For every well-known activist, there are dozens of other young people making a real difference outside the spotlight – young people like Patris Mana of Wajomara village in Indonesia.
Wajomara is a lowlands village traversed by the Aesesa River and accessible only by a steep mountain road. In the past, heavy rains have caused serious damage to the village, cutting it off from its neighbours. In addition, nearly every year the village suffers droughts. This causes a lack of clean water for drinking and other uses and inadequate supplies for agriculture, resulting in low yields. Patris knows these conditions will only get worse as climate change intensifies extreme weather.
In 2017, Patris and other villagers developed a comprehensive disaster risk reduction plan and formed a disaster management group to implement it. Patris led the group to implement a series of simple, low-cost innovations to reduce the use of resources and increase resilience to hydrometeorological disasters.
To address periodic droughts, the community planted trees, constructed terraces and water traps on farmers’ land and encouraged planting local produce that requires less water. The group also taught farmers agroforestry techniques, where income-producing fruits, vegetables and nuts are planted in forested areas. This increases food output and reduces incentives to clear forests, with all the negative environmental impacts that entail.
A key part of the disaster risk reduction plan was the holding of disaster simulations and response training. Villagers were taught to respond to various disasters, including flooding, earthquakes and land fires. It was a good thing Patris and his neighbours prepared themselves in 2017.
In early 2018, heavy rains caused a landslide that destroyed over 400 feet of the only road into Wajomara village. The village’s residents were cut off from the outside world.
Patris immediately mobilized the disaster management group. Affected households were evacuated. The group took photos of affected areas, recorded losses and sent detailed reports to government agencies. As a result, the government moved quickly to repair the road. This restored access to health services, schools and markets for the produce and other goods villagers sell.
Even more important, Patris and his group also secured government funds to build a 500-foot retaining wall and concrete drainage channel to prevent a future landslide. The wall has done its job every rainy season since construction.
Patris and his group have continued to increase Wajomara’s resilience. In addition to agroforestry and water conservation measures, villagers have learned organic agriculture techniques. The use of non-chemical fertilizers and pesticides not only reduces exposure to hazardous materials, but also reduces input costs, which increases profits. A portion of these profits is invested in a savings and credit group. Villagers take out small loans at low-interest rates. The loans are invested in small greenhouses, better seeds and other innovations to raise productivity, output and profit. The savings and credit group is critical to financial resilience and building the capital necessary for sustainable development.
Patris’s group also developed and submitted a proposal to the regional government to obtain funds to construct a clean water distribution system. If approved, the system – along with conservation measures – will ensure all villages have access to clean water during times of drought. In addition to other gains, this will improve sanitation and hygiene and improve health throughout the village.
The experience in Wajomara is further evidence that protecting the environment can go hand in hand with higher incomes and improved living standards. As in so many places around the world, this is being achieved through the commitment and work of young people like Patris Mana.