A miracle in Mahewa

The impact of the Waste Management Committee
The impact of the Waste Management Committee

There is nothing special about Mahewa. It is a small ward in the town of Gorakhpur, far enough on the outskirts of the city, and it hasn't seem to have made up its mind on whether it is a city or a village. Part of it is in the form of 'bungalow colonies', part in the form of small farms. Small share-autos service the area. It has a couple of schools, a few roads and practically no other infrastructure. Most distressing is the lack of adequate storm water drains and solid waste management. The combination of these two mean that Mahewa, like the rest of Gorakhpur, is flooded every monsoon.

Until now.

An island among floods

In the monsoon of 2013, Gorakhpur experienced rain of an intensity that hadn't been seen for a century. 26th - 29th June 2013 saw it receive 772 mm of rain, 342 mm on the 29th alone. It broke a 113 year record. All of Gorakhpur was at a standstill but in Mahewa, people were celebrating in the streets! There was no water logging and not a single street was flooded despite that epic downpour.

Business as usual: two little boys row a styrofoam raft across a stagnant pond created by floodingRukmina Devi explained this miracle to me. Earlier all the household solid waste including plastic bags, paper, bottles, discarded goods and the like, would be thrown onto the roads and find their way into the nallahs. Now, the ward has a 'Kuda Prabandhan Samiti' – a Waste Management Committee – of which Rukmina Devi herself is a member. This committee ensures that solid waste is disposed off properly, and that the waste management staff collect the waste regularly.

This is not  the only change visible in Mahewa. Over the last two years , a revolution has quietly taken place.

Planning for climate change resilience

The story begins when the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group looked askance at the growing crises in the city and decided to find a way to address them. Flooding in the city had increased drastically over the last decade, a result of changes both in the population and in climate patterns.

The people of Gorakhpur were aware of these changes and were receptive to the idea of proactively managing these changes. Rather than the usual 'top-down' approach to planning, a process was initiated through which the citizens of Gorakhpur examined the threats facing them and their vulnerability to these. They then developed strategies to better meet the challenges. 

All the efforts that followed, of working with communities and adopting a bottom-up approach was done to build resilience against climate change.The process of doing this is a story in itself and detailed in the report, 'A participatory approach to micro-resilience planning by community institutions'. For citizens to create a plan for dealing with climate change impacts is a large achievement.

GEAG then decided to take  it even further and actually implement the created plan in one ward.

Implementing the resilience plan

Mahewa is the most flood-prone of the wards in the city. In addition, it possessed the following characteristics, which led to its being chosen for the pilot:

  • Great exposure to climate change impacts, such as excess precipitation, impact of natural disasters, etc
  • Possibilities of infrastructure development and related investments
  • Inhabited by large population of urban poor
  • Presence of open areas and natural ecosystem

The process took off slowly. GEAG learnt that that is a difference in working with rural groups with their high cohesiveness and social capital, and urban areas with their reliance on municipal infrastructure.

Cover page of the report on micro-resilience planning in GorakhpurGradually over nearly a year, the team won the confidence of the citizens of Mahewa. A large part of the credit for this achievement must be given to the young community workers recruited and trained by GEAG. Even the largest and best-planned projects ultimately rest on the workers who are the 'face' of the programme to the community. On the many young men and women of the team, lies the credit for Mahewa's present climate resilient state.

The work begins

They began with conducting household surveys - an act as important for the enforced personal contact as for the data it generated. The surveys introduced the team and the households to each other and helped identify the most crucial points of concern for the residents.

These issues - flooding and sanitation - were also the issues around which the residents were bound to rally together. Several meetings followed, and resulted in the formation of several committees: neighbourhood (mohalla) committees, thematic committees, and a ward committee. These committees would meet regularly and not only decide the interventions needed, but also regularly monitor the work being done. The vigilance and continuous encouragement of the committee members led to drastic changes in Mahewa.

The impact

Rukmina Devi's 'Kuda Prabandhan Samiti' decided to set up a solid waste management system in Mahewa with the help of GEAG. Residents donated land for three waste management sites. Here, the waste is separated into biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste to be processed further. The committee charges a fee for the waste management; regular conversations and awareness raising measures have ensured that this fee is readily paid. While the collection and proper disposal of solid waste has gone a long way towards reducing waterlogging, the committees also constructed drains and regularly maintains existing ones. 

Gorakhpur is not a unique case. Cities all over India are facing problems due to the twin problems of increasing population and accelerating climate change. The nature of the crises is local, but so is the solution. Motivated and assertive men and women like Rukmina Devi are needed now in every city.

Post By: chicu