Harvesting the raindrop is transforming lives - 30 million water conservation-related ecological assets created .

Harvesting the raindrop is transforming lives -  30 million water conservation-related ecological assets created .

By Bijay Mishra

Bhubaneswar, March 22, 2021: 

MGNREGA is the world’s biggest adaptation programme as it harnesses the labour of people to invest in building the wherewithal to fight drought and build resilience .

Since 2006 more than 30 million water conservation-related ecological assets have been created; this totals to some 50 water structures in every village of India. These structures have potentially conserved roughly 29,000 million cubic meters of water in this period and have the potential to irrigate some 19 million hectares. 

“By putting water conservation at its core, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has the power to transform India’s rural landscape and changing the lives of the country’s poor " - told Sunita Narain, Director General, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and Editor of Down To Earth, inaugurating a webinar.  

The webinar brought together the Jal Yodhas – the representatives of the villages who have made this possible.   

Down To Earth and CSE has organised the webinar to release their findings of a country-wide survey of the impacts of MGNREGA after 15 years of its implementation. “Fourteen reporters of Down To Earth have travelled across the length and breadth of the country at a time when a pandemic was raging. They have covered 16 villages in 15 districts of as many states including Odisha , and brought back incredible stories from the ground,” says Down To Earth managing editor Richard Mahapatra. 

He adds that finding the villages which had successfully executed MGNREGA was difficult as no records are kept of the sustainability of the works that have been undertaken under this programme. “

“But harnessing the potential of these water structures requires that it is well planned and durable. In this way, it is not about distress employment during drought; but it will use the employment for relief against drought,” says Narain. 

The ground reports have brought back stories of how water conservation has changed the very face of the village and its development. 

Due to MGNREGA , distress migration has stopped and the villages are drought-proof now. Migrant labourers have come back to resume farming after implementing massive water conservation programmes. Village after village has reaped a rich harvest in terms of increase in agricultural productivity and the resultant economic returns. 

Narain says: “Water is a determinant of our present and future. With climate change we will see more rain and more heat and in this the management of water will be our make or break. Water security is also crucial for livelihood security. It builds resilience and the ability to cope with weather adversities. The MGNREGA is the world’s largest social security and climate risk management programme.” 

Adds Mahapatra: “One of the big findings of the report is that villages have reaped economic and environmental benefits of water conservation works defying all odds. This has only been possible due to the persistence and diligence of the water warriors in India’s villages. Every panchayat is mandated to make a five-year plan to implement MGNREGA. Our investigations have found that these plans are zealously pursued. Construction of the structures is locally controlled and gives people a sense of ownership. Therefore, they reflect local needs.”

In its analysis, Down To Earth says “every pond and tank is a development instrument. MGNREGA has created millions of them. Thus, by any parameter, MGNREGA is also the country’s largest water conservation exercise.

Narain gives a call to action: “For the moment, on this World Water Day 2021, let’s celebrate the good news – the potential of using water as an agent of change. It shows change is possible. It is thriving in these villages. It should become the lighthouse for others.”