Palaces For The People
Monday, October 13, 2003
Reuters AlertNet - ACT Update: Orissa Floods, India

Situation Report from LWS-I
ACT member the Lutheran World Service India (LWS-I) reports that in the district of Balangir people cannot recall rains of such magnitude for at least 20 years. This year’s rains have been exceptionally heavy – with up to 316 mm in six hours recorded. Totally unprepared for such a deluge the people have suffered tremendous loss of property as well as crops. There has been a recorded loss of up to 80% of Gurji , a traditional crop grown in the highlands with the remaining 20% reportedly of very low quality due to it being rain-soaked. Vegetables and early varieties of highland paddy also fell victim to the flood waters and a significant area of cultivated land has been sand casted. Fruit saplings and other delicate plants were also affected. Most of the mud-built houses collapsed as they could not withstand the incessant rainfall and road communication between villages/towns has been seriously disrupted.
In the most recent years the resource poor/marginal farmers have experienced drought and have been forced to “loan” paddy from Self Help Group (SHG) run grain banks or from other sources for use as seeds as they had been compelled to eat up the preceding year’s sock of seeds. The drought conditions in 2002 led to almost a total crop failure resulting in the marginalised farmers even becoming indebted to the private moneylenders (due to crop failure the recovery of grains in SHG-managed grain banks was very insignificant). The normal level of recovery and recycling of group/community funds and grain banks are affected in general.

The unprecedented deluge has further exacerbated the situation, pushing the most vulnerable of the population to a very precarious situation. Unlike the coastal belt, where flooding is both a boon and a bane for the farmers as they benefit from the depositing of fertile soils in the following years, flooding in this area takes away the vital top soils which adversely affects the yield in the following years. Moreover, this year, due to good, though delayed showers, most of the farmers did not take the precaution of insuring their crops. As the rain continued for an unusually long period the standing paddy crop became weak succumbing to pests and insects. Fish in the fish ponds were swept away in the outflow of excess water. Embankments of most water storage ponds (some of these were constructed using LWSI drought relief under ASIN 24) were breached and ridges protecting cultivated land were washed away resulting in the loss of precious water and top soils for future cultivation.

Now the vulnerable marginal farmers have no resources and the main concern for them is how to survive until the harvesting of the remaining main kharif crop. Labour migration is one option that is taken by many during difficult times.

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