Childhood memory leads Arunachal officer fix water woes

Rain water harvesting in Gori village in Lower Siang district in Arunachal Pradesh. dh photo

Soi village situated atop 2000 feet in Arunachal Pradesh's Lower Siang district no longer faces drinking water crisis or irrigation problem during winters unlike most villages in the hilly state.

The situation was grave 10 years ago, when young Egam Basar was posted as a horticulture officer at Basar, a town situated close to the village, inhabited by people belonging to Galo tribe. "Water crisis badly hampered orange cultivation, which is still a source of livelihood for many. The streams that flowed into the three rivers were drying up. It was due to rampant deforestation caused by jhum cultivation in Gori village situated a little upon the hills, in which villagers cut and burnt the jungles. Farmers in Gori village did not agree to accept that their traditional farming practice caused the severe water crisis in Soi village. It was painful for me as I saw how the three rivers namely Kidi, Hie and Bamhile flowed well even during winters when i was a child. We used to swim and catch fish during winters then. Rainwater harvesting and restoration of the forests in the catchment areas in Gori was the only and best solution," Egam, now 43 told DH over the phone from Basar.

The journey, however, was not as easy he assumed. The villagers at Gori did not agree to give up jhum or allow him to dug pits in their farmland for harvesting rainwater on the hills. "I discussed with my family and decided to provide the villagers an alternative plot to cultivate. Most of them agreed. But there was fund a constraint to dig the pits. I requested my wife, who is also a government officer to run the family and I decided to spend my salaries to restore the forest and dig pits. She agreed," he said.

At least 15 pits were dug in 2011 for rainwater harvesting. "Postive changes were observed soon as water reserve in the catchment areas helped restore the streams. As jungle cutting was completely stopped, by 2014 wild animals like deer and bears started frequenting the area for water. As about 27 hectares of forest area was restored, I planted at least 13 species of fruit-bearing trees for the animals. By 2015, I succeeded to have a nursery and by 2017 I managed to dig 200 pits with the help of my nephew and friends," said Egam, who now heads the Horticulture Research and Development Institute at Itanagar, the state capital.

"Things have dramatically improved since 2017 onwards. Now there is sufficient water in our streams and rivers for drinking and irrigation purposes. But it was very tough earlier—villagers had to struggle a lot to fetch water," said. Henken Basar, the gaonburah (village headman) of Soi village. It has 44 households having nearly 700 residents now.

Egam said impressed with the project, the state government earmarked Rs 5 crore in the last budget to emulate the same in other villages facing a similar water crisis.

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