Communities adapt to extreme weather conditions in India

Villagers in India discuss rainwater harvest plans
Villagers in Dokhandapur village, India, came together to set up a rain water harvesting pond with a small filtration plant and a piped water supply to the village. (Photo: UNDP India)

For people living in the floodplains of the Mahanadi river delta in the Indian state of Odisha, life is full of extremes. For six months of the year, from July to December, miles of paddy fields, roads and homes are flooded with water. But three months later, water is in short supply, affecting everyday life and crop yields.


  • India is highly vulnerable to climate change: 65% of the country is drought-prone and 12% is flood prone.
  • Community water management-systems such as drainage systems helped increase crop yield threefold in a year, despite flooding.
  • Villages now have piped water supply, and incidences of water-borne diseases are declining.

As weather extremes became more apparent with climate change, three villages in the district of Puri came together to identify their most pressing vulnerabilities and ways to address the increasingly erratic rainfall.

First, the villagers identified the need to improve flood-water drainage from their fields. They renovated the Kharbar canal, a 12-kilometre-long drainage channel that snaked through two of the villages. Built 30 years ago to irrigate fields, the canal had not been used for a long time. It was cleaned out and reconnected to the river, and its progress monitored by a committee of farmers.

“The drainage system has allowed us to start farming earlier in the year. Being able to grow a Rabi crop (summer crop) and easily drain away water has provided us with hope and strength,” says 68-year-old Kunja Bihari Sahu.

In an area which receives as much as 1.5 metres of annual rain in just 15 days, water now drains out much faster and rice fields no longer remain waterlogged for months. Farmers are able to plant the paddy crop a month earlier than expected because water recedes much faster from their fields. Close to 2,100 hectares of land were cultivated in 2012, three times more than in 2011. In the summer months when rain is in short supply, the flow can be reversed to provide water for irrigation.

The Kharbar canal renovation was part of an adaptive water management project supported by UNDP and funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID). The initiative aims to build the resilience of poor women and men to climate change and reduce their vulnerability to disasters.

“When communities in high-risk areas manage their own water resources, the impact can be very significant. Farm productivity increases, children have clean drinking water and women who would ordinarily have to travel a long distance in search of water have easier access, ” says Lise Grande, United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in India.

In Dokhandapur village, the UNDP-AusAID partnership helped establish a rainwater-harvesting pond. Connected to a small filtration plant, piped water is now supplied to the village in an area where the nearest source of clean drinking water is two kilometres away. Better access to clean drinking water will reduce the high incidence of diarrhea amongst children caused by excessive waterlogging in the area.

In nearby villages, communities are setting up fish farming and growing vegetables around the pond to improve the quality of water and prevent the area from being used for open defecation. In the first 6 months of activities, the villages earned INR 12,000 (around US $190) from the sale of fish and vegetables. The villagers have established a common bank account and use the funds to buy seed and other necessities to sustain their activities.

UNDP Around the world