Oxfam India thinks out-of-the-box to restore wells in Kerala

Oxfam India thinks out-of-the-box to restore wells in Kerala

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster Oxfam India (OIN) reached out to the people of Kerala in August 2018 and initiated various relief activities and many disaster-affected communities benefitted out of it.  However, as in any similar emergency response, the work was not easy and the team often faced the crisis of meeting the boundless needs with the limited resources.  In certain circumstances, the situation demanded out-of-the-box solutions to address the challenge.


The idea of linkage with existing government scheme for well-restoration in Panamaram panchayat in Wayanad district of Kerala cropped up. Interestingly, the result was much more than expected. It set a new precedent in the respective gram panchayat, it enhanced local capacity and it also set a model worth emulating for other agencies and in other interventions.  And of course, OIN could reach out to many more affected people. 

restoration of  wells and drinking water in kerala
A restored Oxfam India drinking water well restored 

A vast extent of the Panamaram Gram Panchayat was seriously battered by the flood and almost all the water sources were contaminated and damaged.  Safe drinking water was a major concern for people.  It is against this backdrop, OIN explored the possibilities of collaboration with the local self-government body. OIN provided the technical support and raw materials required for the well-restoration work and the government provided the labourers under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). In short, the proposal charted out a way to restore a maximum number of wells (more than the initial target) through a partnership with the government. 


Setting a new precedent for itself, the panchayat governing body accepted the proposal. “For our panchayat, this was an entirely new experience.  Earlier, we had done various works in collaboration with different departments within the government.  But it was for the first time that we joined hands with an international agency or an NGO,” said Jinu, assistant engineer, Panamaram panchayat.

panchayat officals in kerala discuss aftermath of kerala floods
Oxfam India meets panchayat officials 


The assistant engineer opined that the partnership model can be adopted in many other interventions for better results. “The same model can be replicated in interventions like toilet construction or other infrastructural interventions by linking schemes under the Swachh  Bharath Abiyan or Suchitwa Mission,” he said. The partnership with Oxfam India also helped the government body to think about the unexplored path of linking their programme with other agencies for faster development at the grassroots level. 

Another key output of the collaboration was the local capacity building. As part of the implementation of the project, 12 skilled labourers were enrolled in the MGNREGA register of the panchayat. These labourers got trained in the comprehensive method of well-restoration being implemented by Oxfam India.  

“We learnt a lot of things while working for Oxfam. Now, we are using Oxfam methodology in private works we take up.  We are also teaching this methodology to other workers. Earlier, we hardly had any idea about appropriate chlorination. We used to put bleaching powder to the wells without bothering about the quantity. Now we know that there is a scientific way to test the accurate level of chlorine and bleaching powder could only be put accordingly,” said Vijayakumar, a skilled labourer associated with the programme. Vijayakumar is an active participant of a local rescue mission in the flood-prone areas on the banks of Panamaram river. Enhancement of his capacity will undeniably contribute to disaster risk reduction in future. 

Oxfam india at kerala floods
A humanitarian aid beneficiary at a restored well. 

OIN was able to restore 17 wells in additional to the initial target. Given the relative novelty of the programme, this definitely is no mean feat. The magnitude of the outcome can be manifold if the prospectus of the linkage is explored for more activities.

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