Char areas in Assam are one of the worst affected areas of precarious flood and erosion and it exhibits the lowest development indicators in health and education and other human development indicators in comparison to the state and national level data. It is felt that it needs a special development model which could reduce the disaster vulnerability and bring pace in development process. The Char Development Program (CDP) is a first of its kind, being a joint initiative of Association for India’s Development (AID), Centre for Equity Studies (CES) and Jhai Foundation. CDP is a multidimensional special development model for the char dwellers of Assam. It strives to reduce the disaster risk in char areas while working on education, health and livelihoods sectors targeting seven cross-cutting sustainable development goals (SDGs) i.e. No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-being, Quality Education, Gender Equality, Clean Water and Hygiene and Climate Action. The program is designed after thorough study of various development models promoted by DFID, Practical Action, ESDO Bangladesh, BRAC etc. The initial phase of the program is focused in three char villages of Barpeta district in lower Assam.
In the first year of the intervention, the following activities were undertaken and have successfully started the change process in the targeted char areas: In the first year of the intervention, the following activities were undertaken and have successfully started the change process in the targeted char areas:
Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)
Plinth Rising: Jhai Foundation has been vigorously promoting plinth raising as a disaster mitigation intervention in flood affected areas. In every public occasion, the team has been highlighting the benefit of raised platform in flood affected areas. Under CDP programme, plinth of 50 poorest of the poor households have been raised beyond last known highest flood level. The selection of the households was made through a participatory and democratic process so that most vulnerable and needy households get selected.
The selection of beneficiary is a rigorous process. First a high power screening committee is formed in the targeted char area. The committee consists of the members of Panchayat Raj Institution (PRI), school teachers, community leaders (Dewani/Matabbar), ASHA workers, Anganwadi Workers and others. The project officer of CDP is the member secretary of the committee. The committee is trained and acquainted with the aims and objective of plinth raising as well as CDP. The committee outlined a selection criteria based on vulnerability (status of the plinth, destitute, women headed, and family having physically and mentally challenged families, elderly and children), participation in change process (Attendance in Structural Learning Program session, sends girl child to school, despite being poor tried to raise the plinth). Apart from economic status there are some negative criterions like practicing child marriage, child labour etc. These were imposed to make the change process smooth. The selection process is conducted in an open meeting. The screening committee proposes the name of the beneficiary before the house and the house has right to oppose any proposed name based on non-fulfilment of any criteria.
After the selection of the beneficiaries, they took part in a two days basic training workshop. The participants, mostly women learnt about various aspects of disaster as well as mitigation and coping mechanism. At the end of the training workshop, the participants pledge to start homestead gardening, sending their below ??? years old children to school and start de-compost and vermin-compost unit in their house.
Earlier it was decided to do the earth work in cash for work mode, similar to MGNREGA. However, after a series of meetings and consultation with various stakeholders including representatives of AID, CES and Jhai Foundation plinth raising was done using earth movers which could reach the char during winter.
Rupees four lakhs and fifty thousand was spent to raise the plinth of 50 households i.e. on an average rupees nine thousand was spend against each household. The plinth raising of 50 families and community mobilization has inspired almost equal number of economically capable families to raise the plinth of their house by their own.
This plinth raising has also ignited the char dwellers to think about the corrupt practices in the MGNREGA works. The villagers estimate that if the earth-work of 50 families has to be done under government schemes it would require a whopping amount of rupees fifteen lakhs to twenty lakhs because of corruption in various layers. Normally, 50 hours earth work against rupees five lakhs budget is considered as good work under MGNERGA scheme!
Plinth rising has been the most effective intervention to minimize the loss due to annual flood. The first of flood in June-July 2017 has caused havoc in the entire state of Assam including Barpeta district where the CDP is being implemented. However, the impact of flood has been much lesser in the targeted char areas of Barpeta district. The houses with raised plinth survived the flood and remained un-affected in terms of shelter, WASH, livelihoods and other important sectors. The below photograph was taken during the pick flood this year represent a great success story of the intervention.
However, one tragic incident happened on 11th of July 2017, a seven month old toddler from a family of one of the development workers of CDP drowned in the inundated floor. Though the particular family was selected as a beneficiary of plinth raising work, but the person didn’t avail and pass it to another family since his family was planning to move out of the char. The family couldn’t move to the other bank of the river and met a most tragic fate.
Sustainable Water Points: In char areas one of worst affected sector is WASH (Water Sanitation and Hygiene). CDP team has developed a highly innovative and sustainable solution to the drinking water crisis of the char dwellers. It has installed 6 water points in 6 clusters of the three char villages. The water points are flood resilient, community owned and sustainable in nature. The water points comprise of tube-wells built on raised earthen platforms at a height beyond the highest level reached by flood waters in recent knowledge. The plinth is raised to a suitable height flaring towards the bottom and the tube-well installed on the top. Locally available earth conserving grass is grown on sides of the plinth to strengthen the earth to prevent it getting washed away by flood. A bamboo canopy is built at three corners of the raised rectangular plinth and used to grow vegetable so that they can be a modest food source for the community throughout the year and as a source of resource to repair and renovate the water points. The ownership of the water points is with the community as the community has larger stake on it. Jhai Foundation bears the cost of materials i.e. hand pump, PVC pipe, iron pipe etc and plumber’s cost (The materials were sponsored by a group of students led by Dr. Aniqua and Dr. Tabasum). While the community provides shramdhaan (free labour) for plinth raising, erecting the canopies and forms a ‘user group’ to take over the ownership as well as taking the responsibility of repairing and renovating the amenity.
Awareness and Community Mobilization: In the last one year a number of activities were undertaken to create awareness of flood and allied disaster situation in char areas. The volunteers and development workers organized group discussions on flood preparedness, list out the do’s and don’ts in flood situation. A good number of IEC videos (Meena Cartoon Series of UNICEF, documentaries by CLP, Practical Action) were screened among various target groups.
Education is one of the most important sectors where CDP is investing much of its time and energy. As per the suggestion of Prof. Mohan Bhagat, the CDP team redesigned its educational intervention. It brought in a group of educational volunteers from the char community itself. Trained them and engaged them as education volunteers for various education related activities.
- Remedial Class: Educational Volunteers and Development Workers are extensively working in the targeted areas to promote education among the char children. The school children are taught and mentored using various innovative and attractive methods including audio-visual equipment. Three Educational Volunteers are providing remedial classes to the children are the school hours. The volunteers also assist the teachers in two government schools where a single teacher teaches 50 to 100 children. Apart from the remedial and regular classes in the school, 35 children are provided special classes and guidance to mainstream them into the school. Those 35 children who went to brick kiln as child labour were identified, counselled and reinstated in the schools.
- School on Boat: A special utility boat called ‘surujmukhi’ has been built to use it as a make shift school during over flood and in normal time use it as one of the remedial/tuition centres. The boat is also used to carry the children to cross the river to attend the upper primary and secondary schools.
- Awareness & Community Mobilization: The team of volunteers and development workers are organizing number of activities including workshop, awareness programmes to motivate the char dwellers to send their children to school. One workshop on Right to Education Act – 2009 was organized by the team. Mukut Lochan Kalita from RTE Forum Assam and Shalim M Hussain from Jamia Milia Islamia and government officials from education department participated in the workshop as resource persons. The school teachers, SMC members, ASHA workers, PRI members, cooks and community leaders participated in the workshop.
- Doctor in Char: A medical doctor visits the targeted char to provide health services to the char dwellers. The health worker under char development programme along with ASHA and other community leaders mobilize the community prior to the visit of the doctor. Doctor examines the patients as well as provides basic medicines to the patients.
- Referral Service: In case of medical emergency and pregnancy, the char health worker assists the patients and their relatives to take the patient to nearest hospital. Most of the patients are brought to district civil hospital at Kalgachia, around 15 kilometres from the char. In case of serious and complicated cases, the health worker also accompanies the patient to Barpeta Medical College and Hospital. In one case, the Health Worker Maleka Khatun spent more than a week at Barpeta Medical College and Hospital along with a patient.
- Awareness and Community Mobilization: A wide range of activities are being undertaken to mobilize the community to provide health education among the char dwellers. A detailed profiling of newly married couples is done to provide them information related to family planning and health related information. Similar kind of profiling is done for the pregnant women as well. The pregnant women are counselled about pregnancy planning, importance of anti-natal and post-natal check-ups, institutional delivery, immunization etc. The team has persuaded the ASHA workers, Anganwadi Workers, PRI Members, community leaders to participate in the community mobilization drive on various public health related issues.
Disaster Resilient Livelihoodi.
- Vet Health Camp: A veterinary doctor visits the targeted char villages and provides vet health services to the cattle as well as birds. Animal husbandry is one of the most prominent livelihood options for the char dwellers. The veterinary doctor not only provides the health services but also organizes awareness programmes among the char dwellers about various cattle and bird diseases prevalent in the area, especially during flood.
- Organic Farming: Char being isolated from mainland has a great potential to adopt organic farming. In fact, there are still many traditional agricultural practices available in char which are de-facto organic. The agricultural land in char is so fertile that farming of pulse and some traditional varieties of rice does not require any fertilizers or pesticides at all. CDP team has been gradually promoting organic farming in the targeted char villages. It has taken steps to popularize the vermin-compost. The households whose plinths have been raised have pledged to build at least one vermin-compost unit in their house.
The team has been collecting and distributing traditional vegetable seeds to start homestead garden in every households in the targeted char villages. This year, more than a hundred households have collected seeds from Jhai Foundation’s office and started homestead garden.