — drought, soaring temperatures up to 115 degrees and contaminated water sources. To provide relief, Rise Against Hunger partnered with two local organizations, Stop Hunger Now India and Ahinsa Club, to provide 48 total water points, or Jala Sevas, of safe drinking water to reduce dehydration, as well as water sanitation education to limit the spread of waterborne disease.
Local Volunteers Taking the Lead
The water points are managed by local “Water Committees” consisting of 8-10 trained village volunteers who also provide culturally relevant education to their communities through trainings, skits and songs.
As I stepped out of the vehicle during my first visit to a water point in mid-May, the Water Committee shuffled me out of the blistering sun and under the shade of a large tree. They walked me through their process of collecting water from the nearby well several times daily, testing the water after each collection and purifying it by adding a specific number of chloride drops. They explained how they track the number of people who visit each water point daily, and how the water point locations were chosen strategically with village leaders to reach the maximum number of people and livestock. The pride and ownership exuded by each Water Committee member was evident and has resulted in a successful implementation and execution of the project.
I asked the president of the Water Committee, “Is there a limit to how much water someone can take from the water point?” he replied in the local Oriya language, “Anyone who comes can drink as much water as they want, there is no limit.”
At a second point a few miles away, I asked the local women’s group acting as the Water Committee managing the water point who comes to drink the water. One member shared, “We have people of all ages because the market is down the road. But during the week we are primarily visited by the children of the school across the street who come over during recess.” While pointing across the road, she added, “Without this water, most of them wouldn’t have anything to drink during the day.”
Siba, Ahinsa Club Director, brought my attention to the red Glucon-D sachets dangling in rows from the Jala Seva shelter being sold for 1 rupee ($0.15). The sachets, provided by Kraft Heinz, are necessary to helping fight dehydration because the glucose is quickly absorbed by the body. He opened the sachet, mixed the powder with a cup of water, gulped it back, and said with a smile, “The kids love the citrus flavors which keep them coming back.”
In total, 17 water points have been built for more than 16,000 people, and 31 points have been dug for 5,000 livestock from 20 villages in the Balangir and Bargarh Districts. In a region where the heat claimed the lives of eight people by late May, these water points are an important resource for those impacted by the drought.
Livestock is a major asset in securing the livelihoods of individuals working hard to achieve food security for their families. If someone loses livestock due to dehydration or being forced to sell at a low market price, it can have devastating consequences. This major setback at the household level has an effect on household incomes, which can mean the difference between providing food for the family, children attending school or having the capital to purchase medicine when a family member is sick. It can also leave the family vulnerable to survive shocks such as natural or man-made disasters.
At the village level, we have seen the drought affect the prosperity of entire communities because the head of households and the oldest children are left with no choice but to migrate to cities to perform daily labor jobs. This adds pressure on the families, and as some migrate permanently to the cities, village populations are depleted. Supporting the water needs of livestock along with people protects this source of income, resilience, and self-sufficiency.
India is a place that captivates and stays with you long after you leave. I still have the musical sounds of Bollywood songs with distant car horns floating around my head and the wafting smell of curries being cooked over an open fire with freshly baked roti. If you visit, you too will be brought into the fold as you strike up a conversation with a new friend over a cup of chai at a roadside stand, smell the incense and hear the sound of bells as you walk by an ancient temple, or the catch the blur of brightly colored sari’s against the backdrop of an open landscape as you drive by a village in Odisha.
Trips like these remind me time and time again that we are all connected as humans in one global family. In the dedicated journey of Rise Against Hunger working in partnerships to achieve global food security by 2030, we stand united with our resilient brothers and sisters in India and remain committed until zero hunger is achieved for all.
To ensure Rise Against Hunger’s ability to respond to crises like this one around the globe, please consider making a gift to our Global Emergency Relief Fund today.