Dakhinveda is a tiny village with 75 odd families in the Kendrapara district of Odisha. The Brahmani river circles the village which has been witnessing its fury for years. The ebbs and flows have been guiding life in this village. Every year, heavy rainfall and cyclones – which have increased in frequency and intensity – washes away the mud huts and disrupts lives. According to an analysis released by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), 26 districts in Odisha are vulnerable to extreme climate events such as cyclones, floods, and droughts. Cyclones and storm surges have increased three-fold in the state between 1970 and 2019 and extreme flood events have increased almost seven-fold. Kendrapara and Puri districts are few of the cyclone hotspots in the state. Villagers in Kendrapara have learnt to not get perturbed with the occasional intruders in the form crocodiles and snakes that find its way into the village from the river. At the entrance of the village, there’s a handpump and a bathroom on a raised platform. It’s natural to wonder why it is pertinent to mention an innocuous handpump. This elevated platform was built as part of Bal Raksha Bharat India’s humanitarian response after cyclone Phailin wreaked havoc in the state. During a flood-like situation, it’s the only source of potable water. A little inside the village is the school which also functions as a cyclone shelter for people to take refuge.
Jyotsna, 21-year-old B.Sc Botany student, confidently rattles off what to do in case of a cyclone. “Green warning means prepare for the cyclone, yellow means gather and keep your documents safe and move the children, the elderly and the sick, pregnant women and the disabled to safety and a red warning means go to the nearest cyclone shelter or safe shelter.” Jyotsna and a few other adolescents of the village have been trained by Bal Raksha Bharat India and its partner Nature’s Club on disaster risk reduction and climate resilience. These climate resilience exercises started after spates of flood in Odisha in 2011. Now, these young adults are not only safeguarding their village, but they are also going to other villages and training them on risk reduction, evacuation and asset management in case of a natural disaster. Even the younger children, growing up amid a constant state of uncertainty of climate change events, are educating themselves in disaster risk reduction.
In the last one year, Dakhinveda witnessed Amphan and Yaas – two devastating cyclones that hit the state. And as for the pandemic, they don’t fear the infection but they are worried about the men and the boys, as young as 15, in the village who have gone to other states looking for work. With their livelihoods gone, mothers were forced to send their sons far and wide looking for employment, leaving behind the women, children and the elderly.
People of Dakhinveda are mainly dependent on agriculture and fishing for their livelihoods. This village has curiously produced a lot of plumbers who have found work in countries like Vietnam. Young women on the other hand find work in the garment industry. In the absence of men, women are taking care of the agricultural work and household chores. The oldest crusader among them, 77-year-old Parbati pottering around the village, taking stock of things and alerting the people concerned in case of any work that needs to be done is a regular sight.
Jyotsna explains that protection teams are divided with each team looking after the children, the elderly, the adults, the disabled and pregnant women. Apart from first aid kits, it is ensured there’s adequate essential supplies and menstrual and hygiene kits for women. There’s regular coordination with rescue workers to ensure continuous food supply. Then there are young women like Sarita, a third year BSc student, who has been given psychosocial training. In times of crisis, she’s skilled enough to keep the children entertained and occupied, allay their fears and keep their mind relaxed.
Ganga, an arts graduate goes village to village, and teaches them on risk mapping. There are three kinds of maps. The first is the social map that shows all the houses (kaccha and pakka houses), schools, water resources and the general layout of the village. The asset map highlights the cyclone shelters, schools, temples and other buildings that can double up as shelters and the third one is a risk map which shows all the pathways through which water can enter the village and the vulnerable houses. There’s an evacuation map in case of a tsunami. These children practise drawing these maps on a rangoli and then they put it on paper.
During any humanitarian crisis, children are the most effected impacting their development, physical and psychosocial well-being. A child-centred Disaster Risk Reduction programme aims at building sustainable and resilient communities equipped to cope with extreme climate change events and enable children to influence their future.
Children who were part of the disaster risk reduction programme are young adults now, devising their own ways and educating the community. Their development process has now become a way of life.
Road to Becoming Climate Resilient
Cyclone Fani caused widespread destruction. The 2019 cyclone had affected 1.65 crore people in 14 districts of Odisha with the total damage and loss amounting to Rs 24,176. Along with property loss, closure of schools, loss of livelihoods and displacement increased child protection and food security issues. Bal Raksha Bharat India’s immediate response was to provide relief to the affected and vulnerable communities, but it was also looking at a long-term rehabilitation plan moving from humanitarian work to development work.
Part of the strategic plan included building resilient environmental systems where nature is the first line of defence against extreme climate change events. Involving people in affected and vulnerable communities in the mitigation plan prepares the community in tackling current and future impacts of climate change.
While disaster risk reduction training prepared the community to stay alert and swing into immediate action in case of a cyclone or flood threat, Bal Raksha Bharat India has also initiated climate resilience work with Nature’s Club which can potentially impact livelihoods and generate income. One such project is the plantation in a village 35km from Puri.
Large swathes of the 50-acre land in Paikasahi’s village came in the direct path of cyclone Fani uprooting plants and trees. What was left behind was a land full of debris making it hard even to work. The village used to depend on this land for sustenance with total crops worth Rs 1 lakh. After two years, 20 acres land has around 12,000 plantations. It started with Nature’s Club giving 2,750 saplings and Bal Raksha Bharat India giving 1,750 saplings. Today, there are 5,000 coconut trees, 4,000 mango, guava and sapota plants and 3,000 other plants, including cashew.
Under a cash-for-work programme, the entire land was cleaned, the top soil was given anti-termite treatment, biofertilizers were added and handed over to 85 families. A weekly roster is created where members of these 85 families take turns to tend to the land and the money generated goes to the community fund. In a few years, the plants are expected to bear fruits becoming a source of income for the families.
A few kilometres from Dakhinveda there’s also a mangrove plantation. “The mangrove trees are a source of inspiration for the children in the village to ask their grandparents about a time when the area was lush with mangrove trees and not ravaged by frequent flooding and cyclones,” says Biraja Pati from Nature’s Club.