‘Check dams’

Woman known as the ‘Water Mother’ creates giant lake in the middle of a desert

Amla Ruia (YouTube/BBC News)

Amla Ruia, 71, has become known as the “Water Mother” after leading an initiative that helped provide water to more than 300 villages in Rajasthan, one of the biggest, and driest, states in India. Speaking to BBC News, the inspiring Ruia explained how she found a solution to the barren region’s water problems after hearing that the government had been forced to send water tanks to stop people from dying of dehydration during a drought.

“Something had to be done for a permanent solution,” she said. “It was conceived with the idea of building ‘check dams’ … This is not a new solution. This was practiced by our ancestors.”

During the dry season, Ruia realized, villagers could take advantage of the region’s naturally hilly terrain to create reservoirs that would collect tremendous amounts of water when the monsoon season hit. A single one of these check dams would be able to fill up to 150 wells — providing plentiful and easily accessible water for both drinking and irrigation.

To make her dream a reality, Ruia founded the Aakar Charitable Trust which offered to provide local villages with 60 percent of the resources necessary to build the check dams, and asked the locals to provide the rest. By helping fund and build the dams themselves, Ruia said, the villagers were able to take ownership of the project — and take justified pride in its remarkable results.

“I can’t believe that such a lake has come about in the middle of the desert,” Ruia said, gesturing at a gigantic reservoir that she said could provide water for seven whole villages by itself. “The whole scenario is not changed, it is transformed. Where they couldn’t even own one cattle, they now have eight to nine. Where they couldn’t take one crop, they are taking two — or sometimes even a third crop. Their female offspring are going to school because the mother no longer has to go long distances to fetch water.”

Watch BBC News’ interview with Rula below.

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