Marathwada, Vidarbha and Bundelkhand region gets ‘WARM’

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A major part of Central India is reeling under the spell of drought which has created severe water crisis. Communities, particularly, the small-holder farmers of Marathwada and Vidarbha regions of Maharashtra, Bundelkhand that straddles Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and North Karnataka have been driven to despair for several years on the trot by recurring droughts. Hundreds of farmers, in the absence of a cushion of adequate safety nets, find themselves sinking into a debt trap that force them to end their lives. Statistics on farmer suicides in Marathwada, Bundelkhand and North Karnataka is indicative of the incalculable human loss and damage to farmer morale that has hit these three regions.

Agriculture in these crisis-hit areas continues to be heavily dependent on either rain or tube-wells. Open wells have dried up and farmers are peppering the earth with thousands of tube-wells which have further pushed down the ground water table. The ground water reserve has dipped so rapidly and alarmingly that farmers are now drilling bore wells as deep as 1500 feet to fetch water. The danger is ominous considering the fact that ideal stratum of water abstraction is merely 80 feet. Apart from the search for scarce water for irrigation, farmers are also searching for a fair market that is free of exploitation, a sustainable farming system and a favourable policy regime that will protect the long term interests of farming sector. The consequences of drought have reached disaster proportions in the three water-strapped regions.

Number of suicides in Marathwada had touched 1,109 in the year 2015. So far, 250 farmers have ended their lives in 2016. Soybean and cotton yield of the region had dropped by 80% in 2015-16 primarily because of rain deficit. In the year 2015, the region received less than 50% of average annual rain whereas in 2014 the rain deficit was 44.4%. Vidarbha region, which until recently was the epicenter of farmers’ suicide, is still battling drought-like situation. The region had witnessed 10,168 farmers suicide from January 2001 to October 2015. Rainfall deficit of the region is in the range 55.7% (Yavatmal) to 39% (Amravati) and severe livelihood and food insecurity has gripped all 11 districts of the region.

Agrarian crisis is generally triggered by rainfall failure which is further compounded by several systemic factors which have complex interactivities. The existing response programmes for drought-prone areas tend to be limited in scope and depth. They typically focus on immediate needs such as drinking water, food, crop and livestock loss prevention and short-term employment. The assistance given is generally inadequate and understandably limited to accessible peoples and areas. New approaches, strategies and methods to include farming systems, resources and livelihood in drought-prone areas are urged.

Taking into account the above grave situation a programme called Water and Agriculture Resilience Mission (WARM – A Solidarity Response of the Church to Farmers’ Distress), has been formulated under the able leadership of Caritas India and Most Rev Dr. Abraham Viruthakulangara, Archbishop of Nagpur. The two day ‘Water and Agriculture Resilience Mission’ proposal finalization write-shop organized by Caritas India on January 30-31, 2017 was held at Archbishop’s House, Nagpur. The mission aims to empower CBOs as advocacy agents for addressing water security and community mobilization towards water governance and sustainable and climate resilient agriculture practices in around 30000 houses holds in Marathwada, Vidarbha and Bundelkhand region. Majority of these households come under the category of marginalized farmers, women and youth from SC, ST and OBC communities. The write-shop was inaugurated by His grace Most Rev Dr. Abraham Viruthakulangara, Archbishop of Nagpur. While delivering the inaugural speech, His Grace congratulated all the stakeholders and Caritas India for taking up the WARM mission. His Grace urged all the stakeholders to pool all the available resources for making WARM mission a grand success. The archbishop also released WARM preamble and strategy documents.

Fr. Paul Moonjely, Asst. Executive Director of Caritas India spoke on the importance of concept of water by explaining different dimensions related to “water” such as Water Governance, Water Policy, Water Economics, Water Literacy, Water Adaptation, Water Management, Watershed, Water Friends and Water Movement. He also described various dimensions of water by throwing lights into who is government, who has access and control of water for which what policies are framed, how water is commoditized and water economics, importance of water literacy, how water should be managed, how important watershed approach in the development sector and water friends and finally how it should be made a movement.

The two days write-shop was facilitated by Dr. Saju M.K., Zone Manager, West zone with the support of Dr. Mukund Deshmukh, Social Development Officer, Mr. Melvin Pangya, State Officer, Maharashtra and Mr. K. A. Sebastian, State Officer, Madhya Pradesh. All the six Diocesan Directors of Social Work along with their project coordinators from Amaravati, Aurangabad, Chanda, Nagpur (Maharashtra), Satna and Sagar (Madhya Pradesh) participated in the write-shop.