Case Study | How Kasaragod district in Kerala overcame their water crisis

Kasaragod water crisis

When subject to pressure, it is important to find solutions with the resources in hand to flourish against all odds. A district in Kerala, Kasaragod exhibited sheer grit and far-sighted commitment in the face of the water crisis and successfully overcame the problem. We’re sharing their water story which might just inspire another city, district, or even an entire state to overcome a water crisis.

What was the root of the problem?

The summer months bring with it a period of drought, which intensifies the problem of water shortage. The groundwater level was dipping lower and lower in the district of Kasaragod. As a result, the inhabitants decided to dig borewells. But, did this solve the problem?

Unfortunately not, on the contrary, the situation worsened. The groundwater extraction limit had increased as high as 80%. In no time, Kasaragod had become the district that has the most borewells in the area. This rampant digging up of borewells was drying up aquifers and aquifer recharge was not guaranteed.

How has the terrain played its part?

The region’s sloping terrain makes it impossible to hold back any water in the soil. In many areas, you will witness there is little or no soil at all, and instead, there are vast expanses of black rock. The uncalculated construction of roads has contributed to a higher degree of soil erosion. Along with the innumerable borewells, it also has a fairly comprehensive road network.

Lack of Awareness for Conservation

Sadly, people were not encouraged to adopt alternative solutions of using the water available in open wells until it was possible to, making the situation worse again. Plus, the geographical factors were unfavourable for the residents to be able to save water.

As each year the rains continued but th duration of the showers became shorter. Moreover, whenever it did rain, not much was done to conserve water. Shree Padre, a famous water activist, and journalist based in Kerala attributed this water crisis to the lack of awareness amongst the residents of the district.  

The Problem Solving Phase

Phase 1- Borewell Application

To start with, every borewell construction was permitted only after an application for it was submitted to the District Level Committee. This is followed by scrutinizing the application and the sight where the borewell is to be constructed.

Another factor that is taken into consideration while granting someone permission to dig a borewell, is whether or not the KWA (Kerala Water Authority) can reach the particular area or not. If it does come into the purview, the permission will not be granted. Furthermore, critical and semi-critical areas were altogether blocked out.

However, every initiative comes with a set of loopholes and the most apparent one in this system was that this bit of information failed to trickle down to people at the grassroots level.

Construction of ‘ Katthas’

When phase 1 of the problem-solving plan yielded no results, the District administration decided to resort to techniques that worked in the past. It involved the construction of temporary check dams and the revival of streams and rivers. Traditionally referred to as ‘kattas’, these check dams saved the day.

In November and December after the monsoon rains, these ‘kattas’ are filled full with the excess water that is unchecked from the streams and rivers. Initially, the excess water stored up in these dams was simply used from there, later on, it was transported to irrigate paddy fields and gardens. The initiative was backed by Rajmohan Unnithan who felt that the construction of these dams was the last resort left to save the district.

Construction of a check dam involves the efforts of 10 to 12 workers for a duration of 2 weeks. They are regarded as sacred structures, hence the workers construct a ‘katta’ without their footwear. Each ‘katta’ construction is followed by an offering and a prayer ritual for it to be strong.

The aftermath of success leads to a greater realisation 

A recent survey suggests that the groundwater level has risen up to 9 meters. Besides that rainwater harvesting, watershed management, recharge of wells, and water literacy among the residents have contributed to this improvement.

Water, the most essential resource for the continuity of life on Earth, is dwindling. Most metropolitan cities are neck-deep in a water crisis. The warning bells are ringing but unfortunately not much is being done to change the situation.

While the people of Kasaragod, a small district in Kerala, can bring about a change, so can you. Together we can create more such success stories and overcome the problem of a water crisis. 


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