All that water and not a drop to drink…

Have we, here in the UK, been experiencing a monsoon? For people in some parts of the country there have been torrential downpours and uncontrollable depths of water – none of which is possible to trap or to drink.

Flooding in the UK

How would we feel if it happened every year of our lives?  Ruining our homes, spoiling our food, and making eating, sleeping and washing to keep clean impossible?

And, unlike the UK, all of this happening in unbearable steamy heat.

Millions of villagers in India experience the monsoon every year of their lives: mud houses and thatched roofs are damaged, children unable to go to school, livestock marooned or drowned, all tracks or roads out of the village under water and food difficult to access. There are no rescue teams here, no boats to help people to safety.

These are the people Jeevika works with: the poorest of the poor. 

Our water development projects with our partner organisations in Orissa and Tamil Nadu work with the villagers to dig large water catchments to help collect the water from the monsoon. This can then be used to water crops when the rain has stopped and to provide water for livestock.

Water development projects in India

To these ponds they sometimes add fish seedlings which grow into large fish that support their family’s nutrition and help generate a little income from the surplus of fish sold in the local market.

Fishing projects in India

We also provide water catchment tanks on the roofs of schools so that there is clean water for drinking and for the sanitation facilities we provide. The children use the harvested water on their vegetable gardens and trees which we sponsor in the school grounds so that they may learn to become self-sufficient and environmentally-aware.

Rainwater harvesting in India

It doesn’t solve all the problems that these villagers live with during and after the monsoon, but it does help.

Have you experienced any of the recent flooding in the UK? 

Flood image courtesy of Mango World Magazine.

Against Ecocide: The Gandhi Foundation Peace Award

Last month Jeevika’s sister organisation, the Gandhi Foundation, awarded its annual Peace Award (which was postponed from last year) to Dr Binayak Sen and Bulu Imam for their humanitarian work within Adivasi (tribal) communities in Eastern Central India and their practice of non-violence.

Gandhi Foundation Peace AwardThe intention of the Award is to honour individuals and groups who have advocated and practised Gandhian non-violence but who have received little recognition for doing so.

Adivasis are being displaced from their mineral-rich land by mining companies. According to anthropologist Dr Felix Padel, who was a discussant at the ceremony:

“Village people (tribals and non-tribals alike) are trying not just to hold onto their land and homes, communities and age-old systems of cultivation, but also, as part of the same thing, to prevent ecocide: the long-term destruction of every aspect of the land and environment where they have lived for centuries”.

The Adivasi movements against this ecocide are also caught up in the vicious fight against a Maoist insurgency. In Padel’s words again, “The war against the Maoists, ‘Operation Green Hunt’, acts as a filter that often draws attention and support away from these movements, as the situation escalates towards a classic resource war.”

Dr Sen, a paediatrician and public health specialist, said in his comments after receiving the award, that the communities he was working in are in a state of chronic, stable famine.

Adivasi Tribal Villagers in Orissa

He said that even by the Government of India’s National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau, 47% of children and 37% of adults are underweight and malnourished (with a Body Mass Index of 18.5 or less). By World Health Organisation standards, 40% is the famine threshold. For Scheduled Castes, the proportion of the population that are underweight is 60%, as opposed to 50% for Adivasis.

Dr Sen said these people only survived because of their common property resources. They are being deprived of these resources by displacement and destruction of their environment by corporate interests, many of which are based and financed in London.

Images courtesy of the Gandhi Foundation and gvanstijn.nl

Village to Village

Our local village in the UK, Hampton Wick, is a far cry from Mahinsa, an Indian village on an island of the same name. The former, poised on the river between Kingston-upon-Thames and the open acres of Hampton Court Palace and Bushy Park, can fairly call itself a village. But Mahinsa is definitely one: a tiny island community of 750 souls, 150 households, on the edge of the huge Chilika Lake sea lagoon, on the upper east coast of India.

Hampton Wick High Street and Mahinsa Island

What do they have in common?

Well, Jeevika sits here, and it works there: our 1-room office in Navigator House is our UK base, while one of our on-going village livelihood projects, Project Eco – just completed with our Orissa NGO partner Jeevan Rekha – has helped Mahinsa islanders adapt to lagoon pollution, loss of traditional fishing livelihoods, and poor ecological conditions and practices.

Human resources and lots of water are common to both villages, but that’s about all: Mahinsa is surrounded by brackish lagoon-water not fit for drinking or cooking while intermittent electricity supply is only just in place, starting to transform island life after the fall of medieval darkness.

Success on Mahinsa

But after two years, Project Eco has had several solid and measurable impacts on the life of the islanders:

  • 2,000 saplings established for cyclone-shelter and for fruit
  • 6 new or restored bore wells
  • 10 hand-pumps supported by a new Water Users Group
  • 25 self-composting 2-pit toilets for the poorest households, and for the local school, have largely eliminated defecation in public spaces
  • 6 thriving Self-Help Groups (SHGs) comprising nearly 1 woman per household have sustainably increased household income levels
  • establishment of viable market-linked crab-and prawn-cultivation by the SHGs has been a spectacular success in adapting to decline of traditional fishing
  • household kitchen-gardens with integrated worm-composting have improved family nutrition and offered further income opportunities
  • overall eco-awareness has been expanded based on an Eco Club at the local school.

While we are grateful to the Zurich Community Trust for supporting this project, we are excited to be moving on. Mahinsa is now a reliable model for similar projects on other Chilika Lake islands, and this month we are embarking on 2 years of activity on the neighbouring island of Barhampur with valuable support from the innocent foundation.

Water projects in India

New directions in the UK

Meanwhile, back home we are starting a new programme to expand our links with our local community in Hampton Wick. We want to offer opportunities to our friends and contacts here to get involved in helping us keep planning, funding and monitoring our projects. Through local pubs, libraries, leisure and social clubs, gardening groups, and local businesses, we plan to communicate more effectively the opportunities for association with Jeevika.

We’ve found a strong level of potential interest right on our doorstep, and I’m delighted to introduce our newest team-member Becky Buchanan – based at Navigator House (becky@jeevika.org.uk at 8973 3773) – who’ll be driving this programme: Becky has lived at ground level in Indian villages in several parts of India and is always keen to share her experiences!

This coming September, Jeevika is organising two events with a very local feel to them:

  1. On Thursday 6th we are proud that a fellow resident of ours at Navigator House, Cleve West, will be speaking at the Lensbury Club on Broom Road about ‘water-wise gardening’: Cleve has won ‘Best of Show’ at RHS Chelsea for 2 years running.
  2. On Sunday 30th Jeevika is again hosting its ‘Walk for Water’ through Bushy Park and back along Barge Walk.

Jeevika Trust Fundraising

We hope to see a lot of our village friends on both occasions, and will be letting you know how to join us soon.

Photo of Hampton Wick High Street courtesy of Your Local Web.