Started By Providing Relief To 2018 Cyclone Gaja Victims, This Man Has Now Restored Over 160 Waterbodies
When Very Severe Cyclonic Storm Gaja hit the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu in November 2018, it left a massive trail of destruction behind.
Thanjavur, also known as the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu, was one of the several coastal districts of the state that faced the brunt of Cyclone Gaja.
Returned from Dubai to help cyclone victims
After the storm passed, locals started rebuilding their lives, and Nimal Raghavan also joined them.
Raghavan, a native of Nadiyam village in Thanjavur who was working in Dubai, was visiting his family when the devastating cyclone hit his hometown.
"I come from an agrarian family, and the cyclone had destroyed everything. After the cyclone, we started relief work, like cleaning up the debris and providing necessary items to the affected people. We were taking care of around 90 villages, and in the four months were working on the ground, I learned about another major problem the people of the area were facing - water scarcity," Raghavan told Indiatimes.
How one lake changed the fate of farmers
According to Raghavan, farmers in the area used to sow seeds three times a year, but due to the water scarcity, they were not even being able to do farming once a year.
After speaking to some community elders, he learned that the area's primary water source, the Peravurani Lake, has been dead for many decades.
Despite having no prior knowledge about waterbodies restoration, the Electronics and Communication engineer decided to give it a shot at reviving the dead lake that was spread across 564 acres.
"After talking to a lot of farmers, I understood how big an issue this was, and that is how I decided to work on restoring the Peravurani Lake. The lake was dead for nearly 20-30 years, and we managed to restore it in 107 days and filled it with water," he said.
New calling in life
According to Raghavan, the restored Peravurani Lake positively impacted the groundwater table, and water levels in nearby wells and other water bodies also improved.
"Six months of our efforts put an end to a problem that people were facing for 20-30 years. This made me think about what I can do and help more people. That is how the journey started, and since then, I have restored over 160 water bodies across India and also some in Africa," Raghavan said.
I am still learning
Even after restoring over 160 waterbodies of different kinds, Raghavan said, each of them was a new experience, and he is still learning.
"Initially, I used to get data and ideas from some retired PWD officials. I also speak to local farmers and others who live around the waterbodies who have known the area well and will be the beneficiaries of the restoration," he said.
How a waterbody is restored
Raghavan, who works mostly with a team of volunteers and locals, looks into several factors, including the condition of the waterbody, water storage capacity, encroachments, inlets and outlets, topography, and history of the lake, before the restoration process is started.
"After the research, we take the necessary permissions from the district authorities, and we start by working on the inlet channels to the lake. In the next step, we desilt the lake. We also reinforce the boundaries of the lake to increase its water-holding capacity. In some lakes, we also create lake islands and plant native trees there, and this will grow into an ecosystem of its own. Finally, the outlets are also cleared to ensure that the excess water flows into the next waterbody," he explained.
Why community involvement is necessary
Throughout the restoration process and beyond, Raghav said it is essential to involve local stakeholders in every step as they will be the beneficiaries and the ones who will care for the water body in the future.
"It is important to have the beneficiaries onboard because it is their lake. Right from day one, we work with the local community by creating awareness about the importance of the water body and educating them on why it should not be encroached on. Once the restoration process is completed, a committee of the beneficiaries will be in charge of its upkeep in the future," he said.
Growing awareness about waterbodies conservation
The once-dead waterbodies are restored into a complete, self-sustaining ecosystem that can provide a new lease of life to the people and animals around it.
"After the lake is restored and it is filled with water, there will be a subsequent increase in the water level in other water bodies. So farmers can now irrigate their farms, grow cattle and do fish farming in the lakes. This has had a positive impact on their livelihoods, and there is a growing awareness among people of the importance of their waterbodies. These days I don't have to educate people about restoring waterbodies, but they come to me seeking help to restore their lakes," he said.
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