Harvesting rainwater to solve water problems

People from AJK used rainwater to find a simple solution to the complex problem of water shortage.

ayesha.fazal March 28, 2011
What better news to share in the season of spring than about the human effort to preserve the divine gift of water.

Rainwater is the cleanest form of water, it has no biological contamination. It is fit for human consumption and, of course, irrigation.

Happy serendipity

In the 1980s, the locals in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) thought of putting rainwater to use by collecting it in whatever containers they had available. Unaware of a world where rain water harvesting was being done on a large scale through various organisations, these simple folk stumbled upon a simple solution to the complex problem of water shortage.

It all started when men from AJK left for the Middle East. With new-found prosperity, their village houses now had flat tin roofs; as a village woman must have looked out her window waiting for her husband, she must have seen water dripping in a straight path to the ground from the edge of the square tin roof. Available buckets and pots must have been brought out to collect that water. Or perhaps it was a child or a man who saw this offering from the skies first, we don’t know for sure. What we do know is that the result was improved sanitation and the setting up of latrines.

Local culture prepares the ground

These local solutions gave way to efforts at the governmental and organisational level. Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) took this up in the earthquake affected areas of AJK and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).

Did they face resistance? No. Familiar with the advice of spiritual sages to drink rain water to increase the potency of an amulet, the locals happily installed the ERRA-provided, locally engineered and manufactured water collection units. It’s a simple mechanism consisting of a gutter system or naali that makes the water mobile. The first flush driver helps get rid of the first bit of rain water that washes the roof clean. Then clean water can be taken to the storage tanks.

For people living on hills, where water scarcity is felt if it doesn’t rain for even a month, this solution was heaven-sent!

Tapping multiple media for info-flow

But ERRA, under Director General Water & Sanitation, Zaheer Gardezi, was not taking any chances. Through an all-Pakistan project logo-design competition, Paksitanis beyond the earthquake affected areas also came to know of this simple way to reap an abundance of water. The endearing identity of Chacha Barish (Uncle Rain), the project mascot, was created and radio channels started spreading useful information to the residents of AJK and K-P.

Over 200,000 people will benefit from the project. Four hundred organisational buildings have also been fitted with rain water harvesting units.

DG Gardezi, hailing from Bagh, AJK, says has made it his personal mission to convince organisations to understand that the dwindling ground water reserves have to be replenished. People are paying attention to what he has to say.

Organizational inlets

No river runs strong and long by itself. The concept of rain water harvesting from rooftops, storage ponds and other means is seeping farther and deeper through institutional linkages across sectors and provinces. The Capital Development Authority recently made it mandatory for new houses being built in Islamabad on an area of 1,000 square feet or more to be fitted with rain water harvesting units.

How deep is the water: the research angle

Partnering with 20 universities from all across Pakistan, ERRA is facilitating and encouraging research on water conservation. The researchers will do the important work of studying the impact of rain water harvesting on livelihood, livestock, agriculture, health, soil erosion, watershed management and other cross-sectoral issues. Once the research findings point to the broad impact of rain water harvesting, more interest and support may be generated in it across Pakistan.

At ERRA, work is also underway to create a book documenting the issues and innovations in water management. This will be provided to university libraries as reference material.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are other government bodies and NGOs making ripples in the clear drinkable rain water to dilute Pakistan’s water scarcity issues.

Published in The Express Tribune.