Neelamma's Water Tap: A Story Of The Water Crisis In India

Neelamma has struggled for years without a water connection at home, suffering from skin conditions contracted through contaminated water and walking long distances to find water sources. At 37, Nelamma is divorced, has a 3 year old daughter, and lives with her parents in Mariyala village, Chamarajanagar district, Karnataka.

Neelamma’s village, like so many in the region, faces severe water shortages during the hot summer months. Even during the monsoon season when there seems to be water everywhere, the water from the public tank is not safe for consumption. A year ago, Neelamma got a skin rash after bathing with the tank water. She is not alone. After several other members of her village had similar reactions, they raised their concerns at the Gram Panchayat (local government) meeting and the Panchayat sent the water sample for testing. The test result proved that the water from the public tank was contaminated with chemicals at a level far beyond the threshold for safe consumption. While their concerns were validated, they had no other source for water. “The Gram Panchayat told us not to use the tank water for consumption, but use it for domestic purposes only,” Neelamma says. “[But] they did not tell us where to get the drinking water from.”

Faced with no viable source for safe water, the villagers have been left to search on their own for new sources of drinking water. Those who could afford to do so began buying water. Others without the financial resources to do that, like Neelamma, would walk for several kilometers each day to one of the nearby landlords’ houses to ask for water. If successful, they then must carry 4-6 pots of water the long distance back to their homes. “We cannot go to the same house every time to ask for water,” Neelamma says. “Even they need water. We used to keep changing the house. Some houses were very far.” Each day Neelamma had to face possible rejection from the landlord she had chosen to approach, each day she had to face the fear that she may return with empty pots and no water for her family.

It was clear to Neelamma that there must be a better solution. In village meetings, local government representatives had encouraged families to get their own household water connection, but never provided any information on how. When Neelamma started inquiring about the process, she learned that to get a pipe connection to her family’s home would require approval from the local government and take several days to install because the main underground pipeline was not near her house. As an individual living in a single family home, she might never get approval for this since the Panchayat would have to invest significant resources to extend the pipeline to reach her home.

As Neelamma continued to explore her options she met the field officer of’s program partner Grameen Koota and learned about a group model that could help her family and her neighbors gain access to a water connection. Grameen Koota’s field officer explained that while the cost is great to connect one family home that is not near the existing pipeline, the value of making that investment to connect several homes is more appealing to the Panchayat. Understanding this potential, Neelamma became an active member of a Joint Liability Group (JLG) and motivated other women in her neighborhood to come forward and lead the initiative with her.

She and five other women then formed their own JLG and attended regular trainings at the center where members from JLG meet and discuss common issues. After learning the process, Neelamma and the other women applied for a Rs. 15,000 loan (approx. US$250) to install a water point in their neighborhood. When they received the loan, Neelamma submitted Rs. 400 as deposit to the Panchayat’s office and the remaining amount was used for raw materials and labor charges. The staff of Grameen Koota made multiple visits to monitor the work during the construction phase and project was completed successfully. At last Neelamma has a water point in the neighborhood.

Neelamma interacts with the project staff of Grameen Koota.

Now instead of forging out each day in the hope of securing enough water for her family to consume, Neelamma goes once a week to the neighborhood water point and brings home enough safe drinking water for her family. She fills 20 pots each week and stores them for her family to use. In 30 minutes a week she can do what she spent hours a day worrying about in the past.

Her new water connection has brought a relief and solved the crisis of drinking water in her neighborhood. “Now, we know on which day water will come so we don’t have to go on waiting. Even if we are not at home, we ask our neighbor to fill the water for us,” says Neelamma.

Today, with the time she has now that she no longer needs to collect water daily, Neelamma has opened and runs a small shop in her village. “Running a shop has many advantages. I am able to do other household chores and look after my daughter,” she says. “[And] my shop is helping me repay the loan amount.”

This success story was submitted by’s partner organization, Grameen Koota, and was made possible by a generous grant from the PepsiCo Foundation.

Capital: New Delhi
Population of 1.2 billion
77 million lack access to safe water
769 million lack access to improved sanitation
59% of the total population lives on less than US$2 per day