About 12 million people currently live in the fast-growing Indian city of Bangalore, also known as Bengaluru. The Bengaluru Development Authority estimates that that number may reach 20.3 million by 2031. Bangalore’s increase in population exacerbates an already severe water shortage. Fortunately, the non-profit Biome Environmental Trust has started a new initiative to combat this issue: A Million Wells for Bangalore.
A Million Wells for Bangalore aims to employ Mannu Vaddars, traditional well diggers, to dig a million wells around the city. The initiative empowers Mannu Vaddars who have struggled to find work while ensuring that Bangalore residents will have an adequate water supply.
Water Usage in Bangalore
For thousands of years, Bangalore’s residents depended on open wells as an important source of water. Rain refills the open wells that are tapped into underground aquifers and runoff from nearby lakes. But during the 1880s and 1890s, improved plumbing brought water to the city through pipes. Around the same time, a cholera outbreak contaminated many of the city’s wells, and they fell out of use.
The city’s abundant yearly rainfall used to naturally fill aquifers and wells, providing residents with necessary water. However, pavement now stops rainfall from filtering into the ground. As a result, rainwater runs off of buildings and into the surrounding areas. Today, the city relies on water piped from miles away. The nearest water source is the Cauvery River, which is 63 miles to the south.
Additionally, many of Bangalore’s residents receive water from bore wells, which extend over 200 feet into the ground. However, bore wells refill with water very slowly, so overuse of a well renders it useless for years. As the city’s population grows, more and more bore wells have dried up, leaving residents dependent on piped water and insufficient water tanks.
Mannu Vaddars have dug Bangalore’s open wells throughout history, using traditions that are passed down through generations. They dig easily rechargeable open wells, ensuring that the groundwater in Bangalore remains stable. Today, around 750 Mannu Vaddar families live in and around Bangalore. Together, they have the capacity to dig up to 1,000 wells per day.
In order to dig a well, seven or eight Mannu Vaddars work together for three days. They use a string to measure a circle with a radius of around three feet. Typically, one member of a team will dig while the rest pull out dirt from the deepening well. Mannu Vaddars dig until the well has reached a depth where water trickles in. Aside from the use of cement to form the walls of the well rather than stone, the practice has not changed much over centuries.
A Million Wells for Bangalore
The initiative A Million Wells for Bangalore is working to solve the city’s water shortage by turning to the traditional skills of these Mannu Vaddars. By hiring the Mannu Vaddars to dig shallow “recharge wells,” the initiative provides residents with wells that are quickly refilled by rain and groundwater. The head of the initiative, Vishwanath Srikantaiah, estimated that if Mannu Vaddars increased the city’s open wells to a million, 50-60% of rainwater could be returned to the wells and to the ground. The result would be both environmentally and financially positive. Floods and run-off would decrease, and water would be cheaper.
The initiative was launched in 2018, and it helped the city’s Mannu Vaddars find more work in their field. As demand for recharge wells grows, so does the demand for Mannu Vaddars’ skills. Bangalore currently has 100,000 open wells, so reaching one million wells will take considerable effort and time. But if Mannu Vaddars can help dig 900,000 more wells, Bangalore could become self-sustaining in terms of water. Residents would enjoy a greater quality of life.
– Sarah Brinsley