Floods are a recurrent problem in Uttar Pradesh, India. The result of torrential rainfall, typhoons, and broken dams during each rainy season, they often cause humanitarian emergencies: destroying houses, washing away land, and interrupting regular medical services. Silt swept downstream impacts the ecosystem and damages crops. It also endangers people’s health as they are obliged to drink the same muddy water they use as an open air toilet. Whole communities have to flee flooded areas; after abandoning their belongings, tools, and livestock, they have no means to earn a living.
Sahbhagi Shikshan Kendra (SSK) is a participatory learning organisation which empowers communities through building capacity for self-governance. Among other accomplishments, SSK has developed a simple, affordable, innovative solution to ensure access to potable water in flooded communities. Before this breakthrough initiative, Ghaghara River communities near the Nepal border, for example, would suffer devastating annual floods affecting 40-50,000 people in 209 villages.
Standard hand pumps get submerged under floodwaters, eliminating villages’ source of safe drinking water. After a massively destructive flood in 2007, SSK and other organizations set to think of ways to ensure local communities continued to have clean drinking water and flood-resistant toilets during emergencies.
Replicability around the globe
In 2008, SSK, with the support of Malteser International and the European Commission, installed 30 new hand pumps with raised platforms and proper drainage systems. Their platform level was based on the level of the last flood; the main structure was built of cement, providing structural stability and flood resistance. Later improvements have included stairs and railings to prevent falls. The space required has also been reduced. Their sturdy structures also allow locals to moor boats when they come to fetch water for their homes. And very importantly, their simple design now allows local communities to maintain and repair them independently.
The raised hand pumps have functioned effectively since 2008, providing a constant supply of clean water to flooded areas. They have also helped to reduce waterborne diseases significantly during floods. As a result of their success, the UNDP and government agencies have introduced raised hand pumps into their programmes. Their use keeps on expanding.
The simple technology is easily replicable in other flood-prone areas around the globe.