Thursday, July 29, 2010

Watershed Organization Trust

Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR)

It is believed that wars in the future will be fought over water. As and how this precious resource gets scarcer, our survival is what will matter more than all the technological and economic developments put together. Finally, it will be man and nature once again – like being back to the basics.

In fact, if you were to undertake a tour of the drought-prone regions of India, you would realise for yourself how water and its availability becomes the prime concern of people staying in a ‘dry’ area. Women and children walk for miles in the blistering sun to be able to get just a pot of drinking water. Men dig deep into the hard ground to be able to locate a brackish water resource. Taking a bath or washing clothes is considered a luxury that no one in such regions can afford. Parched throats yearn for a drop of water. And the arrival of a water tanker can even lead to ugly fights.

Farming, a traditional occupation in most villages of India, can become an unreal notion in the face of such water shortages. People therefore begin to migrate to cities in search of livelihoods. Some villages turn to nothing more than landscapes of ruins. Some turn into the final abode of the sick and the elderly who wait for the merciful hand of death.

These then are the realities that led Fr. Hermann Bacher, a Jesuit priest, and Crispino Lobo to establish the Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) in 1993. Fr. Bacher had committed himself to change the lives of the rural people handicapped by the shortfall of opportunities and resources in their villages. Crispino Lobo gave up bright career prospects and instead decided to work for the impoverished. Under them, WOTR organised and capacitated villagers to regenerate their watersheds so as to trap whatever little rain that fell in their area and use it for farming and personal use.

With its head office at Ahmednagar, WOTR has, over the years, turned barren landscapes into forests. And this magic has happened not just because of the technical guidance and funding that it has provided to several villages across Maharashtra but for the fact that it works with a holistic picture in mind. WOTR gets villagers committed to watershed development. It convinces them about the need for collective participation and voluntary labour. WOTR gets the women population involved too in the process of decision-making and governance.

And there’s more. With its objective of reducing poverty in villages, WOTR looks at the bigger picture that involves providing educational inputs for children, entrepreneurship opportunities for women, preservation of the environment and creating such a self-sustaining ambience in every village that none of the villagers would want to go to the overloaded cities to eke out their living.

Since 1993, WOTR has also added two more organisations viz. Sampada Trust and Sanjeevani Institute of Empowerment and Development (SIED) to focus on specific activities such as entreprenuership, micro-credit and implementation. In present times, WOTR has moved on from just watershed development to including the effects of climate change and what needs to be done about this big issue. It has ventured into rural renewable energy and community based rural tourism.

From Maharashtra, WOTR has also spread its reach and work to villages in Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In statistical terms, WOTR has so far implemented 198 watershed projects in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan covering an area of 142,000 ha (6/09).

WOTR grew of a fortuitous confluence of factors that arose in India and Germany in the early 1980’s. There was also a growing realisation that despite huge amounts spent on poverty alleviation programs, the absolute and relative number of people living in poverty remained stubbornly constant. Both sides realised that despite their best efforts, something critical was missing and had to be addressed if a difference was to be made.

In 1987 the German government launched a special study in India - the Indo German Pilot Program (IGPP) - to assess the effectiveness of official assistance in fighting poverty. Both governmental and non-governmental development agencies involved in policy-making, funding, implementation and research on the German and Indian sides participated. Findings highlighted that aid was most effective when it reached the poor directly, but it had a spread effect when the government ably supported it. Following the German Parliament’s resolution to support by way of grant aid any program that addressed poverty reduction, environmental regeneration, self-help and women’s empowerment, Fr Hermann Bacher, who was involved in the entire IGPP study, conceived of a large scale community-driven program for poverty reduction, centered on regenerating the environmental space of villagers along watershed lines in Maharashtra known as the Indo-German Watershed Development Programme (IGWDP).

Given Fr Bacher’s credibility and experience, he was successful in convincing both the Indian and German governments to accept, approve and fund the project. The first official agreement was signed in 1989 and the Indo-German Watershed Development Programme (IGWDP) was launched in late 1992.

When the IGWDP began, there were barely any capable NGOs who could take up the programme. In 1993, it was decided by a group of prominent NGO leaders to set up a new organisation to cater to the capacity building needs of the IGWDP and to create a movement for participatory watershed development in India. And that’s what led to the birth of WOTR on December 20, 1993.

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