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Coastal Salinity

> Coastal Salinity

The problem of salinity ingress was first detected in Gujarat in the late sixties and early seventies due to massive exploitation of underground water facilitated by the introduction of water lifting pump sets in the region. Salinity ingress, consequently, was a result of the disruption of the natural hydrological balance between freshwater and seawater in coastal areas. In addition to this hydrological imbalance, the seawater enters inland through streams, rivers, and creeks. The rising sea level, changes in precipitation patterns and extreme events are rapidly expanding the process. The contamination of groundwater aquifers has threatened drinking water security, affected health outcomes, and has threatened the livelihood security of farmers. It is estimated that 7 lakh ha of coastal land in Saurashtra is in the process of losing its fertility due to the salinity problem.

The government administration and the Civil society, both were aware of the challenges posed by increasing salinity in the region and were making efforts through various interventions. The government had set up two High Level Committees (HLCs) in the 1970s and 80s to study the phenomena and recommend suitable measures. The key adverse impacts of salinity ingress observed by the committees were; i) effect on vegetation health which had turned yellowish, ii) reduction in agriculture and horticulture productivity, iii) reduction in sweetness of coconuts produced, iv) change in soil structure, v) switch from agriculture to other livelihood and vi) a marked increase in migration. The committees recommended immediate implementation of integral programme to prevent salinity in order to avoid enmass migration from coastal villages. This led to the formation of Salinity Ingress Prevention Cell (SIPC) by the government of Gujarat, which was tasked with the responsibility of construction of civil structures such as tidal regulators, Bandhars, lining canals, and other suitable measures to prevent salinity ingress.

Reputed Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and other CSR foundations operational in coastal Gujarat were aware of the challenge of salinity ingress and were actively involved in mitigating the hardships caused due to salinity ingress in their operational geographies. Civil Society Organisation including AKRSPI, VRTI, Utthan, BAIF, Vikas Centre for Development and CSR foundations like ACF and TCSRD set up an informal collaborative network of NGOs for channelizing interventions across salinity hit geographies. This informal collaborative network of NGOs was anchored by AKRSPI from 2001 to 2005.

However, it was strongly being felt that the enormity and the multi-faceted nature of the problem required partnership with government to scale up efforts. The government also realised that the constructed structures could be more productive only when the local communities were included in the process. The collaboration with Government happened in 2004 with a circular issued on 12th April 2004 which laid the foundation of CSPC.

CSPC is strategic institutional platform which combines comparative strengths of the Government and CSOs. The organisation facilitates cross learnings, create knowledge products, undertake innovative pilots and design large scale programs, which could then be implemented across salinity ingress hit geographies.