Georgetown University

Harnessing Citizen Participation in Watershed Management for Climate Resiliency Highly Ranked

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Project Summary

Severe drought impacts large portions of the Indian subcontinent, devastating communities and rendering farmland unusable. The Georgetown University India Initiative (GUII) is partnering with the Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) to reduce poverty by empowering farming communities with the skills and knowledge to regenerate the watersheds they depend on, harvest rainwater, and enable sustainable livelihoods. Twenty-first century technologies will enable us to connect with villages and farmers that lie beyond WOTR’s current reach to ensure the development of over 300 micro-watersheds. Rigorous monitoring and evaluation protocols will inform behavioral-change communication strategies to disseminate evidence-backed lessons to millions of farmers desperate for solutions to the water crisis facing India and the world. By enhancing WOTR’s proven capacity to implement participatory watershed management programs, this collaboration can replenish groundwater aquifers, build capacity for water management at the local level, reduce drought-stress on ecosystems and agricultural production, and, quite literally, save lives.

Problem Statement

India, between a debilitating drought crisis and its quickly growing population, is expected to run out of water by 2030. Though government efforts have attempted large-scale irrigation projects to combat water scarcity, the majority of India’s farmers remain dependent on rain or groundwater for their livelihoods. High levels of rain-dependency mean that even mild drought can deliver a severe blow to both individual farmers and the economy as a whole.In addition to economic distress, years of chronic drought have resulted in a nation-wide human crisis including an epidemic of farmer suicides. When farmers take out loans, lack of rain can cause crop failure and throw farmers into crippling debt. The past decade has seen an average of ten farmer suicides a day, largely due to crop failure, debt, and drought. Increased rural-to-urban migration by men has also left women to run households and perform agriculture labor simultaneously. Drought mitigation is both an economic and humanitarian imperative.The need for large-scale community mobilization for this complex water problem is now more urgent than ever. This project aims to take a multi-faceted approach in helping the most vulnerable communities prepare themselves for the intensifying effects of climate change by building resiliency through participatory irrigation management and bottom-up collective action. Communities are trained to work together to understand each other and their living environment, creating a unique solution that will withstand changes over time without creating further harm for the larger ecosystem.

Solution Overview

This partnership seeks to reduce poverty by empowering people to regenerate the environment and watersheds in which they live. Given India’s worsening drought crisis, community mobilization for watershed management is a critical, cost-effective resource to be harnessed. Since its inception in 1993, WOTR has piloted interventions related to watershed development and climate change adaptation in close partnership with a diverse set of stakeholders. WOTR works with rain-dependent rural communities, and is committed to engaging and empowering vulnerable groups amongst them. There is now a lengthy track record of progress, and further investments in data collection and impact evaluation will be enabled through the academic expertise of Georgetown University researchers.Not only does participatory watershed management at the village level improve groundwater storage and mitigate the negative impacts of changing rainfall patterns, it can also serve as an inclusive platform to bridge community divisions and empower farmers. Harvesting rainwater and regenerating watersheds also provides an opportunity to strengthen local institutions and civil society. Participatory watershed management at the village level can serve as an inclusive platform to bridge community divisions. This environment-based, community-led development approach is especially current since climate change, economic growth, and rising populations are severely stressing the ecological and hydrological systems. Investing in people directly affected by climate change creates political voice to hold governments accountable. Educating and partnering with motivated governments is critical for generating at-scale policy solutions, since the size and diversity of India makes purely non-governmental solutions to drought and climate change impossible.

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Project Funders

  • Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit 2015 - 2018
  • National Agriculture Bank for Rural Development 2011 - 2015
  • Swiss Development Corporation 2004 - 2014

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