Drought mitigation in Rajasthan, India

Rajasthan, the largest state in India, has an estimated population of 54 million, spreading over 41,500 villages in 32 districts. Out of 32 Districts, 20 Districts have received almost no rainfall in the last year, which has dried up surface water and depleted ground water. The local economy has suffered greatly since it is dependent on rain-fed agricultural production. As a result, men and teenage boys are migrating to urban areas in search of jobs, while their wives, daughters, and mothers stay in the villages, walking for miles to fetch drinkable water.
In response to this devastating drought, Lutheran World Relief (LWR) is accompanying its partner Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) to implement a project supported by funding from a US government grant and the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod (LCMS). Established in 1947, CASA has been working in Rajasthan for more than 50 years. LWR and CASA also have a long history of working together to strengthen the capacities of local organizations in India for disaster relief and sustainable development. The goal of this project is to minimize the adverse effects of the prolonged drought through relief efforts and to establish long-term drought mitigation measures for 12,000 people in 24 villages.

Water and Jobs Too

In partnership with LWR, CASA and village participants are designing and implementing a dual response to the challenges posed by the drought. First, LWR and CASA are providing immediate access to life-sustaining drinking water by transporting water tankers to the villages. Second, LWR and CASA are employing one person from each of the 2,400 beneficiary families to participate in the construction of water collection tanks and cleaning of village ponds for water for human and livestock use in return for a cash allowance. These work projects will serve to reinvigorate the local economy, minimize migration out of the villages, and will help safeguard the villages from future droughts.

Women and Drought

Carolina Castrillo, LWR's Humanitarian Response Manager for Asia, is working closely with CASA's staff to ensure community participation in and ownership of the projects, especially among the female population since women are the most burdened by the drought. After a recent trip to Rajasthan, she commented, "I was really touched by the harsh conditions of the drought and how people struggle for survival in the midst of the desert. There is literally no clean drinking water. Women have to spend their day, after doing the early morning housework, walking about two miles to bring water for their families from the nearest well.

In one of the communities people dig about 100 feet into the soil to reach filtered water from a recent light rain. There are several of these in the community, some belong only to one caste and are not shared with other castes. Women get down there one by one and wait up to three hours until the drops fill one pot." In identifying project participants, CASA is paying close attention to the needs of women to ensure that they receive a sufficient supply of food and water to improve their physical health and reduce their level of stress. Community awareness programs are also helping in bringing about gender sensitivity.

Real Impacts

In the two months since the project started, the overall level of food security of the families has improved considerably. In the beginning of March, few people had food for lunch and those who did only had dry roti (white bread). After the first cash distribution, CASA staff observed that many more people were carrying lunch boxes containing roti and sabji (vegetable curry). Carolina also commented that with the money earned from their work on the water tanks and ponds, some communities have organized to purchase bulk food supplies at wholesale prices, which saves them money for other family needs. These observations are tangible signs that the LWR-supported drought mitigation project is having a real impact on the villages. In Carolina's words, "The people in the communities I visited always expressed their appreciation for LWR doing something for them at this critical time." She also noted that rainfall is expected for the end of June as this year's monsoon is gradually moving north towards Rajasthan.

Dhaku's Story

Judya is a remote village located in Rajasthan State. In this village, Dhaku, who is 28 years-old, lives with her husband, Daluram, their three young children, and her 70 year old mother-in-law. Daluram works as a casual laborer in a nearby open stone-mine. In 2000, Daluram was diagnosed with diabetes and since then his family has spent a considerable amount of their income on his treatment. When his health worsened, they used Dhaku's jewelry as collateral for a loan to continue the treatment. Again when the situation became even more critical, the family sold their 40 parcels of land at below value. Daluram's health has improved, but he is still not able to do strenuous work. He was also recently diagnosed as having a respiratory illness common among men who work in the mines due to high levels of pollution. Dhaku, therefore, is entirely responsible for meeting her family's needs.

Dhaku's family is one of the 110 families in Judya selected for CASA's cash for work project as part of its drought relief program. She is helping to de-silt and deepen a pond as a source of potable water for the village's livestock. After working for 10 days she received her first payment of 600 rupees ($12), which enabled her to purchase food grain for her family in addition to more treatment for her ailing husband. CASA's supply of drinking water has also saved Dhaku the energy spent and stress caused by walking miles in search of water.

Dhaku now hopes to retrieve some of her jewelry by repaying the loan they had taken out for her husband's treatment. As in Dhaku's story, the LWR-supported drought relief project is providing a ray of hope for many more women who are affected by the devastation of the current situation in their villages.

LWR appreciates LCMS' generous contribution towards this important project. With their support, LWR and its partner, CASA, are helping to alleviate the suffering of thousands of people affected by the severe drought in Rajasthan while also strengthening the participating communities' capacities to prepare for and respond to future droughts.