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Post Uttarakhand disaster, survivors re-build lives

Apr 10, 2017

The Uttarakhand Post-Disaster Livelihood Programme (UPDLP) seeks to re-build livelihoods through on-farm as well as off-farm activities.

New Delhi: Nearly four years after the devastating June catastrophe that washed away the entire township around the holy shrine of Kedarnath in the hill state of Uttarakhand, survivors continue to grapple with the loss of their livelihoods even as they re-invent themselves.

Manik Lal, a mule owner from Khunnu village in Rudraprayag district, is still haunted by the events of that fateful day and his narrow escape from death but for the fact that he had just returned from the shrine ferrying a pilgrim on his mule.

“My only source of income came during the four month-odd period of the yatra season when I would take pilgrims on my mule to the holy shrine,” he says. “The horrifying flash floods on that day deprived me of my soles means of livelihood. It also took away my will to resume this work afterwards.”

Another survivor, Mohan Singh, 51, of the same village, was running a successful fruit selling business near the shrine when the devastating disaster struck. He miraculously survived but was trapped for five days in the mountain ranges around Kedarnath before struggling to make his way back to Khunnu.

Almost four years later, he remains shaken by the catastrophe which, in one fell swoop, robbed him of his livelihood. But determined to get his life back on track, the hardy man has re-invented himself as a poultry farmer.

With assistance from a Dehradun-based NGO, he got a backyard poultry shed constructed in his house and received an initial 50 birds and one bag of finisher feed. “Till December last year, I earned Rs 6,500 by selling 35 birds,” he says with grim satisfaction.

Similarly, Manik Lal, in his thirties, turned his attention to poultry farming, constructing a coop in his backyard where he was given a one-time supply of 21-day-old chicks and feed. “My net income after overcoming all the expenses in the last four months has been Rs 8,000”, he discloses adding that he now plans to expand his business by constructing another backyard poultry unit.

The two men are beneficiaries of an initiative aimed at improving the quality of life of vulnerable communities adversely affected by the 2013 catastrophe by promoting micro-enterprises in a sustainable manner.

Launched by NGO Himmothan in April 2014, the “Uttarakhand Post-Disaster Livelihood Programme” (UPDLP), supported by Tata Trusts and the Tata Uttarakhand Programme, seeks to re-build livelihoods through on-farm as well as off-farm activities.

The programme covers a total of 5935 disaster-affected households in 63 villages of the three districts of Rudraprayag, Uttarkashi and Pithoragarh.

The focus of the initiative, according to Dr Malavika Chauhan, Development Manager at Tata Trusts, is the formation and strengthening of community institutions, skill enhancement of the community for entrepreneurship development, enhancing livestock production and promotion of spices, vegetables, pulses and aromatic herb-based enterprises. Overall, the idea is to re-build sustainable livelihood options which the impacted families are comfortable with.

That is why enhancing livestock production and setting up of livestock –based enterprises was initiated as a major component of the project in the target areas, Ms Chauhan informs. Activities under this include the establishment of fodder nurseries, the conduction of animal health camps and promotion of artificial insemination.

Under the programme, certain beneficiaries were also provided improved breeds of livestock.

Vimla Devi, 28, of Kalimath village in the same district lost both her shop and home in the 2013 calamity. Under the project, she received a cow as well as a cow shed, the latter being constructed with ten per cent of the cost being borne by her family.

“My cow gives about three litres of milk a day, although the quantity is less in the winters. The yield also depends on the quality of the fodder I can procure for her. Presently I give her dry grass,” she reveals. Claiming that her net income in the last seven months has been Rs.15,600, she is hopeful that with the setting up of a cattle feed unit soon under the initiative,  the daily yields will improve.

A unique aspect of the initiative has been to induct local youth to function as service providers or ‘para-vets’ for livestock enhancement by developing their capacities through training and exposures. The training focuses on providing veterinary services like artificial insemination (AI) and basic medical services to the farmers in an area where proper veterinary health services are not available.

Rakesh Singh Rawat, in his twenties, of Ukhimath block in Rudrapryag hails from an impoverished background and was unemployed in the aftermath of the natural calamity.  After a 45-day training in Rishikesh, he was selected under the project in August 2014. His skill in providing services such as AI became so well known that he was called to different villages to perform the procedure.

“Under the project, I receive an honorarium of Rs 4,000. But my income has increased to about Rs 7,000 per month with all the extra work I am getting as my services are sought in many villages”, he says.

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