Climate change plays a pivotal role in the disasters that the world is facing today. No country, rich or poor, developed or developing, can really be immune to the impact of climate change induced disasters. The face of the disasters may vary- there may be a drought in one place while another gets inundated by flood waters, but the sheer numbers of people affected by these erratic weather conditions is on the rise.
Disasters have struck rural India in the last two decades with an increased frequency and intensity, making people in the villages less secure and resilient, undermining their financial, health and livelihood status. The government of India launched the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNERGA) in 2005. Through this scheme, the central governments had two very clear objectives of enhancing livelihood security and creating durable assets to strengthen the livelihood resource base of the rural poor.
To fulfil these objectives, the works listed to be carried out included afforestation; tree plantation; construction & maintenance of water channels, water bodies; creation of check dams; flood control and protection works including drainage in water logged areas; drought proofing and rural connectivity and much more.
Thus, there was a full fledged government scheme that existed, and a major climate induced problem that needed immediate attention. Could the two be connected? Is it possible to utilise the activities undertaken under MNREGA to help reduce disaster risks? After all, both of them are for the betterment of the rural populace!
Planting trees can benefit a flood prone land by ensuring that the soil is not washed away easily, and also help in drought stricken areas. Construction of water channels or maintenance of the existing drains aids water logged areas in allowing excess water to drain away efficiently. This can greatly help the farmers whose low lying farmlands become water logged during floods, and cannot be irrigated.
Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group, took this simple idea forward. In 2008-09, they began work in Lakshmipur & Ranipur villages in Paniyara, Maharajganj & Kalyanpur in Kampiyarganj and Gorakhpur districts of Uttar Pradesh. Utilising MGNREGA, they worked to drain water from these water logged areas. As a result, nearly 575 acre land here was able to be irrigated, and that to for two seasons! This motivated the neighbouring villages to try and incorporated the same activity in their lands too.
And yes! MGNREGA did contribute in making a place disaster resilient.
Now, of we take a quick look at the beneficiaries of MGNREGA, we see that even here too disaster risk reduction improves. The most affected, the marginalized, the poor, the women, the scheduled caste/ tribe people; all profit from the work undertaken through the MGNREGA.
Another important point to consider is that the Panchayti Raj or the Panchayat is the local body that undertakes the MGNREGA activities in the village. Also, it is they who are in charge of the disaster management plans at the village level and who ensure that the village people and its assets are protected during disasters. Why then does this local, self governed body work in two opposite directions? Why have they not been able to move beyond the minor works of pond beautification and road repairs of their villages? Is it not time they realise the importance of ensuring that the work that gets done through MGNREGA, must be a step towards disaster management?
MGNREGA is definitely a positive move towards disaster risk reduction for a fortified disaster management plan. This is the need of the hour, and concrete steps need to be taken to ensure that this happens. For this to happen, whenever MGNREGA employment is to begin, various departments must be taken into confidence to chalk out activities that will strengthen the resilience of the village. Works such as elevation of a handpump, constructing water channels or ensuring that the toilets are built on higher ground, all these and more can be undertaken and funded by MGNREGA.
Only such a combined and sustained effort will ensure a better and successful disaster management plan.
The authors of the article Archana Srivastava & Ravi Prakash Mishra are team members, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG).