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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Drinking water for India's 'wet desert' with Israeli help

One of the world's wettest places, this town formerly known as Cherrapunjee will soon have Israeli scientists to help tide over an acute drinking water scarcity.

'A deal was signed recently between the Meghalaya government and Israel's Centre for International Agricultural Development Cooperation (CIADC) for technical collaboration in rainwater harvesting in Sohra,' Meghalaya chief secretary Ranjan Chatterjee said.

A team of Meghalaya officials was in Tel Aviv last month to sign the agreement that is to be implemented in six months' time.

'The CIADC would provide technical know-how on rainwater harvesting and setting up facilities for it, besides funding pilot projects to regenerate forest cover on barren land,' said Chatterjee.

Known to the outside world as Cherrapunjee, now renamed Sohra, 56 km from state capital Shillong, this town of about 150,000 inhabitants is considered one of the world's rainiest places.

The Guinness Book of World Records lists Mawsynram, also in the same state, as the place with the highest rainfall. But Indian meteorologists say that not only is Sohra getting the maximum rainfall but it has also been getting more in the past decade.

Perched on the edge of a cliff some 1,290 metres (4192 feet) above sea level, Sohra, overlooking the plains of Bangladesh, holds various world records like recording the highest rainfall in 12 months and in one month.

From August 1860 to July 1861, Cherrapunjee recorded 26.5 metres of rainfall and during the month of July in 1861 it was lashed by 9.3 metres of rainfall - the two records still exist.

For a majority of the people who belong to the dominant Khasi race, the fickle weather is something to be looked forward to.

But despite the torrential rains, water is the scarcest of commodities for locals. The South-West monsoon and thunderstorms soak the village from June to September. But during the winters, the natural springs and streams dry up and crops suffer.

'It is an irony of sorts that the world's rainiest place is in reality a wet desert where people have to buy drinking water, especially during the winter season,' said Robert Jrwa, a government official.

Villagers in this predominantly matrilineal society go to distant places and streams downhill to fetch drinking water during winter.

'During the winters we have to buy drinking water,' said Sweety Diengdoh, a housewife.

'We hope that this perennial problem of water scarcity will end with the Israeli scientists coming up with a new project,' said Peter Marbaniang, a community elder.

An official of the Regional Meteorological Centre said: 'Cherrapunjee's record of being the world's rainiest place continues with the village lashed by heavier rains than before.

'People are talking about global warming and there are apprehensions that Sohra might cease to be the world's rainiest place. But rainfall data indicates that the rain gods are quite happy lashing the region,' the meteorologist said.


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