One of the major solution areas under which Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan, works is Water. Each individual on the campus believes that every drop of fresh water that falls on the ground should be harnessed for use. And so, they use various techniques and methods to conserve as much water as possible.
For this purpose, the College combines traditional harvesting practices with new technologies to make water accessible, clean and safe to drink for millions of people. One of the flagship activities includes rainwater harvesting. The campus collects rainwater from rooftops and stores it in low-cost underground tanks. Barefoot College, itself, has an underground tank with a capacity of 5,00,000 litres underneath its amphitheatre. Additionally, Barefoot College supports the construction of three dams that bring drinking water to more than 100 communities. These dams are not repurposed for energy but support the water demands of the people and livestock living in some of the most arid regions. Altogether, Barefoot College’s initiatives towards conservation of water help collect water in 15 states for 32 million people.
Complementing these on-ground offline efforts is Neerjaal, an online drinking water and sanitation information system.
Neerjaal, initiated by Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) and the Barefoot College, is a web-based water quality mapping tool that seeks to create a water management portal for communities at the grassroots level. The vision behind the project is to empower every villager to collect information about water resources in their vicinity, create and share reports on public domains, and gradually lead the community members to make informed decisions for water management.
Under this project, community members have been collecting and managing information regarding various linkages of water in the deserts of Rajasthan, especially in and around Tilonia. The information is collected through various statistical reports and tests and then exported to the online reporting and documentation portal of Neerjaal. Through this project, members of the community have been strengthened to test water on a wide range of physical (such as temperature, colour and odour) and chemical (such as chloride content, fluoride content, pH level and hardness) properties to check whether or not they are in excess of the standards laid down by the Bureau of Indian Standards.
Empowered with this information, the communities are also able to spread awareness about health and environment issues stemming out of polluted or inefficiently managed water. “Therefore, Neerjaal not only helps in water conservation and management but also ensures community sensitisation and capacity building of the villagers,” says Tara Choudhary who manages the content on the Neerjaal website.