Farmers in Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh faced the devastating wrath of nature year after year when their fields were inundated with water and their possessions drowned. Today, the same Gorakhpur is walking down a path of a climate resilient future, carved by itself. Will the rest of India follow?
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“Has climate change affected your life?” Ask any farmer and he/she will be able to point out the exact incidences, and the causes behind them, which had some kind of an effect on their crops. Very much like the farmers of Gorakhpur, a city located along the banks of Rapti river in Uttar Pradesh, that is home to many who depend on agriculture as their only source of income.
Farmers and rural people in this region were in the regular habit of bearing the brunt of floods year after year. They had learned to live with nature’s fury by coming up with different ways to sustain themselves.
But in the recent years, with the devastating effects of climate change leading to increased flash floods, amplified water logging and a lot more, their survival plans stopped working. Their sustenance methods were not holding up any more, and survival was becoming difficult with every passing year.
This was when the city realised that there is need for some kind of change. Thus, in 2013, a dynamic group of institutions joined hands with the Gorakhpur District Disaster Management Authority.
The idea was to integrate climate change and disaster management, and then think of a new plan to help people hold through the tough times.
People from the various departments like rural development, health, education, animal husbandry, etc. got together and discussed how disaster affects them and what they can do about it. They shared their knowledge and took the help of experts and local people, finally forming a new district disaster management plan.
Today, Gorakhpur is learning to be climate resilient, with the help of institutions like Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) and other voluntary organizations that are helping raise awareness among the farmers, so they know about the right things to do before disaster strikes.
One of the many examples of how they face weather uncertainties is that local volunteers get weather reports in the form of a message from GEAG, informing about the upcoming rain, so that farmers can be ready in terms of how they store their crop, or the next step that needs to be taken in the field.
“For DM to be a forward looking process, integrating climate trends and addressing increasing uncertainties are important. The DM planning process has to be bottom-up, involving communities and front line functionaries both. The DM must be mainstreamed in developmental planning and implementation,” says Shiraz Wajih, President of GEAG and Associate Professor at Gorakhpur University.
UP government is also giving skills and training to farmers and local people to protect themselves in the time of flood. Aditi Umrao, Uttar Pradesh State Disaster Management Authority, is of the view that if one woman is trained on disaster management techniques, she trains ten more people in turn, and this is a highly effective way of making the entire community capable of fighting disaster. Residents are taught of ways if which they can make safety tools like life jackets by using available materials like water bottles, utensils etc. as well.
As one of the farmers rightly puts it – “Sometimes a disaster can be avoided by putting four mounds of mud in time, but if you don’t take action in time, disasters cannot be averted even if you spend millions of rupees later.”
This film named ‘For a safer future: Insights on climate resilience from India’, documents the learnings from Gorakhpur. This experience of disaster management has been shared with over 600 districts of India through a training module developed by the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM).