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Here's How Two Organisations Are Helping 20,000 Farmers In Drought-Ravaged Tamil Nadu

31/05/2017 8:26 AM IST | Updated 31/05/2017 8:26 AM IST

Along with the summer come water woes. Water scarcity and scorching heat arrive together, making day-to-day living difficult for many. Farmers are among the worst affected as they face scarcity of irrigation as well as drinking water when bore wells, lakes, ponds, rivers and rivulets dry up at the same time.

The challenges are huge, so what one needs to do is take the first step.


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The Better India, along with the Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), is taking that first step to help over 20,000 residents of Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu. The mission is to fight drought with a water body restoration campaign that will focus on cleaning, desilting, deepening and restoring two ponds in Nagapattinam.

EFI was founded by Arun Krishnamurthy in Chennai in 2007 and in the last 10 years, the organisation has restored 39 lakes and 48 ponds in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra, Telangana, Puducherry and Gujarat.

All of Tamil Nadu's 32 districts have been declared drought-affected. Tamil Nadu has seen the lowest rainfall in 140 years.

Why Tamil Nadu? Why Nagapattinam?

All of Tamil Nadu's 32 districts have been declared drought-affected. With rainfall having reduced by 62 percent between 2016 and 2017, Tamil Nadu has seen the lowest rainfall in 140 years.

The problem of water scarcity has persisted through the years. Over the last 25 years, the rainfall level in the state has gradually gone down. The reasons behind the severity and extent of drought are multifold — aberration in rainfall, over exploitation of ground water, lower reservoir levels and crop stress conditions. The sandy soil, predominantly found in the south-east part of Tamil Nadu, is prone to chronic droughts. Besides, the main crop of the farmers in the state is water-intensive paddy.

With the situation becoming more grave with every passing day, 606 farmers committed suicide in Tamil Nadu last year. Since October 2016, on an average, two farmers have been committing suicide daily.

The Nagapattinam district is among the worst hit, with the highest number of farmer suicides. Of a total of 175,000 farmers in the district, 135,000 are paddy farmers. Due to acute water shortage, less than 20 percent of the paddy sown has crossed the flowering stage. The rest is wasted, making the situation even more dire.

In all, 606 farmers committed suicide in Tamil Nadu last year. Since October 2016, on an average, two farmers have been committing suicide daily.

What is the plan of action?

Under the Fight Drought campaign, ponds that have been turned into garbage dumps are to be restored and transformed into viable sources of water.

The Kiramaththu Medu-Thamarai pond in Keelvelur taluka (area: 2.5 acres) and the Thiruvaimur-Thamarai pond in Thirukuvalai taluka (area: 5 acres) will be restored.


The Better India

To begin with, the ponds will be cleaned by clearing out the garbage and removing weeds in and around them. Once the cleaning is complete, the ponds will be desilted, following which a bund strengthening drive will take place and native species of plants will be planted to stabilise the packed bund.

"We are planning to involve the local community in activities like pond cleanup, bund plantation and maintenance, as well as creating wall paintings for awareness," Krishnamurthy from EFI told The Better India. "This will encourage the feeling of ownership and responsibility among locals. We'll also be conducting extensive and targeted awareness programmes in schools, colleges and self-help groups to encourage people to maintain the water bodies properly and conserve water in different ways."

Up to 150 locals and EFI volunteers will together oversee the restoration of each pond. Native species like palm, neem, pongamia and magizham will be planted for strengthening the bund, as well as around the lake.

"The water bodies won't simply ensure availability of water post monsoon, they'll also be responsible for groundwater stabilisation, temperature regulation, prevention of waterborne diseases and prevention of natural calamities such as drought."

How action will impact lives:

The restoration will result in availability of water up to a distance of 850 m to 1 km from the pond directly, along with an indirect impact in the range of 3 to 3.6 km. Once restored, the ponds will help 1,800 to 2,000 families in the long run by recharging groundwater in the region.

"The water bodies won't simply ensure availability of water post monsoon, they'll also be responsible for groundwater stabilisation, temperature regulation, prevention of waterborne diseases and prevention of natural calamities such as drought," Krishnamurthy said.

He also stressed that besides the ponds in Nagapattinam, there are other areas such as Kilvelur, Kuthalam, Mayiladuthurai, Sirkali, Tharangambadi and Vedaranyam that are in dire need of similar water body restoration initiatives.

"There's so much to do," Krishnamurthy said. "Drought prevention needs to be taken seriously. We'd love to restore more and more ponds and lakes in this region so as to ensure nobody needs to go miles for a drop of water."

The Better India is working with the EFI to help restore lakes and ponds in drought-hit Nagapattinam and impact the lives of 20,000 villagers. To know more, click here.

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