• When There is Too Much Water | Russell Rollason

    31 May 2013

    When There is Too Much Water
    Photo: UNDP India

    For the poor farmers living in the flood plains of the Mahanadi River delta in the eastern India state of Odisha, the main rice crop is grown in the dry season because extensive flooding and water logging in the monsoon season prevents sowing the rice at the same time as most of India’s farmers. In this region, climate variability is changing the rainfall patterns and the farmers have to adapt.

    There is a local saying in Odisha that to get a good crop, you need ‘8 days of summer rains, 16 days of good rain, 32 days of drizzle and 64 days with a light sprinkle.’  These days the framers are getting most of their 1500 mm of annual rain in just 15 days. As a result flooding is more widespread and water logging of fields is lasting longer.

    In response to the water logging, three villages in Satyabadi Block, about 30 minutes drive from the beach town of Puri, joined hands to hire a local contractor to clean out Kharbar Nala (canal) and reconnect the canal to the river.  This was done to speed up the drainage of water from the rice fields and as a result this year 2100 acres were planted a month earlier, over three times the area of 655 acres planted at the same time last year.  By planting earlier, the crop has access to more soil water and a higher rice yield is expected in the harvest nearing completion in late May. The renovated canal system improved drainage at the end of the wet season but the flow can be reversed in the dry season to provide water for irrigation.

    Improving the drainage also required improved management of the soil bunds between the rice fields. Increasingly the villagers are planting vegetables or chillies as a cash crop on the bunds.  The women of the village decide if vegetables or a cash crop will be planted.

    The drainage intervention was part of an adaptive water management activity funded by AusAID through a Climate Change partnership with UNDP.  UNDP in turn worked with a local women’s organization, Society for Women Action Development (SWAD) and the Regional Centre for Development Cooperation based in the state capital, Bhubaneswar, two local NGOs working in the area for the past 15 years.

    In Dokhandapur village, the AusAID-UNDP partnership assisted the village to establish a rain water harvesting pond together with as small filtration plant and a piped water supply to the village.  By improving and protecting the water supply and filtering the water, it is hoped to reduce the high incidence of diahorea amongst the children of the72 households in the village. A survey will be undertaken in the coming wet season to assess the impact of the clean water supply.

    In the neighboring villages, the quality of water in the village pond is being enhanced by growing vegetables around the pond to prevent the area being used for open defecation. The two adjacent villages now manage the fish pond and garden jointly and in the first 6 months of operation the villages earned INR 12,000 from the sale of fish and produce.  The villagers have established a common bank account and the funds are used to buy seed and other necessary inputs for the garden and fish pond.

    Changing rainfall patterns are forcing villages to change their farming methods and systems.  A more holistic community based approach to adaptive water management shows signs of being able to contribute to improved farm yields, better quality drinking water and improved health for poor farmers and their families. It will also help build climate resilience for poor rural communities.  However, the engagement so far has raised concerns that the construction of new farm roads and major highways through the region may have disrupted the natural drainage flows.  With more intense rain periods, flooding may increase.  More work is planned to address the increasing urgency of effective drainage to reduce water logging and salination in some areas.

    Russell Rollason is First Secretary, Ausaid.

Projects and Initiatives
Climate Change Adaptation

The project, in partnership with the Australian Agency for International Development, aims to address a crucial dimension of vulnerabilities by supporting specific activities to enhance climate change induced risk management capacities (adaptation, disaster mitigation and risk reduction) in districts across flood-prone areas of Odisha and drought-prone areas of Madhya Pradesh.

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