Relief comes for women in water-stressed regions of Rajasthan as specially designed water backpacks help to ease their arduous task of fetching water

In the vast stretches of Thar, water is the most precious commodity. It is scarce, not always potable and mostly available at a long distance. In the desert of Rajasthan, one wouldn’t perhaps mourn for a spilled pot of ghee but each drop of water is too dear.

Here, collecting and storing water is sheer hard work. Women and children have to walk long distances to the precious commodity. Urbanites used to wasting gallons of water in showers, water sports and maintaining plush homes perhaps cannot imagine what an arduous task it is.

In a one-of-its-kind initiative, Balmer Lawrie company has come forward to lighten the load of rural women living in the “water stressed zones” of Barmer district. The company recently distributed 5,000 water backpacks to the women that will make their task of bringing water home much easier.

The smart water backpacks will replace the conventional earthen pots. Carrying a heavy load on the head takes its toll on the physical health of the bearer. Many women often suffer from backache or spinal disorders due to fetching water from long distances. Water, if spilled on way to home due to imbalance, further adds to their woes.

Balmer Lawrie, partially owned by the government, has taken up the project in pursuance of its corporate social responsibility (CSR). Its CSR head Dilip Kumar Das said the company has proposed to distribute 20,000 backpacks during the current financial year.

The company has acquired the bags called ‘PackH2O Water Backpack’ from Greif, a leading packaging company based in Turkey. Similar 15,000 backpacks will be distributed in the water stressed zones of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh in this financial year, Mr. Das added. The initial order is just a beginning as the company plans to test which regions and markets are most receptive to this new technology. 

Dhara Sansthan, working in the fields of health and education in Barmer, has helped Balmer Lawrie in a feasibility study and identification of water stressed zones in the district. Mahesh Panpalia of Dhara Sansthan said, “The water situation is very grim in Barmer district and women have to bring water at least from 2-3 km away”.

During the survey, the women were shown the bag and also a video which was instantly liked by them. The women even showed their willingness to buy these bags but they are not available in the market. It is also a “business case” for the company and positive feedback might motivate it to produce such bags, may be at a small level, Mr. Das stated.

The award-winning pack (Popular Science 2012 Best of What’s New Award winner) is a scientifically-tested alternative to buckets and jerry cans used to transport water from source to home. Each backpack can hold about five gallons (20 liters) of water in a removable liner that, after use, can be easily sanitized with exposure to sunlight. With a spout for dispensing water and a puncture-resistant outer shell, PackH2O is said to be a safe and effective way to store clean water.

According to Tony Somers, COO of PackH2O, “one in seven people globally are affected by water crisis. The problem includes avoiding contamination and eliminating health risks when bringing water home.”

Barmer has a scattered population and virtually all the eight blocks of the district fall under overexploitation of water category. Conservation of available groundwater is really crucial for sustainability and lots of initiatives are being taken up in the border district. Incidentally, Barmer has also set a record in constructing the highest number of tankas (well-like water storage structures made of concrete, cement and sand) in the State.