Khagaria, a flood-prone district in North Bihar surrounded by rivers, is also among the state’s most backward districts. That the district is flood-prone masks the serious and chronic shortage of drinking water in this area, mainly sourced from rivers and handpumps (chapakal). During floods the district also suffers from water-borne diseases, ravaging families and pushing the already indebted into deeper traps of debt. Studies have shown that in those families that have debilitating health issues triggered by recurring floods, the womenfolk are pushed into prostitution for livelihood, and the children take to begging or crime.
The Megh Pyne Abhiyan (Cloud Water Campaign): Taking lessons from the horrific floods of 2007, and accepting the challenges involved, the campaign was launched to ensure drinking water security to the people of Khagaria. Pamphlets were distributed and volunteers discussed various methods of mitigating the wrath of chronic floods with the people.
Post the flood of 2007, the campaign focussed on the quality of drinking water and found the levels of iron and arsenic much above desired limits. This led to a multi-pronged approach of rejuvenating the traditional sources of water – wells – and introduction of filters to bring down the iron content in potable water.
MGNREGA came as a shot in the arm for the campaign with the panchayats agreeing to channel its resources towards rejuvenating existing wells and building new ones. The focus was now on providing safe drinking water during the days of the flood and the days that followed. Two villages were taken up for MGNREGA work and matka-filters and jal kothi were provided as part of the MPA campaign.
Following activities were taken up by MPA and its partners:
- A survey of drinking water sources
- Identifying wage seekers
- Status of job cards
- Survey of households
- Village meetings that ensured 100% participation of people in the campaign
- Selection of work and storage sites.
In Khagaria, the collaboration between the district administration and MPA partner Samta in leveraging MGNREGA for designing and executing innovative water and sanitation solutions for flood-hit areas finds its way into the Republic Day parade in 2011. Two Mahadalit hamlets – were identified for the pilot wherein MPA was assigned the task of developing matka filters, jal kothis and phaydemand shauchalays (useful toilets) locally by involving potters, bamboo artisans and masons and unskilled labour for this work Artisans of Kajichak village were given the task of manufacturing matka-filters to ensure iron-free drinking water. In this area where agricultural labour was the only source of livelihood, MGNREGA thus made its entry offering a fall back option for the first time. However given that this was not part of the list of permissible activities, this decision was later reversed
Leveraging MGNREGA for Flood Protection
- With support from Samaj Pragati Sahayog, the MPA partners in Samta in Khagaria and Savera in W.Champaran, MPA partners have prepared plans for leveraging MGNREGA for flood mitigation and livelihoods in selected panchayats in both districts. These plans will hopefully become a rallying point for the community and the administration on what needs to be done in such conditions.
- The report, entitled Leveraging MGNREGA for Flood Protection in Bihar on these plans was released by the Chief Minister of Bihar, Shri Nitish Kumar on February 29, 2012 at a state level consultation organized jointly by the National Consortium and the Department of Rural Development, Government of Bihar. Shri Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Rural Development, GoI and Dr. Mihir Shah, Member, Planning Commission, were Guests of Honour.
The findings and recommendations of the report are summarized below:
- Composition of MGNREGA expenditure is in favour of rural connectivity, although this has declined after 2008-09 (still 52% cumulative)
- Flood control accounts for only 2.53% of the total expenditure:
- Khagaria: Connectivity 88.9%, Flood Control 1.2%
- W. Champaran: Connectivity 36.2 %, Flood Control 0.8%
MGNREGA coupled with a paradigm shift in the debate on floods could be a game changing combination.