In the barren desert of Tharpakar, where desolate dunes spread across thousands of miles and living beings are a sight for sore eyes, Issiya Begum walks five kilometres, barefoot, every day to fetch water.

The water, which is most often substituted with life, has given the 28-year-old a lifelong disability — a condition where her back is permanently bent. The incident occurred some years back when Issiya Begum was transporting water-filled clay pots from the nearby well to her home.

Like other Thari women, Issiya too is in charge of fetching water for her house. But one day, her frail back couldn’t bear the burden any more and caved in forever. That did not stop her from “fulfilling her responsibility” though, and the arduous journeys continue day in and day out.

Studies show that 72 per cent of women across Pakistan — especially in rural areas — are responsible for carrying household water and spend nearly three-fourths of their day in the exercise. The almost nine-hour-long job, without a single day off, not only affects the livelihood of these women but also their mental and physical health.

For young girls, these gender-bound responsibilities snatch their already dwindling chance at education. However, the women of Thar and other areas that stand in the face of a water crisis don’t have a choice and they have come to terms with it — after all, water is life.

But when Nida Sheikh, an economics and development graduate, visited the area, the “inhumane practice” of fetching water deeply disturbed her and prompted her to transform adversity into an opportunity.

The first time Sheikh visited rural Sindh and Punjab was for a project on female entrepreneurship. But by the end of the trip, she had identified a pattern — most women were unable to even take a nap or socialise in the quest for water.

“In most of these areas, I came across marginalised women who were walking for kilometres and spending hours only to fetch a basic need,” she told Dawn.com. “Even when they reach their destination, these women have to pull out water from 200-250 meter deep wells and then carry those pots back home.

“Some days, they make multiple such journeys in a day … it is unimaginable, the toll this entire process takes on their minds and bodies,” said Sheikh.

After each visit, she would come back home even more unsettled. And then, at an airport lounge on one fine day in 2018, Nida and her friends came up with an idea. Of course, it required a lot of research and groundwork, but they managed to identify the root cause of the problem: transportation.

After several prototypes and prolonged interaction with locals, the Tayaba Organisation, a non-profit organisation run by Nida, invented the H2O or “Help 2 Others” Wheel — a water-carrying device that removes the burden from the women’s shoulders.

Produced from UV-stabilised polyethene, the H2O Wheel basically allows water to be carried inside a wheel — shaped like a gallon — and features a firm handle for control over tough and rocky terrain. It also features a sealable hole, where the water can be stored.

The wheel, which weighs about 40kgs, can store water that lasts a family of seven for at least three days.

Initially, Tayaba Organisation distributed around 100 wheels informally, as part of a pilot project. “We began by talking to women and understanding the types of issues they faced while fetching water.

“Once the wheel was prepared, we pitched the idea to our family and friends and found a donor (anonymous) who continues to fund us to date,” said Sheikh.

So far, the organisation has distributed over 30,000 H2O Wheels to women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab. Over the years, Sheikh went on to say, the wheel has seen several modifications, all done based on the suggestions of the beneficiaries.

Until four years ago, Sughri Ratan, who lives in the Bhadari village of Tharparkar’s Chachro tehsil, used to spend seven hours every day walking to and from her house to fetch water.

“For our daily usage, we needed at least three to four clay pots … and sometimes even that wouldn’t be enough,” she told Dawn.com. Carrying three pots full to the brim is equivalent to carrying at least 10kgs of water, every day.

The tedious exercise had worn out Sughri, both physically and emotionally.

In 2022, when she was first provided with the H2O Wheel, Sughri was a little sceptical, unsure if it would even work. “But once we got the hang of how to use them, these devices brought immense relief … paidal na chalna ka sukoon, wazan na uthane ka sukoon [relief of not being on foot and carrying heavy loads].

“Now, we can easily collect water for three days in one go which can be used for washing, bathing, cooking and other chores,” she said.

But most importantly, the wheels, along with water also brought money to Sughri’s household as she now utilises the time, earlier spent in fetching water, on embroidery. “Earlier, we would prepare two to three pieces a month but now the quantity has doubled,” she said.

Sughri’s neighbours, Kenku and Teejan, also narrated a similar story.

