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Odisha Diaries: Contrasting Development between 2 Villages of India

 

*The following blog is part of a series of experiences and reflections from my first research experience in the field. Our task was to complete a needs assessment for two villages in the state of Odisha, India*

Project type: Needs assessment (socio-economic, health, energy needs etc.)

Location: Villages of Jatangpada and Bijapada, Thuamul Rampur block, Kalahandi district, Odisha, India

Duration: 2 weeks (March 4 to March 21, 2016)

Program & University: Masters in Sustainable Development Practice, TERI University, New Delhi, India

Hosting NGO: The Batti Ghar Foundation

{Images in this blog, in order of appearance :: Partially build road inside Bijapada village; Mud and brick houses in villages with thatch roof; mud road at village entrance; concrete roads connecting different villages within the block; cooking our food with firewood; fields of paddy, Odisha’s staple crop; dam at the beautiful Indravati river}

A team of 5 students, we conducted a needs assessment for two villages of Jatangpada and Bijapada. Thuamul Rampur block is one of the poorest village blocks in Kalahandi, and Kalahandi itself is under developed with 93% of its population residing in rural areas and most people below the national povertPhoto2563y line. It is comparable to backward village districts in Africa and lacks access to the most basic needs for survival – food, water, medical care etc. After 16 days in the field here, I realized that institutions such as education (modern schooling) hold equal or lower priority than the three mentioned above. The two villages we researched were in stark contrast, with Jatangpada enjoying much more development than Bijapada. Jatangpada is a roadside village i.e. road connectivity which means access to markets, Gram Panchayat (Panchayats are used in India as local self-governance bodies for a group of villages), schools for education, daily commute for labor work, as well as migration to nearby towns for employment/business.Photo2567 In contrast, Bijapada was situated in a deep valley, where the nearest village with roads was roughly 5-7 kms away. We hiked a couple of kilometers down the valley to reach the village. Villagers here hiked anywhere between 5-15 kms to get to the nearest market, health facility, etc. Saying that these people are completely cut off from the world is an understatement; they seem to be cut off even from their block capital (which is very important for access to public food distribution, other government schemes, health clinics by NGOs etc.). A simple facility like “roads”, which urbanites take for granted a lot of times, impacts everything from food security to sources of livelihoods to access to medical services for numerous interior villages like Bijapada. In addition, it must be noted that this block does not have cell phone coverage here as private mobile carriers do not see the returns on installing cell towers. Photo2405The stark contrast between the two villages was astonishing. Apart from lack ofroad connectivity, Bijapada was disadvantaged due to lack of water access and inadequate food. The only source of water for everything from drinking to bathing was a nearby river. It was hard to imagine the same source of water being used for consumption and sanitation. We observed kids bathing upstream, with the same water being used for drinking downstream, less than a 100 meters away. The second aspect in which the villages contrasted massively was food security. The levels of nutrition (especially for children below 14 yrs of age) between the two villages was huge. A majority of kids in Bijapada appeared to be malnourished, withPhoto2474 extremely weak hands and legs, and potbellies. Their source of food was scarce cultivation in their own village, which was all for subsistence. Rest of the food was sourced from the government’s food distribution system or markets (remember, which were roughly a 10 km walk away). The money used for buying food was sourced through doing labor work in nearby villages through a government scheme MGNREGA (which had its own issues). Hence, the condition of food security was extremely poor in this village.Photo2586

 

Soon as we walked into the village entrance of Bijapada, kids seemed to stare at us with a thousand questions in their minds; we as urban dwellers were no different, with a thousand questions in ours.

Observing these two villages made me think about the spectrum of development, all the way from the most global level (international conferences on issues of development such as food security) to the most local level (ensuring food access for a family in the interior most village of a country).

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