Why These Children Are Forced to Scale a 40-Foot Well

A short video shows young girls in India climbing into dangerous, deep wells to retrieve worm-infested water.

Why These Children Are Forced to Scale a 40-Foot Well

A short video shows young girls in India climbing into dangerous, deep wells to retrieve worm-infested water.

When Kajal Lodha and her fellow villagers want water, they have a long walk and a steep climb ahead of them.

The people in a village in Madhya Pradesh, India, have to walk several miles in the hot sun each day to find a well that has water in it. Many wells in India have dried up in the summer heat, so the process of finding a water-filled one is often difficult.

The wells are up to 40 feet deep, and the water in them is often dirty, milky white in color, and home to worms. They try to make it safe to drink by boiling it.

Girls from the village climb down the stones on the sides of the well with little to no equipment to keep them safe, using spots between the stones in the well as toe-holds and sometimes finding iron bars to use like ladder steps. When they reach the bottom, they collect water in buckets attached to ropes that they send back up to villagers waiting at the top. If their foot slips while they climb, they could plunge to the bottom, and accidents happen often. Lodha, 28, said in an interview a girl in a neighboring village broke her leg after falling down a well that she was climbing last month.

This isn’t just happening in Lodha’s village. Across India, millions of people are now impacted by the worst water crisis in India’s history. The National Institute for Transforming India Aayog, a government think tank, released a report in mid-June saying that about 200,000 people in India die each year because they don’t have access to safe water, and the think tank expects the crisis to get worse in coming years.

The report from NITI Aayog says by 2030, India’s demand for water will be twice as high as its supply, and hundreds of millions of people—like the ones in Lodha’s village—will be facing severe water scarcity.

NITI Aayog says more data will help to fully illuminate the problem, and cooperation between states in India could also help. The think tank’s report says water management is viewed by states as a zero-sum game right now, and there have been seven recent river disputes involving nearly half of India’s 29 states.