GRAVIS’ Core Mission: Addressing Health and Livelihood Challenges in the Thar

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As GRAVIS approaches its thirtieth year of working to address the development challenges of the Thar Desert, the work that it undertakes is as important as ever for helping residents of this stressed region secure a measure of peace and sustenance. Over the past few decades, GRAVIS has performed a critical role in this effort by developing practical, low-cost solutions to long-standing and vexing problems. GRAVIS has since its inception spearheaded efforts to raise awareness about these issues both among community residents as well as on a broader scale. In the coming years, GRAVIS will continue these efforts with a particular emphasis on improving overall health outcomes and livelihoods for villagers. Below I highlight a few ways that these goals fit with GRAVIS’ core mission of achieving sustainable development in the Thar against the backdrop of current trends facing India at large.

First, with mounting evidence of the impacts of global climate change, GRAVIS’ activities related to water security are one way of addressing these two goals. As rainfall becomes both less plentiful and less predictable, and as the threat of both drought and flash floods
threatens agricultural activities, water is an issue continually on the mind of all those who live and work in western Rajasthan. GRAVIS’ promotion of local technologies like tankaas, naadis, and beris is well-suited to providing village households with a measure of security. With a reliable supply of water, villagers in the Thar will not have to divert the majority of their disposable income and time to procuring drinking water. Likewise, mitigating the  problems of contaminated supplies and shortages will help to improve the health of children who currently suffer from these problems. Water remains in many ways the first and most critical piece of the development puzzle. All other efforts to raise the status of impoverished households will be hindered without attention to the means of procuring water.

Second, in recent years social movements on the national stage have begun to speak out loudly against the corruption entrenched in many aspects of Indian life. These reform movements have resonance with pro-democracy movements taking place around the world. GRAVIS is an organization with a long history of collaborating with other social activist groups and movements for causes related to social justice. The broad-based protests that surfaced in the capital in the last few years have brought a lot of attention to the need for systemic reforms. Yet there is still a huge need to promote these sorts of discussions and changes at the local level, far from the capital. Everyday residents of the Thar face their own challenges, large and small, in simply securing basic necessities like roads, electricity, good schools, etc. Working through its network of partners and community-based organizations, GRAVIS will emphasize making people aware of the livelihood programs and resources available to them. In this way, they can bolster the capacity of the people themselves to advocate for and attain their own uplift.

GRAVIS as an organization remains committed to the task of bringing about sustainable development in the most challenged and desperate of communities in the Thar. By working within and across communities, and by bringing together development activists and village residents, this work will continue moving into the future. Recent events in India and globally only underscore the ways that GRAVIS’ primary mission and activities will help the poor of the Thar to improve the health status and livelihood opportunities in their communities.

*Hayden Kantor is a Ph.D. Scholar from Cornell University in the US. He is currently doing his research in Bihar, India and had volunteered for GRAVIS as a Hart Fellow in 2005.
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