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Eight years of empowering tribal communities through water initiatives in Chhattisgarh

By Gazala Paul*  

In the heart of Chhattisgarh, amidst the echoes of tribal life, a transformative journey has unfolded over the past eight years. The Samerth organization has diligently worked to elevate the lives of indigenous communities in the Kawardha district through the project, "Enabling Baiga Community to access safe drinking water." 
This article chronicles the project's evolution, goals, phases, and significant strides in promoting water accessibility, hygiene, and sustainable development.

Building Capacity for Sustainable Development:

Samerth's commitment to sustainable development and community well-being is exemplified through its multifaceted approach to capacity building. Organizing workshops and training sessions, the organization aimed not only to disseminate knowledge but also to create an environment conducive to the effective implementation of project goals.

Key Objectives:

The overarching goal of Samerth's capacity-building initiatives was to empower different community groups with the skills and knowledge necessary to actively participate in and benefit from the project's thematic areas. The objective was clear - facilitate the implementation of thematic areas and deliver tangible benefits to the target groups.

Harnessing Water Wisdom:

Samerth's Innovative Approach to Water Security in Chhattisgarh Villages
In the heartland of Chhattisgarh, where water is not merely a resource but a lifeline, Samerth's pioneering initiative unfolded in 2015-16. Through meticulous water need mapping and assessment, Samerth embarked on a transformative journey, developing Water Security Plans (WSP) for ten Gram Panchayats in operational blocks of Bodla and Pandhariya.

Mapping the Need:

Samerth's journey began with a thorough water need mapping and assessment of villages in Bodla and Pandhariya in 2015-16. The objective was clear – to understand the nuanced water requirements of these communities. This detailed assessment laid the foundation for the subsequent development of Water Security Plans.

Crafting Water Security Plans:

In 2016-17, armed with insights from the water need assessment, Samerth meticulously crafted Water Security Plans for ten Gram Panchayats, strategically distributed between Pandhariya and Bodla blocks. These plans were not mere documents; they were blueprints for change, aiming to make villages water-secured through the mobilization of government resources, particularly from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).

Detailed Project Reports (DPR):

The cornerstone of Samerth's strategy was the creation of Detailed Project Reports (DPR) within the Water Security Plans. Each DPR was a comprehensive dossier, encapsulating village demography, resource mapping, livelihoods, Natural Resource Management (NRM), and critical water resources required for drinking and irrigation.

Integrated Rural Water Management (IWRM):

The meticulously prepared DPRs became instrumental in unlocking resources from MGNREGS under the title of 'Integrated Rural Water Management' (IWRM). Samerth ingeniously leveraged these plans to channelize government funds into critical water and soil conservation components, focusing not just on meeting immediate water needs but creating sustainable water security for the villages.

Samerth's Transformative Journey:

Samerth's journey in Chhattisgarh exemplifies a novel approach to water security – one that transcends immediate relief and delves into sustainable solutions. By combining meticulous water need assessments with strategic DPRs, Samerth has not only secured water for villages but empowered communities to shape their own water destinies, creating a legacy of resilience and self-sufficiency in the heart of Chhattisgarh.

Phases of Transformation:

Phase I: 2014-2016 - Laying the Foundation
The initial phase aimed at elevating the lives of 2306 households across 36 villages, focusing on strengthening government structures, training volunteers, and supporting sanitation facilities.
Phase II: July 2016 to June 2017 - Sustaining Water Security
This phase prioritized sustainable water access for vulnerable tribal communities, empowering volunteers to manage resources independently and collaborating with local political institutions for long-term sustainability.
Phase III: July 2017 – June 18 - Ecological Balance and Collaboration
Goals shifted towards ensuring ecological balance, training local para hydro-geology experts, and collaborating with diverse entities for a people-friendly water usage model.
Phase IV: April 2018 to March 2019 - Expanding Reach
This phase expanded its footprint to 45 villages, focusing on entitlements, safe drinking water, water quality, spring management, water security plans, and natural resource management.
Phase V: April 2019 to March 2020 - Navigating Challenges
Adapting to the challenges posed by the pandemic, the project emphasized COVID-19 relief, handwashing promotion, and relief kit distribution while maintaining focus on core thematic areas.
Phase VI: April 2020 to March 2023 - Towards Sustainable Futures
The project targeted 14 villages, aligning with global sustainable development goals. Emphasis is on integrated water resources management, local knowledge utilization, and behavioral change in Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) practices.

