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At an alarming rate, unprofitable rice paddies, critical to groundwater recharging, have been converted to more profitable crops like banana and rubber. Rice paddies have also been repurposed for other uses, such as urban expansion, sand mining and waste disposal.

“In certain areas, there’s no raised land. So they want to bring in soil from the eastern side and fill all these paddy fields for hotels,” says Father Peelicanickal. “This is a great loss to the country and nature. Environmentally, it’s wrong. We have to protect this land. We cannot develop this area like Mumbai or Kochi. It’s a special area. Development should not hinder the environmental ecosystem. Every drop of water is valuable and every inch of land, too.”

Having already helped construct 800 tanks in the local community, KVS has become a major proponent of rainwater harvesting, a technique Keralites have just embraced.

“It’s the only solution,” asserts Father Peelicanickal, who faults the government for allowing the public water system to fall into disrepair. Only 20 percent of all households in Kerala are supplied drinking water by the Kerala Water Authority; 80 percent rely on open wells or, as Father Peelicanickal claims, contaminated groundwater.

“The government is spending lots of money, but nobody gets water,” he bristles. “The pipe system started 30 or 40 years ago and it’s only around the roads. But most people live in the interior, where there are no pipes and no piped water. So they take polluted water from the river. Still, the pipes already beneath the soil are broken. So the same water from the river comes through the pipe. Some days they boil the water, but not always and not always long enough. E.coli is prevalent here. Eighty percent of the local population suffers from waterborne diseases — whatever you gain from labor and agriculture is spent in the hospital.”

This past February, the dry season has returned to Kallupalam. But while a layer of dust has coated the surfaces of pictures and tables in the home of Annieamma Joseph, something is different.

The Joseph family is busy around the house. Mrs. Joseph’s son, Bibin, carries a bucket of water to the cow trough. Dirty clothes soak in a basin awaiting a final rinse. The bucket by the latrine sits ready, filled to the brim. For the first time, the family opts to use the latrine during the summer months. And by the door to the kitchen, a black rubber hose hangs over the lip of another large blue plastic drum.

“This is the first dry season I have felt relaxed,” says Mrs. Joseph.

Last September, thanks to a $20,000 grant from CNEWA, Mrs. Joseph and 44 other families in Kallupalam have water available in their homes. With electricity in the village unreliable, a diesel-powered engine pipes water from a community well to a large tank just above the Josephs’ home. From there, a network of pipes — and gravity — does the rest.

A five-person committee, headed by Father Mathew Thadathil, the parish priest, oversaw the 10-month project. Grants paid for all the materials and skilled labor. The villagers contributed unskilled labor.

Each home has a water meter to gauge usage. Users pay 1.5 rupees per liter (less than a cent for a third of a gallon), which covers the cost of maintaining the system.

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Tags: Kerala Farming/Agriculture Water Socioreligious programs