Building Resilience of Disaster Affected Families of Saharsa

The need
In low-lying villages of the Kosi belt, communities are extremely vulnerable to disasters. There are high levels of poverty, limited infrastructure, low education levels and a strong caste structure. These communities often have little access to basic needs of food, shelter and water. The conditions become even more dire in the heavy monsoon periods when floods are common.

How we helped
10 hamlets of Sonbarsa block located in the flood prone district of Saharsa, Bihar, were selected as the intervention area. The programme looked at three areas – alternative livelihoods, safe drinking water and food security.

Alternative livelihoods
All the 10 hamlets are characterised by high proportions of unemployment and migration. This is largely because agriculture is difficult due to recurring floods and lack of skills makes it difficult for people to find a job in nearby towns.

In this northern belt of Bihar, an alternative occupation is of bamboo artisans and masons. Traditionally, bamboo was a common construction material, but there was a need to upgrade knowledge of disaster resilient construction. 91 bamboo masons were trained under the project, covering basic techniques, bamboo treatment, safe construction practices and hands-on demonstrations of joinery.

Safe drinking water
The key source of water here is hand pumps, but the water is unhygienic. It has a high arsenic content, posing serious health risks especially amongst children. After studying various technologies, Terafil filters were chosen as the best option.

We undertook training with the Institute of Minerals and Materials Technology (IMMT), Bhubaneswar to understand the technology and its nuances for community use. Based on this, the system was designed.

The filtration disk is produced through a mix of ordinary red clay, river sand and saw dust, without the use of any chemicals. The mixture is sintered at high temperatures leaving large pores in between. The filtered material clogs the top surface of the terafil over time and can be scrubbed off easily to reopen the pores. The terafil filters remove turbid particles, iron and bad odour from the water. While the disk can be made in any shape, circular is preferred due to high strength and easy maintenance.

Five filters were created, each with a capacity of 1000 litres per day. Together, they serve 620 families (over 1800 people). The solution is feasible because it is low-cost and high strength with a long operational life. It requires no electricity making it a very feasible solution for these communities.

Food security
The concept of ‘grain banks’ was also introduced. The idea was to help ensure that the community can sustain themselves during the initial days after a disaster strikes; or in times of personal crisis for a particular family. 40 women were involved in grain bank activities in each of the five hamlets.

Leaving a mark
The enhanced skill of bamboo masons has increased employment prospects and enabled them to earn a better livelihood. Some of these trained masons were further employed by SEEDS in Tamil Nadu after the Chennai Floods.

The terra filters too had long term impact. They were able to significantly reduce the amount of iron content in the water and also treat the contamination. They even provided safe drinking water post the floods in 2017!