Climate change and increased human activities affect every corner of the planet. Whether in New York, Costa Rica, or a remote village in Indonesia, there is always a focus on efficient use of resources. This is the story of how the village of Wajomara reversed a tragic history of impact from natural disasters by creating a plan for the environment, the people and the economy.
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Wajomara is located in Indonesia, which is also part of the Nagekeo Regency of the East Nusa Tenggara province on Flores Island. The Regency is divided into seven districts and nearly 100 villages. It’s remote, hilly and completely isolated when the only road into the area is washed out by flooding.
In 2017, a village organization called the Community Disaster Management Group (CDMG) was formed to create a plan for the village that would improve disaster response. At the initial board meeting, the members elected Patris Mana to become chairman. Mana then led efforts to complete a disaster risk assessment and reduce the impact of disasters in the village.
There were several issues to look at — primarily that the area around the village flooded regularly, cutting the community off from nearby resources. Also, annual drought deeply affects the area, limiting the amount of water available for crops, cleaning and drinking.
To better prepare the village for these events, Mana and his team coordinated a disaster response. They trained the villagers how to respond to flooding, earthquakes and fires. It wasn’t long before they had to implement that response.
In 2018, heavy rains triggered a landslide that washed out a significant portion of the only road into the village. With a plan in place, the team was able to evacuate the affected households and obtain help from the government to repair the road in a timely manner. Even more significant, they applied for and secured funds to build a retaining wall and a drainage channel for rainwater. They have not had a washout in the years since it was installed.
While emergency response is a central component of the plan, Mana realized early on that taking care of the land was going to benefit the village in a variety of ways. With that in mind, he and his team planted trees to slow land erosion, filter the air and balance nutrients in the soil. Since the region’s people relied on farming for their economy and their food, they constructed terraces and water traps on agricultural land to mitigate damage during the rainy season, and make more efficient use of water during the dry season.
In addition, the farmer’s were educated about native plants, especially food crops that required less water to grow in the region. In the forested areas, the villagers leaned into agroforestry, where they grew fruits, nuts and vegetables for the village and to sell at the local market. This system discourages the clearing of forests and increases the primary food and economic support for the citizens. The development of these practices also minimizes the environmental impact of clear cuts.
In the five years since starting the program, Wajomara has dramatically changed course from an insecure lifestyle to an area that stands as an example of ready response and land conservation while improving the stability and security of the resources in the region.
The results come from an organized effort to include villagers in the process. In addition to attending response training sessions, citizens are educated about water conservation practices, both in the home and in the gardens. Mana’s group has also submitted a proposal to the government for funds to install a clean water distribution system that will provide water throughout droughts and improve the cleanliness and health of the villagers. They’ve now also embraced organic agriculture after realizing the use of fertilizers and pesticides are not only harmful, but cost more. These combined efforts have led to higher profits from a larger crop yield.
A portion of the profits have been used to develop a local banking system that allows villagers to take small loans with low interest rates to grow their farming practices, including building greenhouses and buying better seeds and plants.
Wajomara is a regional example of how acting as stewards to the land goes hand in hand with being stewards to the people and the results are notable. An annual assessment of the resiliency in the village has improved from a basic-status score of 25 in 2017 to an intermediate-status score of 127 four years later.
In addition to the landslide mentioned above, the village has also decreased the effects of droughts by choosing drought-resistant plants, planting according to predictive rainfall and placing plants near existing water resources. They also reacted to a house fire in 2020 and the loss of two additional houses in 2021 with steps to obtain food and clothing in addition to building materials.
The region is no longer invisible to the local government and the committee continues to apply for program aid. As a result, they’ve been supported with perennial tree saplings from the Environment Agency of Nagekeo district with 700 sandalwood saplings distributed to 70 families and 1,300 mahogany saplings distributed to 50 families.
Images via John Jordan