Island residents saved by grasses and hope in India

By August 14, 2012

India (IPS/MNN) — It’s hard to imagine your entire life washing away before your eyes: your home, your livelihood, or even your loved ones.

As a husband, farmer, and father of two children, Sreekanth is the sole provider for his family. In 2009, the floods had no mercy on his one-acre property on a river island in Andhra Pradesh, India.

Sreekanth’s fields were ruined, covered with salt water and mud. Rising waters wiped out whole villages, and nine children were killed by this unfortunate disaster.

These annual monsoon floods continue to endanger lives, homes, and animals. They harm the precious land this agricultural community depends on for food and income. But donor support can help control the ill-effects of flooding.

Now working with the islanders, joint teams from India Partners and Engineering Ministries International (eMi2) developed a flood mitigation system for the island. They drafted a cost-effective plan using readily available materials to control erosion, and protect people and their homes.

Vetiver grass is a native Indian plant that grows quickly. It has strong roots that penetrate deep into the soil to prevent future erosion. Terraces of vetiver grass will be created over eroding areas to save the people’s farmland from washing away.

In addition, engineers have designed small homes, built out of brick and cement, which will be placed on stilts. People will be able to move their belongings and animals to higher ground to escape the rising waters.

The vetiver grass is a sustainable solution that will not only save this island from erosion, but also help surrounding islands facing similar erosion problems. The islanders can grow and sell their own vetiver to help their neighbors.

During the big flood in 2009, Sreenu, a villager of the island, witnessed the floodwaters submerge all the mud and thatched-roof houses. “You could not see a single roof,” she said. Many families fled their homes and some found shelter in trees.

Sreenu and other islanders, however, found refuge in the only two-storied cement building on the island: the church built by donors through India Partners. As the church provided physical shelter, India Partners and churches with whom they work seek to give spiritual hope through the hope of the Gospel.

Kaytie Fiedler with India Partners says, "We do this because we want to reach out with the tangible love of God and show them that we are putting our hands and feet to their issues, and we care about this community."

Since 2009 over 60 families have relocated off the island. Many of the people who moved made homes from tarps and lived on the side of the road. They commute to the island every day to work on their fields because it’s their livelihood, and the land has been in their families for generations. With soil that’s so rich and fertile, their crops flourish. For many of these families, their ultimate hope is to return to their homeland, and live in a safe home.

13,000 feet of vetiver grass needs to be planted in order to prevent erosion, and 5,000 bricks are needed to build a house for a family to be safe.

$25 protects 200 feet of the island’s farmland from erosion using vetiver grass. $100 buys 1,000 bricks to build a home for a family.

To support this ministry, click here and select Island Erosion Project on the drop-down menu.

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