Women in the desert of Thar use the H2O Wheel for transportation of water. — photo by Tayaba Trust

In Sindh, H2O Wheels have been distributed among 1,979 households including 1,479 in Tharparkar, 400 in Umerkot and 100 in Dadu. “There is high demand and requests from women living in surrounding villages for the provision of these wheels as well,” said Ramesh Kumar, the spokesperson of Sami Foundation — Tayaba’s implementation partner in the province.

A 2022 assessment of the H2O Wheels, conducted by Ipsos, revealed that the health and hygiene of both adults and children in Tharparkar and Umerkot improved due to the availability of water, with a 35pc increase in the frequency of handwashing.

“Safe water availability has also reduced disease incidence by 39pc among adults and 31pc in children,” the assessment report, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, noted.

Moreover, an average increase of Rs3,000 was witnessed in the incomes of women as they now had more time to spend on other activities such as handiwork.

Particularly in Umerkot, the role of men in water hauling significantly increased. “Females can comfortably ask their male family members to share the responsibility, especially pregnant, lactating and old-aged women,” the report highlighted.

Furthermore, with more time at hand, women were able to socialise more which contributed to their psychological health and well-being.

Along with H2O Wheels, Tayaba Organisation has also initiated a number of other projects that include the installation of portable toilets, provision of reusable sanitary napkins and H2O Air — a dispenser-like device that can produce water through precipitation and humidity.

“In all these projects, we follow a natural and organic process based on the communication with the people who are in the heart of the water crisis,” Nida said, elaborating that Tayaba Organisation follows the Maslow pyramid — a theory that states that our actions are motivated by certain physiological and psychological needs that progress from basic to complex — and aims to push marginalised women higher up in the hierarchy of needs.

The journey, however, has been anything but easy — there were several moments when Sheikh felt isolated and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the challenges she faced. In these times, international recognition helped not just her but also her organisation.

Last year, she was recognised as one of the top 10 winners of the One Young World’s LEAD 2030 $500,000 fund for Sustainable Development Initiatives. The award money will help her implement innovative solutions such as the H2O Wheels and solar water facilities.

Nida says this will help Tayaba Organisation as there is so much more that needs to be done, especially as Pakistan faces a huge risk of water scarcity in the upcoming years.

“Water is life, when you give someone water, you give them life,” she said.

QOSHE - The wheel of life: How a simple tool is helping ease Thari women’s toughest chore — fetching water - Dawn.com
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The wheel of life: How a simple tool is helping ease Thari women’s toughest chore — fetching water

22 8
22.03.2024

In the barren desert of Tharpakar, where desolate dunes spread across thousands of miles and living beings are a sight for sore eyes, Issiya Begum walks five kilometres, barefoot, every day to fetch water.

The water, which is most often substituted with life, has given the 28-year-old a lifelong disability — a condition where her back is permanently bent. The incident occurred some years back when Issiya Begum was transporting water-filled clay pots from the nearby well to her home.

Like other Thari women, Issiya too is in charge of fetching water for her house. But one day, her frail back couldn’t bear the burden any more and caved in forever. That did not stop her from “fulfilling her responsibility” though, and the arduous journeys continue day in and day out.

Studies show that 72 per cent of women across Pakistan — especially in rural areas — are responsible for carrying household water and spend nearly three-fourths of their day in the exercise. The almost nine-hour-long job, without a single day off, not only affects the livelihood of these women but also their mental and physical health.

For young girls, these gender-bound responsibilities snatch their already dwindling chance at education. However, the women of Thar and other areas that stand in the face of a water crisis don’t have a choice and they have come to terms with it — after all, water is life.

But when Nida Sheikh, an economics and development graduate, visited the area, the “inhumane practice” of fetching water deeply disturbed her and prompted her to transform adversity into an opportunity.

The first time Sheikh visited rural Sindh and Punjab was for a project on female entrepreneurship. But by the end of the trip, she had identified a pattern — most women were unable to even take a nap or socialise in the quest for water.

“In most of these areas, I came across marginalised women who were walking for kilometres and spending hours only to fetch a basic need,” she told Dawn.com. “Even when they........

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