The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defines EbA as “the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to help people adapt to the adverse effects of climate change”.
By Shreya Banerjee
Over the last two months, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down unleashing more fear and chaos than we could have ever imagined. With so much advancement in medicine since the Spanish flu of the early 1900s, who would have thought that a virus was capable of outsmarting us with so much ease and sneaking its way into all but 16 countries in the world, all the while causing nothing but death and despair! In recent times, we have always thought that climate change was the biggest threat to the survival of our species. However, it turns out that an unexpected pandemic can be an even more immediate and alarming threat to the human race.
Watershed Organisation Trust, India (WOTR), alongside other organisations, have spent years working on implementing ecosystem-based adaptation projects in order to make vulnerable rural communities more resilient to the effects of the climate crisis. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defined EbA as “the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to help people adapt to the adverse effects of climate change”. Ecosystem-based Adaptation consists of (1) helping people adapt to climate change by (2) sustainable use of the ecosystem services and biodiversity of the particular agro-ecological region, while following (3) participatory governance. Participatory governance has been an integral and important part of WOTR’s EbA projects, in addition to working on the watershed drainage and area treatments, capacity building of farmers on sustainable agriculture practices, water budgeting, crop planning and promoting agro-meteorological services.
This blog explores the scope of the participatory governance component of EbA.
Over the years, WOTR has facilitated the creation of multiple community-based organisations (CBOs) including women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs), Village Development Committees (VDC), Village Water Management Teams (VWMT), and Biodiversity Management Committees (BMC), to manage local natural resources. All of these institutions were meant to have representatives from all sections of society. Further, two representatives (one woman and one man) of the village were appointed in each of the project villages. These representatives are called Wasundhara Sevaks (Caregivers of the Earth) and Wasundhara Sevikas. They were sensitised and trained in activities/interventions related to climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction (DRR), community-based disaster management (CBDM), biodiversity conservation, water budgeting, and health assessments of children and women. Essentially, their work was to mobilise the community in the project areas and raise awareness about the above-mentioned topics.
Each of WOTR’s EbA project villages has one Wasundhara Sevak and Sevika, and it is important to note the critical role played by them during the current pandemic. In the initial stages of the pandemic, WOTR’s project staff trained and sensitised the Wasundhara Sevaks and Sevikas and a few Village Development Committee members on the different precautionary measures to take during the pandemic in all the project villages and also specified that they should work alongside the Gram Panchayat (the primary local governance body) in all their efforts.
Hence, the Wasundhara Sevaks and Sevikas began their efforts by working with the Gram Panchayat in dispelling false myths and fears in the village about the pandemic, and creating awareness about the importance of taking safety measures to prevent the spread of the contagion. Measures such as wearing masks, using sanitisers and soaps, hand washing, and following social distancing were promoted. It was made sure that awareness generation efforts were entirely inclusive and reached all the households in the project villages.
Creating awareness about social distancing and hand washing among rural communities
Additionally, in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, the members of Self-Help Groups and the Wasundhara Sevikas have been making face masks and distributing them to the needy and poor households through the Gram Panchayat. They have been working along with the Accredited Social Health Activists (government-appointed health paraworkers) in the village to spread awareness among women in particular about the various preventive measures.
An SHG member making masks for the community
The Sevaks also worked to ensure the smooth functioning of the Public Distribution System (PDS) through which local governments provide subsidised food grains to households with ration cards. They also identified poor households in the village who had extreme food and income shortages, and also didn’t have a ration card to avail services from the Public Distribution System. In Jharkhand, SHG members provided meals to the most vulnerable households through the Mukhyamantri Didi Kitchen Centre (Chief Minister’s kitchen support centres) with the support of Jharkhand State Livelihoods Promotion Society. 10 kg of rice was provided to households who didn’t have a ration card, as per a government scheme in Jharkhand.
Since the lockdown began, several farmers had problems selling their produce because market connectivity and transportation posed hurdles. The WasundharaSevaks and Sevikas have also been helping farmers to market and sell their agricultural produce, especially perishable goods like vegetables, during this period, whilst ensuring that social distancing was being followed.
Another interesting way in which the EbA approach has helped farmers during this crisis is the rising popularity of kitchen gardens. The purpose of kitchen gardens and multi-layer farming is to achieve household food and nutrition security so that communities become more resilient during a crisis. These kitchen gardens helped tide over the shortages of essential vegetables during the lockdown. Several farmers said that even though markets were closed, they still had access to fresh vegetables, which they even distributed amongst their relatives and neighbours.
A robust local governance system, which involves community-based organisations promoted during EbA projects, working in tandem with local government bodies like the Gram Panchayat, have been absolutely instrumental in helping communities cope better during the pandemic and in establishing some sense of stability in the rural areas. With the help of community volunteers like the WasundharaSevaks and Sevikas, the villagers received timely support and motivation and consequently became more equipped to deal with the health crisis and food shortages.
An Ecosystem-based adaptation approach with a strong governance component has clearly helped communities become more resilient and self-reliant, not only in the face of the climate emergency, but also during pandemics like COVID-19.