In MP’s Panna district, villagers launch initiative to restore local water bodies as successive droughts give rise to malnutrition, migration

Editor’s Note: This summer has taken a toll on large parts of north, north-west and north-central India. As the country witnesses extremely high temperatures ever, here is a look at the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The region has been hit by another drought, and several villages don’t even have basic drinking water. This is the first in a seven-part series, which explores the situation in Banda, Panna, Damoh, Mahoba and Chitrakoot.

Panna: The Bundelkhand region has been baking at 45-plus degrees Celsius for the last two weeks. This extreme heat resulting to high rate of evaporation has dried up local water sources. What’s worse is this is now more or less a seasonal problem that villagers in the region have to deal with, so much so that water crisis is the new normal in Bundelkhand.

For Kalyanpur village of Panna district, however, this is not normal. Hence, the villagers have taken matters into their own hands, after failing to get their pleas heard by the authorities.

Residents of Kalyanpur village have been working day and night to restore the local lake. Around 200 people, including women, start their day digging at the spot. The village has 196 households and an approximate population of 900.

“This water crisis has severely affected our crop. With the lake running dry, we haven’t been able to water our crops properly, resulting in lower yield year after year,” says Ram Lal Gond, a resident of Kalyanpur.

“We realised that, since a few years, the lake had been drying up just two or three months after the end of monsoon. Hence, we decided to restore it to enable it to contain more water. We are also repairing the lake to avoid leakage from its bank,” he adds.

Until now, maintenance of the lake, which was the responsibility of local bodies, had gone ignored. Villagers, too, were ignorant about the issue, but this summer proved to be a huge wake-up call.

“Many youths have moved out of the village in search of jobs due to the water crisis. Had we protected the local water sources, this would not have happened. Agriculture becomes impossible without this lake. This year, we organised a meeting and discussed the problem,” said Badri Gond, another villager who played a key role in this initiative.

“Kalyanpur has also been afflicted with several diseases, such as TB, silicosis, and anaemia — a result of increasing malnutrition — due to the lack of water and subsequent nutrition, and working at stone mines.”

“In the absence of water, villagers working in (stone) mines face greater exposure to dust and silica. Almost every family here has one or two patients of silicosis or TB,” said Ravi Kant Pathak, a social activist and resident of Panna.

Support from local activists

Seeing the villagers’ efforts and desperation, Panna-based organisation Prithvi Trust decided to lend additional support in restoring the lake. “With assistance from organisations like Vikas Samvad, we have motivated other villagers to be a part of this initiative. As of now, residents from 10 villages, including Kota Gunjapur, Vikrampur, and Bati, are actively participating. To motivate them further and appreciate their awareness, we have decided to give gifts to the villagers,” said Yusuf Beg, director of Prithvi Trust.

Villagers, on their part, are going the extra mile to end the water crisis — besides restoring the lake, they are also working on reviving the wells and hand pumps in the village. “We will also ensure that this monsoon villages make arrangements to replenish groundwater,” added Beg.

Residents of Kalyanpur village have launched an initiative to restore a local lake. Manish Mishra/101ReportersResidents of Kalyanpur village have launched an initiative to restore a local lake. Manish Chandra Mishra/101Reporters

Why this initiative is important

Besides, extreme drought, the Bundelkhand region, has been facing several other problems such as migration, lack of job opportunities and social problems like child marriage.

Social activist Rakesh Kumar Malviya, says that there’s a strong connection between drought and malnutrition.

“Drought affects women’s daily routine, because they have to spend a large part of their day just arranging water. As a result, they can’t give adequate attention to their children. Drought has also led to unemployment and lack of job opportunities, forcing women as well to work in mines. All of this together has had a big impact on the health of mothers and their children,” he informs.

According to an NHFS-4 report, 32.1 percent women in the age group 20-24 years had been married off as minors in Panna district of Bundelkhand region. The direct implication of this was seen in the women’s deteriorating health. The region has a high death rate, high percentage of anaemic women, and even a high infant mortality rate.

Only 11.8 percent children aged between six and 23 months in the district receive an adequate diet while 43.1 percent children aged under five years are stunted, and an equal percentage are underweight. Also, 49.6 percent women between the ages of 15 and 49 are anaemic, while the percentage of anaemic pregnant women in the same age range is 43.5 percent. Worse still, 69 percent children aged between six and 59 months are anaemic.

“Successive droughts in the area have resulted in lack of nutritious food for the residents. Migration for employment is also contributing to malnutrition and other health problems,” said Beg.