Temperatures in India this past summer soared over 120? F. The mud huts in the villages offered no relief, and hundreds of people died from the heat and lack of water. Standing pools were their only source of water, risking the chance of contamination.
Extremely high temperatures are common in the Orissa state where Dr. Pushpa Rout works. So is the lack of water. For the past 50 years, the people in Orissa have presented proposals to their local governments about water provisions. For 50 years, they have been ignored. And for 50 years, they have been traveling three to five miles to find adequate water. But during June, wells were dug in two villages in an attempt to relieve the water crisis.
The Luke Society teamed up with Living Water International to dig wells in two needy communities. The first community to receive a well was Jhumpuri sahi. Pushpa's husband, Prem, helped with the well drilling. They began at 5 a.m. and worked until 6 p.m., laboring in the hot sun for 10 hours.
Apart from sweltering heat, they also battled legal opposition. An officer approached the construction, wanting to arrest Prem for digging on private land. The villagers brought papers stating the land was theirs, and that they wanted to have the well dug. The officer and a few villagers went to the revenue department and verified the village's ownership of the plot. "The digging work restarted, and they bored up to 200 feet deep until they got plenty of clean water. Some of our staff had to stay the whole night with the well digging team," said Pushpa.
The next day, the crew began to dig in Dandapadia. After 60 feet, they pounded into layers of rocks. They continued to dig through the rocky layers and finally hit clean water at 180 feet. "The villagers started dancing and shouting with joy, praising the Lord and the Luke Society," Pushpa said.
At their first sight of water, the villagers shouted, "The Lord has seen our sufferings and has granted His mercy through His people at the Luke Society." Pushpa reports, "People are overwhelmed with joy, seeing plenty of clean water for the first time in their area. They say now they are not feeling like neglected or downtrodden people, but were made to feel like normal human beings as God's people are taking care of them."
Pushpa is excited to see the new wells, not only for clean water, but also for the prevention against water-borne illnesses. "These villagers are poor, labor class people. They work for the whole day for their daily bread and do not get time to boil water for drinking," said Pushpa. "Usually, they collect water from the ponds and streams where they also take baths, wash their clothes and bathe their animals." She has taught the villagers to boil their water, but they are hesitant about the lengthy process.
The community people arranged a small dedication service for the wells. They invited the local village heads, the chief pastor and some local Christian leaders. "The pastor dedicated the well in the name of Jesus," said Pushpa. "The local people are very happy and sang songs of praise and thanked the Lord."
While the wells in those two villages helped the people get through the hot summer months, they are now battling different weather. Starting in August, the rain began to fall and continued to fall for a month. "Now the situation in Cuttack and the whole of Orissa is very grave," she wrote in early September. "All of us are afraid and are not able to move. This is not usual weather, but it is repeatedly hammering Orissa."
She believes the floods are a curse from God on Orissa, which means "idol worshipper." "But we believe God is our refuge and strength. He will take care of us. With all these grievous calamities, we are feeling more burden for our state people, especially for their bodies and souls," Pushpa said.
The good news is that the wells are still providing for the village people. Pushpa said, "The tube wells are functioning very well and are the only source of drinking water for the villages of that area when all their houses and belongings are submerged in water."
More bad news came from the Routs in mid-September. They wrote, "The flood situation is very grim. All the rivers and reservoirs are overflowing the danger marks... The lower barricades are broken down, resulting in nearby villages being submerged in water. Everyone is in a panic. Roads to the villages are closed. We are all praying for one another."
Finally, on September 27, we heard good news from India. "We thank God that the flood situation has improved much now," Pushpa wrote. But the receding flood waters are leaving devastation behind. "People are still in water and muddy surroundings. There is overflowing drainage water with all sorts of litter in and around their houses." And disease is taking its toll. "Malaria, jaundice and diarrhea are increasing in these flood-affected areas. Poverty and sickness are increasing the misery of the people. We are helping them as much as we can, distributing some dry food and caring for their sick."
During this past summer, Pushpa and Prem took precautions while they traveled into the villages so they wouldn't attract attention to themselves as Christians. Now the villages seem even more cut off from them. "Still some places we are not able to reach due to pools of water and big ditches on the way," said Pushpa. "Keep praying for us."