By Nazim Ali Manhas
“We trek five kilometers twice everyday just to collect water for our households,” says an exhausted Janghir Hussain pointing to the many plastic and aluminum barrels that are in the process of being filled up and loaded on to the horses.
“What can I say about our woes, what with the Corona scare and the shelling from across the border, our lives are miserable,”he says wiping the sweat from his brow, tired from undertaking the trek in an arduous terrain.
Everyday men and children from the village of Daryrian in Sagara Panchayat in Mankot Tehsil of Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir spend five to six hours collecting water for the daily needs of their families.
This frontier village, situated on the line of Control between India and Pakistan faces a severe water stress. Home to the Bakarwal tribe, a nomad community which migrates with their horses seasonally to the lower plains, the region has no source of water for either its people or its horses which is their primary source of livelihood.
Twice a day, the community collects water from a natural spring that runs in a village down the plains. They then trudge up the hilly terrain along with their horses carrying back loads of water, uncertain if the water is even potable.
Children lose school hours to help their families in gathering and storing water that takes up most of their day, sometimes as much as five to six hours.
“We do not have the time to go to school or to study at home,” says 16 year old Adnan Tariq who has accompanied his father to collect water. “There isn’t enough time to play or do anything that we would like to. The entire day goes in planning when to come down to get water, taking it back home and then storing it,” he says resignedly.
Education which is a great equalizer for poverty alleviation and empowerment remains a distant dream for these children who spend their childhood in gathering water for their families and horses. Focusing their entire energy on collecting water means that several children have dropped out of school as well. Accentuating their woes is the firing from a hostile neighbor that often targets civilian population who are in the line of fire.
On days when there is intensive shelling from across the border, the villagers stay put in their houses, afraid to venture out in search of water. “We cannot come for water when there is shelling” says Adnan. “Do we face death by getting fired or do we die of dehydration, this is a choice we have to make for most of the year” he says with a gloomy countenance. Lack of water also means unhygienic personal and living spaces, dehydrated animals and the fear of spread of diseases.
India is among the world’s most water-stressed countries. Yet, most of its crisis is one of faulty management and an inability to address the severe shortages, especially among its vast majority of rural population.
Home to 18 percent of the global population, India has only 4 percent of the global water resources. Its per capita water availability is around 1,100 cubic meter (m3), well below the internationally recognized threshold of water stress of 1,700 m3 per person, and dangerously close to the threshold for water scarcity of 1,000 m3 per person.
Given its heterogeneous, diverse and often difficult geographical terrain, it is a herculean task to ensure that water reaches its most remote areas that is home to several tribal, mostly underrepresented and marginalized communities. In India, experience with improving water service delivery has been mixed as, only in rare cases have efforts been embedded in a favorable policy and regulatory environment.
India’s frontier villages, those that lie on the fringes of its borders with neighboring and mostly hostile countries face the worst brunt of poor water resources and management policies. One such village is It is essential that the government addresses this acute water shortages in India’s frontier villages that are already threatened by intermittent shelling from across the border.
The National Water Mission of the Central government was established with a total financial outlay of Rs.196 crore for the XII Plan period, but for the people of this frontier village along the LOC, no help is forthcoming from this end. The government needs to immediately address the water shortages in this village where lives are already marred due to the conflict along the Line of Control…
(The Writer is a Stringer with News18 India, Poonch)