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Devgadh: A lesson in drought management

By Mihir Mistry

AHMEDABAD: Three years after they had accomplished the impossible - building their own checkdams with money borrowed from banks - the people of Devgadh at Mendarda taluka of Junagadh are unaffected while the rest of Saurashtra falls prey to the sever drought.

Like any other village in north Gujarat and Saurashtra, the people of Devgadh did not think twice before installing diesel sets to pump out under ground water. This was in the mid-eighties and early nineties. In a decade, the pumps ran dry and there was not a drop of water that even the most powerful engines could pump out.

Farm productivity plummeted again and agriculture, that had become a full-time job, was now again a seasonal (monsoon) occupation. Devgadh seemed to have lost the magic formula that had sent the price of land spiralling from Rs 2,000 per acre to more than Rs 22,000.

Nature has finally caught up with the people and instead of crying foul, they realised they were responsible for the present situation, says Sanjay Dave of Charkha, an NGO.

For a village of just 650 odd residents, that did not even have a primary health centre the task was enormous. However, Dave says that once the people of Devgadh made up their minds, their was no looking back.

They pooled their meagre resources and constructed four check-dams with the help of a non-government organisation. "No funding, no engineering back up from the irrigation department, just hard work and a sense of co-operation," Dave says.

The villagers founded the Devgadh Gram Vikas Mandal and approached the block officers of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme who promised to partially fund their project.

They decided to commission two checkdams in the first year - 1996. They pooled about Rs 45,000, deposited the money with Dena Bank and took a loan on that deposit.

Management committees, supervisory and legal committees were formed and rich farmers pledged to give water for construction. They used their clout to procure cement and bricks at low rates. The not-so-affluent farmers and their families chipped in with shram dan - free labour.

By the end of 1997 the dams were built and in two subsequent monsoons of 1998 and 1999 they had enough water to recharge all the sub-terranean sources that had run dry. Even in 1999, although the rainfall was not very good, the dams did manage to collect some water. "Today Devgadh is reaping the harvest," says Narendra Matalia of AKRSP.

While other parts of Saurashtra and north Gujarat have no water, the people of Devgadh have enough underground stocks to pump out. All they have to do is to re-haul their old diesel sets and start pumping again and exploit the recharged underground reserves. That too if another monsoon fails.

The Economic Times


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