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9th International Rainwater Catchment Systems Conference
"Rainwater Catchment: An Answer to the Water Scarcity of the Next Millennium."
Petrolina, Brazil - July 1999

Section 6: Gender and Community Related Aspects of Rainwater Catchment

Paper 6.10

Food Security Through Rainwater Catchment

Sudhirendar Sharma
UNDP-World Bank
Water Sanitation Program
55 Lodi Estate
New Delhi 110 003, India


Harvesting rainwater, from the rooftop and on the surface, has been part of Indian social and cultural life since antiquity. A wide range of hydraulic systems to suit diverse ecological regimes exist in the country. Ancient texts, inscriptions, local traditions and archaeological remains bear testimony to a rich tradition of rainwater harvesting. Some evidence of advanced water harvesting systems can be traced from pre-historic times as well. The Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayana and various Vedic, Buddhist and Jain texts contain several references to canals, tanks, embankments and wells.

With the settling societies being largely agrarian, written texts are loaded with reference to irrigation systems. Kautilya, a minister of King Chandragupta Maurya (321 - 297 BC), gave vivid reference of irrigation with water harvesting systems in his historic politico-administrative treatise called the Arthsastra. Kautilya's treatise is often compared to Machiavelli's The Prince. He pointed out that not only people were knowledgeable about water regimes and the hydrological cycle but that the state was often supportive of such ingenious local solutions.

Archaeological evidences indicate that this so-called `water wisdom' was unique to the development of civilizations on the Indian subcontinent. It was all a case of learning to live with nature. The first humans, who came to inhabit the Indian subcontinent, must have soon realised that water was a very ephemeral resource for them. With the monsoon season being limited to three months, people knew that sustaining life will require extending the bounties of the wet to dry months. The diverse water harvesting systems, developed to suit some 15 different ecological regions, are the net result of human ingenuity.

PDF of full document (4pp, 19kb)

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