Traveling to Teenpiple – a village in Panchkhal valley of Nepal takes a good 2 and half hours from the capital city of Kathmandu.
Surrounded by lush green hills lined with rows of Pine, the village is like a picture postcard where a maze of yellow and green fields show paddy at different stage of ripening.
It’s difficult to believe that barely three years ago the village was reeling under a severe drought which drove the villagers into a state of panic.
I have Bhojraj Panta – a local in his early 50’s as my guide. The narrow path leading from the motor road to the village is covered with thick vegetation. Walking through that, Bhojraj tells me, "5 years ago, this path was dry, without even a speck of greenery. All summer we waited for rain, but when the monsoon came, there were only a few random showers."
In villages like Teenpiple, rain is as regular of an occurrence as cold is in the winter and daisies are in the spring. So, it took a while for them to accept that what they were witnessing was a drought – something they had never experienced or anticipated earlier.
"There were 40 natural streams in the villages. The water, flowing down from the surrounding hills, collected in wells. We got all our water from there. With the drought, all the streams dried up. We had no water to drink. There was no water for our fields or our animals. There was a crop failure. It was devastating." Bhojraj recalls.
Crisis, however, is a leveler and a unifying force at times. In this case, the drought brought villagers of Teenpiple to their neighbors from two other villages in the valley – Paudiyalchok and Jhigonpur – which had also been experiencing the drought, closer. Now there was an 18,000-strong force of people, ready to fight it out together.
The focus, they decided, would have to be on creating an alternative water source that could meet their current water need, as well as be useful in any possible future scarcity.
They began by digging a community pond. It took them a year to do that, during which all the villagers contributed equal amount of labor. Finally, they managed to dig not one, but two ponds of about 200X200 ft wide and over 15 feet deep. Now they had enough water for everyone for their fields – a reason why the ponds were right in the middle of the village.
However, the water in the community pond is too muddy to consume. So, they decided to go for rainwater harvesting. With the help of the government and a few NGOs, they started to build rainwater storages. And finally, in about 6 months, they villagers had 56 rainwater storages! Each of these storages can hold 12,000 liter of water. Though this doesn’t ensure abundant supply, helps the villagers quench their thirst throughout the dry season.
Walking around Paudiyalchok village, I meet Jogmaya, a 42 year old woman, husking corns. ‘How were the drought years?’ I ask her. "Very difficult,” she answers, "We had 2 buffalos and we had to sell both as our crops died in the field."
Has life eased following the pond and the rainwater storage?
“Yes,” she says. We have enough water to drink and wash. This year we have grown 40 kg of corns,” she says with a smile. A mother of two teenage daughters, Jogmaya is particularly happy that both her children can also have enough water now to wash and stay clean.
Interestingly, since 2009, monsoon has been bringing more rain than the previous 3 years. But it is still below the normal and the pattern too is quite erratic. Therefore, the villagers have also taken to planting pine trees in the barren hills. Today, there are eight community forests in Panchkhal valley covering around 5,000 ha area with predominantly pine trees.
According to a government plan, Panchkhal valley is soon going to be developed into a commercial hub, in association with China. Once the plan is a reality, population is expected to grow significantly, causing a lot more water stress on the area. But villagers of Teenpiple, Paudiyalchok and Jhigonpur need not worry much; they have their own ‘backup’ water system – the rainwater storages and the village ponds. As Bhojraj says, "Whatever happens, we can pull through.”