While the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) has been a valuable employment tool and safety net, as seen in the migrant crisis, its role in building ecosystems resilient to the climate crisis is being increasingly recognised. There is now an urgent need to bring upfront the scheme’s potential in addressing matters of lives and livelihoods while combating the climate emergency.
MGNREGS is climate-smart, contributing to both mitigation and adaptation. Its coping strategies lower the risks posed by the climate crisis while providing legally mandated demand-driven employment to resource-poor households.
In 2020-21, an unprecedented degree of work was undertaken across 711 districts and 268,524 gram panchayats. Of the total expenditure of ₹110,900 crore, about two-thirds were on works related to natural resource management (NRM). The mammoth scale of the NRM component in MGNREGS provides a major boost to improving the productive capacity of land, water and forest resources. This helps reduce the vulnerability to climate risk as groundwater availability increases, soil fertility improves, tree cover is enhanced, drought- and flood-proofing measures are put in place.
MGNREGS’s contribution towards livelihood security and creation of durable assets is well-quantified with a record of dug wells, farm ponds, check dams, desilted tanks and trees planted, updated regularly on the official website. However, studies that measure the contribution of MGNREGS towards improving the adaptive capacity of the beneficiary households have remained few and far between.
The capacity of MGNREGS to deliver on the mitigation front takes into account that land is both a source and sink of carbon. Land degradation from large-scale destruction of forests, soil erosion and intensive farming accounts for about a quarter of the global greenhouse gases. Trees in agricultural landscapes, better-managed watersheds, forests and farmlands lead to enhanced carbon sequestration both above and below the ground.
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