The water systems of India’s Deccan Plateau are structures that date back hundreds of years. Because monsoon season delivers more than ¾ of India’s total annual rainfall, communities have historically used the systems to preserve seasonal water for use during the dry season.
Karez are horizontal wells, part of an underground network of water tunnels that supplied water to Bidar and Bijapur in Karnataka and Aurangabad in Maharashtra. These gently sloping tunnels allow groundwater from a large area to flow to a single outlet.
Unfortunately, a global water crisis has reduced access to fresh water across the country. In addition, trash and human waste pollute the current systems, posing an extreme public health problem to communities that use them. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, aimed to increase access to basic sanitation through his “Swachh Bharat Mission” or “Clean India Mission.” Critics, however, suggest the top-down system has not reduced open defecation or pollution of fresh water sources.
In January 2019, Dr. Walt Hakala, Associate Professor of English and Carolyn Marcille (formerly of UB’s Asian Studies Program, currently of Bard High School Early College Newark) invited UB students Xander Covert (Computer Science), Eric Niblock (Mathematics), Jon Bessette (Mechanical Engineering), David Tallents (Mathematics and Political Science) and Kayleigh Hamernik (Environmental Studies 19’) to travel to India with support from the Community for Global Health Equity. Dr. Hakala organized the trip to investigate water quality within municipal and Deccan water systems. The students collected water quality data with an aim to determine if neglected water systems could be revitalized and repurposed for small farm irrigation and drinking water.
Country of Travel: India
Dates of Travel: Janruary 2019
For many years, Dr. Hakala has nurtured relationships with Indian collaborators. The students worked with important water structure experts including Dr. Pushkar Sohoni (Professor of Art History and Architecture, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Pune), Mr. Ameenuddin Hullur (an activist with Narika Youth Society in Bijapur), Mr. Vinay Malge (Team Yuva in Bidar), and Mr. Govindan Kutty (Professor of Geology, Government College, Chittur). These partners shared not only their knowledge and expertise with the team, but also their hospitality and kindness—inviting them into their homes to meet their families and to enjoy home-cooked meals.
Since conducting research in India, the team presented their work at the spring 2019 Asian Studies Faculty Symposium focused on Water in Asia and highlighted the study tour within last year’s Asian Studies newsletter. In November 2019, Jon presented his research at the second annual Rustgi Undergraduate Conference on South Asia, and a research paper jointly authored by Jon and Eric was published by Columbia University’s Consilience Journal of Sustainable Development.
Although the experience intended to provide the students with answers, it also left them with more questions, including personal reflections on larger systems that lead to inequities, innovative approaches to harnessing energy while reducing pollution, and their individual roles in solving a problem that is too big to tackle by one small team.
UB is enriched when students have opportunities to travel and collaborate with experts around the world. Dr. Hakala’s team is taking the skills and knowledge they gained at UB to places around the world. Jon has received an NSF grant and will be joining MIT in the fall to pursue a PhD in Mechanical Engineering with a focus in Global Development; Eric has been accepted into graduate programs at Carnegie Mellon and NYU; Kayleigh recently returned to the US after spending the year in Jaipur, India, where she studied advanced Hindi with an American Institute of Indian Studies language fellowship; and David will begin a masters program in Political Science at McGill University this fall.
Bessette, J. & Niblock, E. (2020). Water Quality Pilot Study for Traditional Water Structure Revitalization Potential in the Deccan Plateau of India. Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development, 22, 6-17.
The Ellora Caves are located in Aurangabad and are home to Hindu and Buddhist sculptures. The structure seen in the picture is carved from stone with elaborate rooms, stairs, and carvings. | Photo Credit: Xander Covert
The Bibi Ka Maqbara is located in Aurangabad, built by the son of the architect of the Taj Mahal. It was built as a tomb for his mother, designed to compete with the Taj Mahal in beauty. | Photo Credit: Xander Covert
This is our group accompanied by Professor Pushkar walking in the gardens at the Bibi Ka Maqbara. | Photo Credit: Xander Covert
This s a picture I took in the gardens of Bibi Ka Maqbara. The cross design is featured across many of the walls. The stone chipping shows the age of the wall which has not been repaired. | Photo Credit: Xander Covert
This is the Ashtur Complex, home to multiple tombs. A common offering to the dead here is pieces of Coconut which we were able to partake in. | Photo Credit: Xander Covert
This is one of the tombs at the Ashtur Complex, home to Ahmad Shah Wali. | Photo Credit: Xander Covert
This picture was taken inside of a rickshaw on the way to dinner. This man chose to decorate his with lights, flowers, and various other things. Rickshaws were our primary transportation around the cities we visited. | Photo Credit: Xander Covert
This is a view of the fort in Bidar. No longer functioning, it serves as a cultural center for the area. | Photo Credit: Xander Covert
This is our group outside a tomb. From left to right: David, Eric, Kayleigh, Walt, John, Xander (me) | Photo Credit: Xander Covert
This is one of the four corner towers of a temple in Bijapur. We woke early to visit the site before it became busy with school children because the top of the temple amplifies sound and carries voices around the dome which is spectacular but loud! | Photo Credit: Xander Covert
These are village homes on the outskirts of Bijapur. We came upon this after hiking down from the nearby fort through the village looking for water samples. | Photo Credit: Xander Covert
This fort in Bijapur offered a spectacular view of the city, but was sadly overrun with garbage and debris on the outside. | Photo Credit: Xander Covert