The Little State that Could


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It is not often that you find forest officers sitting face to face with mining officials to discuss environmental sustainability—especially in a state which is rich in both minerals and forest resources. Nor do you often see fishermen walking toe to toe with farmers in sweltering 48° C heat to be heard alongside tribal chiefs and industrialists. And it is not often that a state, dubbed as the disaster capital of India, and which lags behind on every conceivable development indicator, comes out on top by being the first to consult with its people on how to tackle the onslaught of climate change.

Well, this happened last week in India’s coastal state of Orissa, one of the poorest states in the country. While the richer states - Maharashtra and Gujarat - were busy building fancy climate models to predict temperature and rainfall changes fifty years from now, Orissa focused on what it can do today.

Lashed by heavy monsoon rains and devastating cyclones with unfailing regularity, the state looked for solutions. In doing so, it also stole a march on the central government, whose National Climate Change Action Plan is still being prepared in fits and starts.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Orissa’s crop yields are declining, fish stocks falling, and water resources dwindling while forests and coasts are being rapidly degraded. Moreover, the state has recently embarked on an aggressive carbon-intensive industrial and energy development strategy, for which it has already received flak from civil society. We don’t need to wait for climate studies, said the Chief Minister, we are already feeling the heat.

So, to chart the way forward on development in an era of climate change, the government decided to consult with diverse groups —a participatory approach endorsed by the Bank. The commitment came from the highest levels in the state government. The Bank helped by providing global knowledge and expertise, and mobilizing both national and international experts, as and when needed.

Consultations sought solutions for the coastal areas, tribal regions, mining and industrial areas, urban centers and farming belts. Fishermen, farmers, trade unions, industrial associations, tribal groups and women offered their comments. Not surprisingly, the discussions were often animated and intense.

A diverse set of questions was raised: What should be done to control the growing salination of the coastal belt that is ruining farmer livelihoods? How can we preserve the natural breeding grounds for fresh water fish? And what can be done for the fishermen who, with falling fish stocks, are abandoning their age-old profession and migrating to cities in search of work? Then, what’s the best way to stop fluoride and arsenic from leeching into the drinking water? And, if you’re wondering what happened between the forest officers and the mining ones, let’s just say that the forest officers finally succeeded in extracting a commitment from the mining officials to adhere to sustainable practices and greater environmental monitoring.

The draft plan is now up on the Orissa government’s website to receive more inputs. While the plan may not be perfect, it is innovative and home grown, and open to improvement. And all said and done, by being the first past the post, the little state of Orissa has shown the richer states the way!

Join the Conversation

June 19, 2010

Dear Mr. Maniji,

Quite Commendable Job!! Hard to believe, but nice to view Orissa and its innovative initiation on climate change in World Bank's website itself.

Thanking you.


Swati Mishra
June 15, 2010

Dear Mani,

Thank you for this informative post about the innovative way Orissa is trying to deal with Climate Change. Coming from Orissa, I have experienced the drastic turn of nature quite closely. Every year there is devastation either due to cyclones or floods, thus reversing every effort taken towards development. I am very delighted that the Govt officials are doing this through a consultative process, and it's high time some action plan is drawn and executed. This participatory approach is definitely commendable.


June 18, 2010

Thank you for your new experiment about Orissa climate change perspective. I am happy after see the news in this website. We have tried to solve the problems of climate change in India and Global level. India is reduction of global emission in several ways. But it is not significant improvement agriculture production past few years. Monsoon failure is crucial problem. We can solve all problems. Once again, thank for your innovative think.


Lawrence MacDonald
June 22, 2010

Thanks for this informative post. It's great that the people of Orissa are moving to tackle this issue. But I couldn't help but feel a bit sad on reading this. As the people of Orissa surely know, catastrophic climate change can only be averted with global action. People in the United States should feel ashamed that we have yet to get serious about this problem, even as much poorer societies like Orissa are taking up the challenge. Here's hoping that India, inspired by Orissa and other local efforts, will step up to lead on this issue. The United States has clearly failed.

Lawrence MacDonald
June 22, 2010

Thanks for this very informative post. It's great that Orissa is moving to tackle this problem. But I couldn't help feeling a bit sad on reading this. Consultative processes and community discussions are a good place to start, but this problem is way bigger than Orissa (as the people there surely know). People in Washington DC and my home state of Virginia should feel ashamed that the U.S. has yet to get serious about climate change, even as much poorer people in Orissa are getting organized to do what they can. With efforts like that in Orissa, India has an opening to become a global leader on climate action, and to shame the U.S. and China into moving faster. We badly need global leadership on this issue. Here's hoping that Orissa--and India--will show us the way.

June 24, 2010

Thanks Swati. Please also feel free to provide any specific comments to the Government of Orissa directly as the plan is now on the web.


June 24, 2010

Thanks Lawrence. The people of Orissa are directly bearing the brunt today of climate variability and climate change and the Government of Orissa recognizes that it could seriously impede development outcomes. Hence what you are seeing is a reaction to what is happening NOW! Hope the media could create the awareness necessary to bring about a positive outlook to dealing with climate change in developed countries such as the US.

M Sundararaman
June 22, 2010

Dear Mani
I am really moved by your comments on your blog about orrissa. With the huge natural resources and given other potential where do they lack? Natural disaster may be one but then that is not the be all and end all. I having been in orrissa for a while feel guys there are lethargic.Right from the top. Casual about things adapted to simple way of life. They do not seem to know their value. Well Orissa on an average is despatching atleast 10 IAS every year what are those guys doing? They should take up the welfare. The forests and wild life and the hill stations. wow. lots can be done. Let a world bank team visit personally dep into it and do something about .

June 28, 2010

This is an amazing article, thank you for the effort.

K Jude Sekar
June 23, 2010

Great to see Orissa taking the lead in this crucial area of climate change. As a matter of fact there was an adjournment motion in the Orissa Assembly way back in 2002 when the lawmakers wanted to know the efforts made by the government to tackle climate change, because the impacts of a super cyclone, droughts and floods were devastating Orissa. Some rudimentary steps were taken right then to rope in all the departments concerned in this massive effort to mitigate the evils of climate change. Good to see that this time it is more focussed and comprehensive involving all stakeholders.
God Bless their endeavour and may all the states and countries start taking such efforts.

July 28, 2010

Going through the article makes me feel proud as an Oriya at the same time I feel curious for the implementation of this climate change Action Plan. Few days before i read a blog by a member of MISSION SHAKTI(Govt. of Orissa) who was requesting readers through his blogs to request film makers to make films on high yeilding varities of crops which have a possitive effect on climate change and health. So, lets see how this Action Plan goes. Any ways thank you for mentioning the plan and hope it will boost their energy to move further on this. It's nice to see Orissa in World bank blog and hope my state not only think of better ideas but implement them successfully.
Thank u.

January 05, 2011

Though it is great to see this very comprehensive action plan, I am curious which organization(s) will facilitate implementation, and conduct regular monitoring and evaluation?

The problems are interconnected and so, does the local and State government have the technical, financial and institutional capacity to implement?

odisha news
March 19, 2015

Thank you very much for sharing this unique article....Odisha News

April 02, 2015

Thanks for this initiative took by Orissa. It would be a good example for others.