Mumbai matriarch, Amla Ruia, is one of the most prolific dam builders in the world, writes Aamir Rafiq Peerzeda on BBC on December 12, 2017.

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The 71 year-old woman is at the forefront of India’s fight against drought.

Each year more than 300 million people in India have to battle severe water shortages. In recent years when the monsoon rains have been disappointing the government has been forced to deliver water to farms and villages by trains and tankers. People have died from dehydration because of the distance they had to travel in order to get to the nearest well.

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India’s biggest state, Rajasthan, is also one of the driest, and it’s here that Amla Ruia and her Aakar Charitable Trust have been working. Over the past 10 years they have built more than 200 “check dams”, transforming the lives and livelihoods of more than 115 villages, and affecting another 193.

An ancient system

The trust works with local communities to find parts of the landscape that can capture water, like a reservoir. Instead of building man-made reservoirs from scratch, they use the natural contours of the hilly landscape, building slopes, and shoring up spaces, to catch and keep water in these semi-natural basins or check dams.

When the monsoon comes, the check dams fill up and replenish the water table which has dangerously degraded over time. The aquifers and wells near the villages retain the water for the dry season. They are cost effective, and unlike major dams and reservoirs, there is no mass displacement of people when they are built.

“This is not a new solution, this was practised by our ancestors,” says Amla Ruia.

“The structures we make have a concrete wall only in the middle, so when the water level increases it can easily overflow from this side,” says Aakar Charitable Trust engineer Drigpal Singha.

“Other walls are made from earthen bunds, and the bed is just normal soil, so as you can see, it’s all soil.

“When it gets filled up the water directly seeps into the soil and recharges the water table, and brings up the water level in all the nearby wells.” he says.

Read full article at bbc.com

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