Case studies

Supporting Flooded Communities

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In Uttar Pradesh, the small farming villages of Madhya Nagar and Silauta are in troubled waters… they both stand on the banks of rivers that, with increased unseasonal flooding and unpredictable flows, are causing land erosion, crop destruction and decreasing soil fertility. Thanks to the work of PACS and partner Panchsheel Development Trust, various Community Based Organisations (including a farmer’s club, a children’s committee and a women’s Self Help Group) have been set-up to provide support to the villagers, helping them to access government schemes and legislation to develop and protect their flood-prone land.

The flooded community of Silauta

Two hungry rivers

In Madhya Nagar village in the district of Shravasti, the monsoon brings with it floods, increased erosion and general mayhem.

The rainy season causes the local River Rapti to carry an immense volume of water and it has a constant tendency to change its course, flooding large tracts of fertile land. “These days, the river has a mind of its own,” explains Ram Kumar, the Project Manager for Panchsheel Development Trust (PDT).

Similarly, 30-miles away in Bahraich district, the village of Silauta looks like a marooned island - the waters of the River Ghagra rise ominously and threaten to inundate whatever land the villagers have left to cultivate.

54 year old Munna Lal says that the process of losing land to the river first started in 1987-88 and, since then, land has been eaten up by the river in large parts. Today, most of the original village of Silauta is underwater.

Consequences of land loss

Villager Ram Lakhan explains how land productivity has fallen because most fertile land has either been flooded permanently, or submerged under water for so long that the river sand has left it bereft of any fertility. “Not so long ago, I got 10 quintals of rice from one acre of land,” he says. “Now I am lucky if I get even half.”

Rajkumari – another villager from Silauta – explains how their diet has changed: “Earlier there were plenty of fruit trees and orchards. The fruits and vegetables helped supplement our diets, so cases of malnutrition were unheard of.”

Similarly, 66 year old Vipad Ram reminisces: “We could afford to keep many farm animals like cows, buffaloes and goats because fodder was plentiful and there was enough land for the animals to graze on. Milk was not a luxury as it is now.”

As a result of the flooding and land erosion, migration is emerging as a major socio-economic issue for the villagers. “Many farmers are simply abandoning farming and migrating to Delhi and Lucknow, leaving behind old people to look after homesteads and farms,” explains Vipad.

Ram Lakhan and other villagers reminisce about a time when their land was not flooded. Ram Lakhan and other villagers reminisce about a time when their land was not flooded.

Problems for women and children

For the women of Madhya Nagar and Silauta, the land loss causes many problems as they struggle to feed and look after their families.

Rajwanti explains how the flooding has destroyed the school, health clinic and community centre in Silauta and, when their houses are flooded, they have to set up temporary accommodation on others’ land: “In the rain, we have to put up a tarpaulin,” she explains. “If it was our earlier village, we would have found one or two school buildings or other community spaces to make arrangements.”

Shanti explains how the lack of food is a problem: “There was a time when we had enough to feed friends, relatives and other guests. But now we can barely feed ourselves and have to go hungry to bed.”

The practice of taking out loans for marriages has increased because families do not have enough money due to failing agriculture. However, as a result, debt is a real problem. “We cannot pay off the loans we have taken from banks, friends and relatives because there is no extra income from farm produce,” says Shanti. “Whatever we do earn is already under duress to pay routine expenses.”

Shanti also says that she has observed an increase in aggression within the community. “Many now live under the same roof,” she explains, “So instances of intolerance, petty fights amongst family members, domestic violence and family distress are increasing.”

Women in the communities of Madhya Nagar and Silauta explain about how the flooding affects their daily lives. Women in the village of Silauta explain about how the flooding affects their daily lives.

Supporting farmers with a Kisan Club

One of the main approaches of the PACS programme has been to support partners (like PDT) to set-up a range of Community Based Organisations (CBOs) so that local people, especially those from socially excluded groups, can work together to address the problems that they face.

In Madhya Nagar, PDT has set up a Kisan Club (Farmers’ Club) with 15 members. A member of PDT staff meets with the farmers once every 2 months to increase their awareness and motivate them on issues of interest to them.

“The Kisan Club has been very useful as a way to exchange information regarding various developments in the field of agriculture,” explains Tej Ram – one of the members. “It has made us aware of new farming technologies and newer varieties of seeds and vegetables in the market, motivating us to make the best out of agriculture as a means of livelihood.”

Specifically, PACS has focused on teaching CBO members about their rights and entitlements under various government schemes. “We have learnt about various Acts and bills related to agriculture and land, like the Forest Rights Act, the Land Rights Act and Minimum Support Prices (MSP),” says Pinto Ram, another Kisan Club member.

Meanwhile, Badloo Ram reflects: “We are learning that it is not enough to get free loans and implements to do well in agriculture. Correct and timely information about various government incentives, programmes and support schemes is equally – if not more – important.”

Improving flood defences through MGNREGA

One of the main schemes that PDT has been teaching Kisan Club members about is MGNREGA - a government employment scheme that provides 100 days of paid manual labour every year to rural families that demand it.

