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A word on Ramanathapuram District

Ramanathapuram district is drought prone and water scarcity is the biggest problem here.

People migrate after January and return by August when the monsoon sets in. The northeast monsoon (September to November) is expected to bring maximum rain and usually chilli, cotton, onion and paddy are cultivated. Charcoal is produced in Ramanathapuram and adjacent Tuticorin districts. Agriculture, charcoal production and fishing in the coastal areas are the sources for livelihood of the people. There are some industries in nearby Virudhunagar district where people migrate for work. A good number of workers in hosiery and knitwear units of Tiruppur are from the district. Usually men go out in search of jobs and women, old people and children stay home.

Once upon a time the ooranis and tanks had been maintained by the people through a group of individuals chosen by the villagers and called kudimaramatthu . This practice stopped after the British regime took over. Tanks and ooranis became Government property maintained by the Public Works Department. With the arrival of bore wells, the concept of conserving water through such water bodies was forgotten. The ground water level plummeted and water turned saline. The Government-sponsored desalination plants in the district are insufficient to meet the demand.

Every village has one to three ooranis for drinking water, domestic water needs and livestock and temple pond. The main water source is rain, but the district falls in rain shadow belt with scanty rainfall. People could at most store water in ooranis and tanks for three to six months a year. Rest of the time women, girls and men must trek three to five kilometers every day in search of water. This affected their livelihood, health, and the education of girls. There are incidents of conflicts for drinking water among villages. On the other hand there are instances of sharing oorani water between villages. If an oorani is built, the water would be shared by about 500 families of three villages.

Most of the ooranis and tanks are either dilapidated or small. In some areas, the percolation rate of water is high because the base layer is sandy. If an oorani or a tank is renovated and technically modified, it would quench the people's thirst in three to four villages. Besides it would improve the quality of life. Girls could go to schools; women could finish their household chores faster and help in the fields. The search for water has affected health, education and livelihood. It is common to find men and women in the district spending a whole day in search of water. The family income is Rs.1, 500 to Rs. 2,500 a month and lower during the summer. People have to spend Rs.150 to Rs.250 on water every month.

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