Land Rights Transformation:

At the core of Samerth's intervention was the empowering process of securing land rights, with 60 out of 90 households now possessing agricultural lands granted under the Indian Forest Rights Act (IFR) of 2006. Samerth's dedicated team played a pivotal role in facilitating the acquisition of these lands, resulting in clear land titles for 45 households.

Economic Revitalization:

The economic fabric of the village, woven with agriculture, Minor Forest Produce (MFP) collection, and manual labor, underwent a profound change. Samerth's efforts led to the submission of an application for Community Forest Rights (CFR), holding the potential to further empower the village economically.

Agricultural Transformation:

Agriculture emerged as the principal livelihood source, with even landless families cultivating forest-encroached lands. The cropping pattern diversified, addressing seasonal variations, though poor land quality remained a challenge. Samerth's intervention aimed at improving crop yields and reducing dependency on distant labor opportunities.

Water Management and Hygiene Initiatives:

Samerth addressed critical concerns related to drinking water, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), and Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). Innovative spring management provided 24X7 access to clean drinking water for 20 households, showcasing Samerth's commitment to holistic community development.

Education and Welfare Initiatives:

Beyond land rights and water management, Samerth's mobilization efforts facilitated the establishment of an Aanganwadi and the mobilization of a primary school. Beneficiaries of IFR received support for constructing houses under the Indira Aawas Yojana, showcasing a comprehensive approach to community development.

Current Scenario and Sustainable Development:

The village's sustenance now relies on crop yields, labor opportunities from government schemes, and sporadic assignments from the forest department. Samerth's multi-faceted intervention has significantly transformed Devan Patpar into a community-driven space with a promising future.

Samerth's Role in Water Spring Management:

Samerth played a pivotal role in revolutionizing water spring management in remote villages. The implementation of cost-effective, gravity-based spring water conservation techniques has provided reliable access to safe and potable water for seven years. Samerth's strategic deployment of spring management units stands as a testament to their dedication, with the torch of responsibility now in the hands of the community.

Community Engagement and Sustainable Betterment:

The active engagement of the community, particularly the youth, has been instrumental in securing benefits and support from governmental agencies. Samerth's guidance-based role emphasizes the promising synergy between their initiatives and the community's proactive involvement, ultimately leading to the sustainable betterment of the village and its residents.

Empowering Communities through a Decade of Capacity Building Initiatives:

In a concerted effort to enhance project processes and empower diverse community groups, Samerth undertook an extensive series of capacity-building trainings and workshops over the past decade. These initiatives, strategically planned and executed, targeted various segments of society, including village youth, women, girls, children (schools), farmers, and key stakeholders such as government grassroots front-line staff and officials from concerned departments. The primary aim was to fortify the implementation of thematic areas and bring tangible benefits to the target groups.

Celebrating a Decade of Impactful Work:

As Samerth celebrates a decade of impactful work, the success of its capacity-building initiatives is evident in the transformed lives of the communities it serves. By prioritizing the empowerment of diverse segments of society, Samerth has not only strengthened project processes but has also sowed the seeds for sustainable development and positive change. Looking ahead, these initiatives stand as a testament to the organization's commitment to building resilient and self-reliant communities.

A Journey of Consistency and Evolution:

The project's goals and objectives have exhibited remarkable consistency, addressing the fundamental challenges faced by tribal communities. However, the evolution lies in the holistic approach, incorporating not just water accessibility but also hygiene, entitlements, and sustainable development.

A Vision for Tomorrow:

As Samerth continues its unwavering commitment to tribal empowerment in Chhattisgsarh, the journey signifies more than just access to water. It symbolizes a holistic transformation, weaving together threads of sustainability, resilience, and self-sufficiency. In the tapestry of these eight years, the Baiga community is not just gaining safe drinking water but also stepping into a future of possibilities, empowered and enabled by the vision of Samerth.
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*Executive Director and Founder of Samerth (www.samerth.org), which works for bringing a diverse background of experience in the realms of water management, landscape restoration, and livelihoods. With an extensive career in the development sector, Gazala Paul has traversed various trajectories of work, contributing significantly to projects in  Gujarat and Chhattisgarh

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