“One way out of poverty here is by mobilising people to demand work under MGNREGA, especially when they are in-between harvests,” explains Ragho Ram, Cluster Coordinator for PDT. “We do this by awareness generation and capacity building of communities throughout the year, but with special focus during off-season months, when most people are idle and looking for alternative livelihood opportunities.”

MGNREGA projects should develop the local area, for example building new roads, schools or developing land. As ad-hoc or inadequate flood defence measures intensify the destruction caused by floods, in Madhya Nagar, PDT have been working with the Kisan Club to ensure that MGNREGA projects address the issue of flooding.

“This year, we undertook the dredging of the nala [irrigation canal],” explains Ragho. “It was choked with mud, weeds and slime. This not only ensured resumption of water flow, but the 12-days of work gave 99 people a livelihood opportunity as well.”

This double benefit – paid employment and improving land drainage – should help the villagers of Madhya Nagar to be better able to deal with river flooding next year.

1000 hectares of land rights

Meanwhile, in Silauta village, PDT have helped the villagers to set up 3 different CBOs – a women’s Self Help Group, a children’s committee and a Village Rehabilitation and Development Committee.

The Gram Punarvas Evan Vikas Samiti (Village Rehabilitation and Development Committee) was formed in 2012 to help the community to come together to overcome the problems they were facing due to the loss of their land.

33 year old Ram Lal – a member of the Committee – explains: “The community has lost a lot of land due to kattan [river erosion] and our land was being encroached on by landlords and land-grabbers who were taking advantage of the confusion created by the river.”

With PDT’s support, the Committee put in a request to the Tehsildar (local government employee) to ask for the land to be officially demarcated. The request was granted and, together, the Committee members together with the Village Head and the community carried out the land demarcation.

“1000-hectares were demarcated and more than 90% of families who had been affected benefitted from it,” says Ram. “Most significantly there was not a single incident of controversy or infighting. Sangathan [unity] was our biggest strength.”

Ram Kumar – PDT’s Project Manager - says that the demarcation process was also so smooth because of the relationships they had built with local government functionaries as part of the advocacy and networking strategy they developed with PACS. “The entire process took about three months,” recalls Ram. “At every stage, the personal equation we had established with the local Government machinery as a result of our work with PACS played an extremely significant role.”

Today, the Committee is working to get funds for housing, a school, a panchayat bhawan (community centre), toilets and boats in preparation for future floods.

The Village Rehabilitation and Development Committee meet regularly, supported by PDT, to take action on the flooding. The Village Rehabilitation and Development Committee meet regularly, supported by PDT, to take action on the problems caused by flooding.

Involving youth and women

The Panchsheel Bal Punarvas Samiti (Panchsheel Children’s Rehabilitation Committee) was also set-up in Silauta village in 2012. Aarti Devi, a student in class 10, is the President. “We meet once a month to discuss our ideas, issues and plans,” she says. “Our responsibility is to show other children that we are aware of our child rights.”

Roli, a class 5 student, enjoys the group games and other activities: “Because we don’t have many open spaces in our village, I like to gather in one place with other children so that we can then play games. These games also teach us something. The best part [of being in the committee] is that we do everything together.”

Working with the Silauta Kaushalya Mahila Samooh (Women’s Self Help Group) that was formed in 2013, the Children’s Committee has been actively helping to spread awareness about education.

Ruby, a student in class 8, recalls how the 2 CBOs worked together on a joint initiaitve: "In our campaign to bring back children who had dropped out of school, we used to tell them “There’s no point in staying out of school just to sit idle and fight – go to school instead."” 

The Women's Self Help Group works with the Children's Group to address problems of health, nutrition and education. The Women's Self Help Group works with the Children's Group to address problems of health, nutrition and education.

Savings and support

The Women's Group also work on issues such as health. “Incidences of sickness amongst women and children were high due to the consumption of unsafe water, lack of immunisation, sanitation and malnutrition,” explains Kamla – the President of the Group.  “Since these problems affected women and families directly, they had to be addressed with their participation.”

“Our knowledge and understanding of several issues like the Integrated Child Development Scheme, vaccination of our children, and government programmes and policies is now much better informed,” reflects Janka Devi - the Group’s Treasurer. “This has led to an enhanced ability by our members to demand better services from the government,” she adds.

As well as educating the community about their health and social rights, the Women’s Group also acts as a savings group. “We contribute 50 rupees per member per month,” explains Janka Devi – the Group’s Treasurer. “We have collected a small amount: 4000 rupees is in the bank while 10000 rupees have been taken on loan for a marriage by a member. We even lend the money to the men for agriculture.”

As a result of their savings, the women don’t go to the mahajan (money lender) during emergencies any more. “The mahajan used to charge 10 rupees interest for every 100 rupees we borrowed whilst we charge 2 rupees interest for every 100 rupees borrowed by a member!” she says proudly. “The formation of our Self-Help Group has led to savings, independence and self reliance.”

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