Global Warming as a Water Resource Challenge in Southern Asia

In Gondegaon, a small village in India, they donΓÇÖt know much about global warming, but they are living with its consequences.  Weather cycles in Southern Asia have always had their extremes ΓÇô droughts and monsoons ΓÇô but in the last 10 to 15 years the extremes have become more dramatic as a result of global warming. 
In Gondegaon, a small village in India, they don’t know much about global warming, but they are living with its consequences.  Weather cycles in Southern Asia have always had their extremes – droughts and monsoons – but in the last 10 to 15 years the extremes have become more dramatic as a result of global warming. 

The droughts are more severe and last longer.  Water tables are falling to new lows each year.  The residents of villages like Gondegaon live by farming on the acres that are allotted to their village.  The villagers have never owned land, because they are Dalits – the traditionally marginalized lowest caste.  They are generally used and abused by upper caste members and neglected by the government. 

As water resources have become increasingly scarce, some have sold or slaughtered their livestock because they are unable to feed and water them.  Women, who are responsible for hauling water, have had to walk greater and greater distances to find wells that are not dry.  The time spent hauling water means less time spent working in the agricultural fields of the upper caste families for which these women earn a meager but essential income.  Children have been kept out of school to help haul water.  Men and youth have left their home communities to seek jobs in the cities (and many, when they returned, brought HIV/AIDS).  Many men lost their hope for repaying loans after repeated crop failures and committed suicide in shame, leaving wives and children with debts they cannot repay.  The drought, in these many ways, has hurt the already poor economy; caused increased demands for often unavailable healthcare; interfered with the limited ability of children to get an education; and destroyed families.

In the spring of 2004, Global Ministries gave the Church of North India’s Synodical Board of Social Services a grant to be used for water resource development in rural, drought-stricken communities.  Gondegaon was one of several villages which benefited from this program.  SBSS workers saw the issue of water resource development in its larger contexts.  It was really about power, human rights and economic justice.  If SBSS workers simply solved the water scarcity problem for the villagers it would only reinforce their feelings of powerlessness and their expectation that solutions are given, not created. 

So the SBSS staff began by engaging the village leaders in discussions about what could be done to ease the effects of the drought on the village.  A variety of options were considered and villagers made the decision about what would be done and how the villagers would contribute to and then maintain the proposed solutions.  Some villages chose to clean out old wells that had filled with debris over centuries of use.  Some dug tube wells to feed the existing wells.  Most installed pumps, pipelines and a concrete tank in the village to ease the women’s burden of hauling water.  Some villages chose to dig farm ponds and some of these were so successful that dozens of wells in the neighborhood have begun filling with water again. 
As a result of these water resource development projects, women can more easily provide the water they need to run their households and are now able to spend more time working in the fields to support their families.  Children aren’t needed to haul water and can go to school instead.  Village leaders have learned that they have the ability to improve their circumstances and have begun to think about what other improvements they might make.

When I visited these villages in October of 2004, I saw joy, hope and gratitude in the faces of the villagers.  The men were clearly proud of what they had been able to do.  The children performed dances and songs in celebration.  The women wanted to hold my hands and express their gratitude for the help that Global Ministries had given.  These women have difficult lives and struggle daily to provide for their families.  The gift of funds for water resource development has eased their burden and brought hope to overcome despair.

While it was clearly a transformative experience for these villagers to receive the assistance of Global Ministries and SBSS, this was one small bandage on a much bigger problem.  Global Warming continues to threaten many people, animal species and ecosystems.  We are challenged to witness these threats, to help define the problems of behavior and attitude that have created them, and to hold ourselves and our society accountable for designing and creating the changes needed to protect and preserve our planet and its many inhabitants.  May God grant us the vision, the courage and the perseverance to do so!

Debra Frantz, Program Associate
Southern Asia Region
Global Ministries

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