My first journey with GRAVIS in the Thar Desert

The striking thing when you enter this arid land is the number of cars and mopeds you will meet on your way. Far from the usual stereotype of the no man’s land, the Thar Desert is rather populated with 83 people per km2 which makes it one of the most heavily populated desert areas in the world. Mainly depending on agriculture, livestock and mining industries the desert has to cope with harsh weather condition combined with important health issues.

 

Health issues in the Desert

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         According to the Rajasthan State Action Plan on Climate Change Report, the state has the highest probability of drought occurrence in the country. It also falls within areas having greatest climate sensitivity, maximum vulnerability and lowest adaptive capacity. The groundwater reserves quantity has decreased dramatically as well as its quality. Passing from 35% exploitation in 1984 to 133% in 2008, the depletion rate nearly reach 80%. The lack of water availability also hides the problem of water safety. Rajasthan accounts for 51% of fluoride and 42% of saline-affected areas in the country. In fact, based on the WHO guidelines for drinking water quality, 56% of the water sources in the state are un-potable. Natural contaminates such as fluoride, nitrate, and chloride salts are increasing in concentration in groundwater, making it unfit for drinking and posing risk to health.

Apart from water, the desert shows high risks for eye diseases and malaria. Eyes problems are really common due to the dust, sand and the non protection from very heavy sun beams. GRAVIS hospital even set up a special day for visit concerning eyes issues. Every Thursday this is more than an average of fifty people that reach the hospital to undergo test or surgery.  Malaria is also a recurrent disease in this area. Monsoon or not monsoon does not make a big difference since the parasites (P. vivax and P. falciparum) are endemic to the Thar. To avoid the reproduction of infected mosquitoes, GRAVIS has been installing lids on open water containers. Regular test and treat for malaria are also provided at the GRAVIS hospital.

Access to education

         The Thar Desert covers around 320 000km2 and villages are widely spread on the land. Thus the first barrier to education is isolation and non access to school. Then agricultural labor duties make it also hard for children to attempt school. The social place accorded to education is low and some families still think the labor force of their children is more useful than sending them to school. Under such a paradigm, improving education is one of the most urging challenges as it is a pillar for development.

Sand-stone mining

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Rajasthan represents over 90% of the sandstone deposit in India. In an area where few jobs and opportunities are available and access to education remains sparse and unequal the sandstone industry attracts important part of the population. Therefore this sector is a health disaster. It provokes silicosis by exposing the workers to Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) over long periods. The effects are irreversible and continue to develop after the exposure. It leads to a loss of the lung function (breathing).  Sufferers usually become house- or bed bound and often die prematurely due to heart failure. GRAVIS aims to promote advocacy and raise awareness. It acts jointly with the unions to provide wider protection to the workers, and better death compensation to the families.

Despite of the difficulties imposed by the Thar Desert, GRAVIS tries to show another way of developing the area. It maintains its efforts to enable those who are left out to access better life. Those first impressions on the Thar Desert make me looking forward to get more involved in GRAVIS work and I personally hope be useful for their diverse projects.

 * by Mathilde Serange, Volunteer

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