Two Swiss water diviners are helping remote Indian villages to acquire nature's most precious commodity.
In a pilot project with the Indian organisation, Janvikas, Hans-Anton Rieder and Roland Frutig are working in 42 villages in the states of Rajastan and Gujarat.
Using either double-handed rods on ball bearings or one-handed rods, the pair have identified potential drilling areas in all the villages. More than half the sites are already yielding water. Rieter and Frutig hope the remainder will be productive by early next year.
The dowsers are working in remote communities among some of India's poorest people who sometimes have to walk up to 40 kilometres to get water. The villagers are dalits or Hindus of the lowest caste, formerly called untouchables.
"The villages are very remote and don't get any government subsidies," said Frutig. "There's no water during the hottest season and sometimes a little bit of ground water in wells during the cooler season."
The project costs between $5,000 and $8,000 per village. The dowsers try to locate the water vein on land belonging to the community so that the water, once found, is accessible to all. Janvikas, the Indian partner organisation, helps identify community land.
The water-yielding layers are generally between 35 and 120 metres deep. "Normally, in five or six days, we should have water" said Frutig. "But it can take longer depending on the geological situation."
Frutig and Rieder worked in Gujarat after last January's devastating earthquake which led to the loss of 18,000 lives. They were involved in a private relief operation to get water to the most affected parts of the population.
Dowsing has been practised for centuries. Records dating back 6,000 years from the Sahara, China and India show that it is one of the oldest ways to find water.
"Some 1,500 years ago, an Indian scientist noted down most of the technique and know-how," said Frutig.
When they are looking for water, dowsers walk slowly along the ground holding their rods until they feel "tension" and the rods "pull" downwards. If they are holding rods in each hand, the crossing of the rods can also indicate the presence of water.
No one really knows how dowsing works. Some people believe that dowsers may be sensitive to low-frequency earth tremors and changes in geomagnetic fields, linked to the presence of water-bearing rocks.
Impartial research, however, has also suggested that success is largely a matter of chance and possibly results from a heightened sensitivity to visual cues of which the diviner is unaware.
by Vincent Landon