Some call him the River Maker, others the Rainman of Rajasthan. His real name is Rajendra Singh. His nicknames come from his self-imposed mission to solve his state’s water problems, one raindrop at a time.
“Today with global warming and climate change so many things are going on. Yes, this is the global problem. This is the modern problem. The solution is indigenous water conservation,” Singh says. Singh lives and works in Rajasthan, one of the driest states in India. It is the country’s largest state in land mass but has only about one percent of the country’s water resources. Singh has spent the last 25 years of his life practicing what he preaches there. His message is always the same. He says rainwater is a resource we cannot afford to waste, instead we should capture and utilize it. “If the drops come from the cloud, we can catch it!” He says with his hands stretched to the sky. “And that drop go[es] into the under[ground] aquifer and fulfills the aquifer. If that drop comes back so [it will] make springs, make a river.”
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We caught up with him in Rajasthan’s Alwar district. One of India’s so-called “princely states” once ruled by Indian royalty. Back in the 1980s the government declared the area a dark zone: An area villagers could no longer pump up clean water because the water table had gotten so low. “When there was a famine there was a drought I had to leave.” Farmer Narin Joshi told us who has lived in the area his whole life. “I had to work as a laborer in Delhi to make ends meet. There was no way I could earn any money here. I had to go.” That meant leaving his wife behind to raise their children and try to keep them fed. “If there is a harvest we benefit from the farm.” His wife Kalawati Devi his wife says. “And if there is no harvest we get nothing.” For 10 years Joshi worked as a snack seller in Delhi sending back money to help his family survive.
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He says that all changed after Singh and his organization Tarun Bharat Sangh showed up. The group came to teach the villagers something their forefathers once practiced: The building of traditional dams called Johads. The dams are made of earth and rock. They are fashioned to capture the rain so the water will trickle down and replenish the aquifer eventually giving rise to water in the wells and bringing dead rivers back to life. But the work takes a community effort. One family is not enough to get it done. Singh says his role is to teach and motivate the community. “There are more than 10-thousand water harvesting structures we [have] made in last 25 years. And all these structures came through the community effort. I just motivate and realize to the community and [the] community joined hands with us and they made it!” It is easy to see the result when water becomes available again. Everything from water buffalo to majestic peacocks. Water snakes gather at the watering holes. Over the years Singh says his organization and the villagers of Rajasthan have revived seven rivers across the state helping more than a thousand villages. Now instead of traveling long distances carrying heavy vats of water, or migrating to the cities to make a living, the villagers can stay put and begin to enjoy their surroundings more.
The availability of water brought the Joshi family back together again because the husband could finally make a living here. “I have planted many kinds of trees. For my livelihood I do farming.” He says “My family and I are leading very peaceful lives.”