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Pakistan Village Enjoys Clean Water, Better Health

By Joe Lapp

Taroo Mall stands in a muddy pond, scooping water into a much-used bucket. Though his face is worn from a lifetime of working in dry fields, he still moves with ease.

Pumping water from a CRS-built reservoir

Taroo Mall, left, and his neighbors pump water from a CRS-built reservoir to irrigate their crops. Photo by Joe Lapp for CRS

He throws a bucket of water into a large metal pipe, priming a diesel pump that draws water from a reservoir to irrigate his village's fields. Beside him, neighbor Magha Ram is stripped to the waist and still dripping from his dive into the reservoir to clear the pump's intake filter.

The pump motor starts and water gushes through dirt channels to nearby fields, life-giving sustenance in a dry season.

Taroo's village of Rashid Mamgrio is at the end of the agricultural canal system in the desert province of Sindh in southern Pakistan. Originating at the mighty Indus River 62 miles away, the canal water that his fields depend on only makes its way to the village every 15 days. If villagers are lucky and a big landholder hasn't paid a bribe to get more water, they get their full share. During a drought, the water might not come at all.

To help this village get fair use of its water, Catholic Relief Services partners built the canal-fed storage reservoir, and bought the pump, helping farmers get the most out of their limited water resources.

'The Water is in Our Control'

Before the reservoir, everyone anxiously awaited the day water would come to fill their channels and flood their fields.

"Now, when we need water we just start our pump," says Mohammad Yousaf, president of the village development committee started by CRS. "So the crops get the water at the time they need it, because the water is in our control."

The ability to store water in the reservoir has meant doubled agricultural production for Rashid Mamgrio. "Before, we could irrigate only three acres. Now we can irrigate six," says Mohammad.

In the past, lack of fair access to water has kept villages like Rashid Mamgrio from rising out of poverty. CRS partners help address inequities in water distribution by organizing villages and connecting them with local decision-makers. Now, they have the voice to protect their water rights.

CRS and its partners also bring clean drinking water to villages like Rashid Mamgrio.

Here, proximity to the ocean makes the water table saline. Wells are not an option, and villagers must search for "sweet" water. Often they end up drinking water from the canal, full of silt and impurities that can cause disease.

Moolan with clean water

Taroo's wife Moolan says, "We like this clean water, and we like its taste. We drink the water and pray for CRS." Photo by Joe Lapp for CRS

The centerpiece of CRS clean water efforts are bio-sand filters. This simple technology uses a container filled with only stones and sand. A bio-film of friendly bacteria purifies water in the container, the sand filters solid impurities, and what comes out is pure panni (water).

'We Don't Get Sick From It'

CRS partners fit this technology into a clay pot called a nadi. From the nadi filter, Mohammad says, "I am getting panni just like mineral water. Mineral water costs [about 50 cents] for one bottle. I don't have that kind of money."

Taroo's wife Moolan loves the filters, too. "The water from the nadi filter is clean, and we don't get sick from it," she says.

Before they had the CRS filters and accompanying hygiene training, Moolan didn't know where her frequent diarrhea came from. Now she knows it comes from impure water, and she uses the bio-sand filters to prevent it.

"We do not use any other water for drinking, not from the canal or the [village] hand pump," Moolan adds. "We like this clean water, and we like its taste. We drink the water and pray for CRS."

Joe Lapp is a photojournalist working with CRS Pakistan.

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