Empowering village communities for a sustainable water future: $1B project launched to improve groundwater management in India

The Government of India’s National Groundwater Management Improvement Program, known as Atal Bhujal Yojana (ATAL JAL), took effect on 1 April and will run for five years, having been officially launched on 25 December 2019 by the Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. The program is being established by the Government of India (GoI) with co-funding from the World Bank to a total of US$1 billion.

ATAL JAL aims to improve groundwater management through community participation and demand-side management in seven water-stressed States – Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Haryana, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. It is envisaged that the project will contribute significantly towards water and food security for more than 4.41 million people through institutional strengthening and capacity building, and incentivising behavioural changes at the village level.

At the request of the World Bank and GoI, the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) is contributing to ATAL JAL by supporting the scaling out and application of its pilot project – managing Aquifer Recharge and Sustaining Groundwater Use through Village-level Intervention (MARVI) – which was successfully implemented in 11 villages in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

MARVI is an approach originally funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) throughout 2011–2017, with AWP supporting and scaling out the next phase of MARVI through Australian Partner and original project lead Western Sydney University (WSU).

“We are excited to be using our partnership approach to leverage this major investment from the World Bank to magnify outcomes from the India MARVI project on such a large scale,” says AWP CEO Prof Nick Schofield.

The MARVI project focussed on training local farmers in groundwater mapping and rainfall/check-dam monitoring, with one of the outputs including a ‘MyWell’ smartphone app. The app enables Indian farmers to monitor and manage scarce groundwater in a distributed and localised way to monitor water levels in wells that supply drinking and irrigation water.

MARVI success story (credit: Atal Bhujal Yojana (ATAL JAL), Ministry of Jal Shakti)

“MARVI’s success is driven by its focus on village-level engagement, where local involvement close to water sources has created a distributed and reliable record of water availability, rainfall and water quality with easy-to-use measurement tools and the fact that everyone now has a smartphone”, said Professor Basant Maheshwari, MARVI Project Leader.

MARVI groundwater stories photobook (credit: WSU)

As one of the outcomes of the original project, WSU released a publication titled ‘Groundwater Stories – Villagers Share their Voices’, which provides an overview of India’s groundwater story and offers profound glimpses into the nexus of groundwater and livelihoods of villagers in rural India, told from their own perspectives.

“I lift water from a well to meet my family’s needs for drinking and washing. But the well’s water level is dropping gradually, making life harder. We need water every day for so many of our needs, including drinking. Without enough water in the well in future, how will we produce food? Simply, it is a big question of our survival.” – Santosh Gaadri, Hinta village, Rajasthan.

The MARVI project has found that community cooperation is key in improving water use efficiency, increasing groundwater recharge, forming sharing arrangement for existing wells, and the education of all members of society – women, men and young future water leaders. It is an important challenge for water security in India, but one which can now be actively addressed on a national scale with the support of the Australian Water Partnership.

For more information on MARVI and to follow its progress, visit the AWP MARVI activity page.

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