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Digging up a Dream: How TBI Readers Are Restoring Hope in a Drought-Stricken TN Village

TBI and The Environmentalist Foundation of India have come together to revive the livelihoods and dreams of Thiruvoimoor.

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The first thing that struck me was the stark change in colour: from fresh, soothing greens to dry, harsh browns. Driving from Bengaluru to Nagapattinam on the Tamil Nadu coast to cover a story on the drought scourging the state, this change in the colour of the scenery around me seemed to visualise the drought perfectly.

The misery of the drought

The black silt that has accumulated on the lakebed. The silt makes the lake shallow and more susceptible to losing water through evaporation

Over the past few months, I had watched with dismay the news about the drought in eastern Tamil Nadu and the plight of the farmers affected by it. But, as with many of us, a part of me had become numb to the images of misery on TV; it was, after all, yet another story of unendurable misery in rural India with the familiar political posturing happening around it.

I felt a certain hopeless inaction till I unexpectedly discovered a story about somebody actually doing something about it.

An NGO called The Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), with a long track record of successfully restoring lakes, had begun work to restore a dried-up lake in a remote little village called Thiruvoimoor in Nagapattinam district. Their efforts are being funded by The Better India, which is crowd-sourcing the funds through its website. As I reached Thiruvoimoor, the unrelenting heat of the sun seemed to burn everything in sight.


Join us to help 20,000 Villagers in drought-hit Nagapattinam by restoring its lakes and ponds

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I could see the devastation that the drought had wreaked on the land, the people and their livelihoods. The soil was dry and cracked, farming had ceased, farmers had either abandoned their fields for the cities or they sat around in the village hoping for work, and the economies of families were ruined. There was very little water even for drinking and what water was available, was hard to get and shockingly discoloured.


You might also enjoy reading: Farmers In Coastal Tamil Nadu Are Battling Drought Using Smart Farming Techniques. 


Water is the sustainer of life’

Children often fetch water for their homes from shallow ditches that have been dug into the lakebed.

The lake is central to life in and around Thiruvoimoor. It has been the main source of water for farming, the mainstay of the majority of the population, and for the everyday use of 10 village communities near the lake.

Yet the burning heat and insufficient rainfall over the past two years had dried up the lake.

The thick sludge-like black silt that has been accumulating in the lake over many years has made the lake shallow and more susceptible to losing water through evaporation. More importantly, it has prevented the groundwater from recharging and wells all around the lake have been drying up. The lakebed now supports sparse vegetation that goats and cows graze on.
The people I spoke to throughout the region understood the problem well and believed that, without the lake being restored, they faced a devastating choice: either abandon the only homes they had ever known and look for menial jobs in the cities or stay back and forfeit their lives. “Water is the sustainer of life”, an old man standing by the lake told me, “and without it, there’s little choice, or hope.” Yet there was a sliver of hope, nurtured and nourished by the lake restoration work being done by EFI.


You might also enjoy reading: This Organisation Has Restored 39 Lakes in 10 Years. This Yera, You Can Help Them Fight Drought!


Restoration of hope

A view of the restoration work

Following a hydrological study, EFI has started the lake restoration work by first de-silting the lake. Excavators steadily dig out the thick sludge from the lakebed and tippers cart them away. In a few weeks, workers will start shoring up the walls of the lake.

This work has become especially urgent as the region is forecast to finally receive a healthy monsoon this year.

All this work is being funded by the contributions that The Better India has raised from ordinary people and trusts around the country. Ordinary people and trusts who understand the severity of the problem, its long-term implications and the human tragedy that lies beyond the everyday news coverage.

The lake at Thiruvoimoor is just one amongst the many lakes in the region which face the same problems. Along with awareness programs, rain-water harvesting and other conservation efforts, lake restoration projects like the one being carried out by EFI can change the fate of entire communities.

From the time I spent with the people of Thiruvoimoor, I’ve come to firmly believe that these hardy people, who are intimately connected to the soil, need only a helping hand at the right time.

Then they would not have to abandon hope, or their homes, and the change in the colour of the land and their lives would be less stark.

The parched land of Nagapattinam district.
The de-silting work in progress. The people of Thiruvoimoor often sit on the banks of the lake to watch the work in progress.
The villagers have dug ditches in the lakebed and use the water drawn from them.
The girls of the village often perform double the duty: caring for their younger siblings while fetching water for their homes. Water supplied by the government is insufficient and has to be drawn from an opening in the roof of an overhead tank.

Join us to help 20,000 Villagers in drought-hit Nagapattinam by restoring its lakes and ponds

Unable to view the above button? Click here


About the author: Jayapaul Anand, a management trainer and leadership coach by profession, is also a scriptwriter and avid photographer. A breathless proponent of the power of narratives to move people and change lives, he co-founded TheTellTailProject to celebrate everyday tales of animals and their humans.
He is most at peace on the road.

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