The three wonders of the ancient world solving modern water problems

All round the world, innovative new measures and policies are urgently needed to face what could, with time, become huge challenges for tens of millions.

A relevant blessing from Pierre Pradervand

I bless the peoples all round the world who are facing the more challenging aspects of climate change…I bless them in the vision and wisdom they need to re-establish a new and viable future.
I bless farmers and producers everywhere faced by climate changes that they may devise the innovative approaches needed to face such situations. I bless the politicians concerned that they have the understanding and caring called for to put the needs of the planet and these populations before narrow party politics.
And finally I bless us all in our ability to modify our lifestyles that they may be aligned with the needs of the planet and of enlightened environmental policies.  

In many regions of the world, from South and Central America to Africa to Asia, surviving increasing and recurring drought has led individuals and communities  to take a new look at some of the water preservation and agricultural methods used by older  (and wiser?) civilizations who lived in harmony with their environment.  Farmers using agro ecological crop methods have built up some resistance to the devastating impacts of drought by diversifying crops, harvesting rainwater, and promoting good soil conditions by leaving slash-and-burn practices behind in favor of techniques that regenerate the soil without exacerbating drought.
Here are a few examples:

India

Across large swaths of the Thar desert in western India, traditional techniques for harvesting the little amount of rain that falls has helped people survive the powerful effects of the sun for centuries. The most beautiful of these are step wells – known as baolis in Hindi – large, stone structures built to provide water for drinking and agriculture. Baolis have existed for at least 1,000 years and were constructed in towns and alongside serais (travellers’ inns), across the desert and into Delhi.

Baolis exist in all shapes and sizes and are essentially reservoirs built into the earth. Groundwater is pulled up from a circular well at the bottom and rainwater is collected from above. A set of steps – on one or more sides of the structure – lead down to the water level, which fluctuates depending on the amount of rain. More recently, electric pumps have been installed in many baolis to help retrieve the water.

Experts say the baoli model can be replicated anywhere in the world with similar climatic conditions and physiological features.

Kenya

Makueni County – just over 100 miles south of Nairobi – has one of the most inhospitable environments in the country.

The region’s sandy loam soil supports little else besides the thorny, stunted shrubs that stretch for miles, interspersed only by gigantic baobab trees or some species of the hardy acacia. The only food crops cultivated here are sorghum, cassava and pigeon peas – drought-tolerant crops. With an average annual rainfall of just 600mm, meaningful agriculture is nearly impossible. Water access is a big problem. Women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa spend up to four hours a day fetching water, according to the One campaign.

But things are changing for the better, thanks to an ancient water harvesting technique being used in the dry regions. Sand dams, which were invented by the Romans in 400BC, have become an important source of water for domestic and agricultural needs.

Sand dams are constructed by building a concrete barrier or wall across a seasonal river with a firm bedrock. As the river flows, sand in the water is deposited behind the wall. Over time, layers of sand build into a reservoir for water, which remains stored in the sand once the river level drops. Evaporation is virtually impossible below a metre of sand – no matter how intense the sun – and the water is clean and safe for immediate drinking as the sand acts like a filter.

While sand dams are a cheap and simple solution to some complex problems, they can fail if they are not applied in a way that meets the users’ needs. “The biggest challenge is ensuring that the technology is applied to specific local conditions and people’s needs, rather than simply being replicated from one place and situation to another,” says McKay. But the initiative is gaining momentum and expanding not only to other parts of the country, but to Tanzania, Chad, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and even to India.

Peru

On the hardscrabble, treeless highland plain that joins Peru with Bolivia, farmers have eked out an existence for thousands of years amid bitter winters and the harsh sun, at 4,000 metres above sea level and higher. As scientists predict climate change will make the Altiplano’s weather even more inclement and unpredictable, today’s farmers are reviving an ancestral system of cultivation and irrigation using what looks like an intricate piece of land sculpture.

Resembling an ornate garden maze from above, suqakollos – or waru-warus – are a patterned system of raised cropland and water-filled trenches. It captures water when there are droughts and drains away water when there’s too much rain, meaning that it irrigates the crops all year round. A suqakollo can also be a small oasis in the scorching daytime sun, which yellows even the coarse highland grass, known as ichu – the main .fodder for the alpacas and llamas herded by the local Aymara people.

This ancient agricultural system, which could date back 3,000 years, actually creates its own microclimate. It captures water when there are droughts and drains away water when there’s too much rain, meaning that it irrigates the crops all year round.

Summary from articles in Global Envision and The Christian Science Monitor;  for a full article and photographs: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/aug/19/water-scarcity-drought-peru-kenya-india

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