Changing the Flow by Regenerating with Water - Rainwater Lakes in Rajasthan and Reverse Migration

Updated: Oct 27

A Return to the Village

In India, like many countries, the migration of people from rural villages to large cities in search of work and livelihoods is the common flow. Pushed by water scarcity, there are estimated to be nearly 100 million inter-state migrants in Indian cities, many of whom live in poverty in informal settlements. In March 2020 the Indian Covid Lockdown reversed this flow when millions of migrant workers fled cities as wages evaporated and returned home to their villages.

Indian Lockdown, March 2020: people flee the cities in reverse migration back to villages

What awaited them could be anything from an eroded desertified landscape with little opportunities to subsist, to a fertile and verdant agricultural area with a cohesive community, sustainable rural economy and opportunities of self-sufficiency and employment.

What makes the difference between these two extremes? Water. If water is not held within the landscape it washes through and away leading to erosion, depleted aquifers, failed crops and biodiversity and habitat loss. Many people who returned home from cities found that the place they had left had eroded further, that, in tandem with the exodus of young migrant workers, water too had left their villages, and with it, life.

But, as we will see, by regrouping as a community and taking collective action, eroded lands can be rejuvenated and life can be restored. By changing the flow of water, people too are held and sustained and opportunities can be found in the place they call home.

The UK-based The Flow Partnership have been working with the Rajasthani organisation Tarun Bharat Sangh and villagers in Rajasthan to do just this. Together they create traditional ‘johads’ or ponds, enabling a holistic regeneration of the surrounding land, the community and the local economy. The Flow Partnership are also taking this model of Community Driven Decentralised Water Management into other countries in the world- especially into Africa and Latin America, working closely with local NGO’s such as TBS in those locations.

Climate change and drought in Rajasthan

Increasing and more lengthy droughts, fueled by climate change, are leading to desertification and livelihood loss in Rajasthan. In the Sarsa river catchment area, at least 21 rivers and streams have disappeared leaving wells and boreholes dry. Monsoon rains bring water back to the arid landscape, but if the water is not held it washes out of the area and cannot be used to irrigate crops.

Johads, traditional rainwater filled ponds, once acted to retain water within the landscape, supplying the surrounding area with gravity-fed water. As the wells and boreholes go dry, local people are again appreciating the regenerative effects of johads to bring back life to a parched landscape and are working together to restore ancient johads and create new ones.

Building Johads - a multiple partnership

Villagers meet to agree plans for the johad and collectively work to construct it

“The average rainfall is very low here. That is why we, the people of Maharajpura came together and decided to make our johad bigger.”