“GRAVIS observes the International Day to Combat Droughts and Desertification”

The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought is a United Nation Initiative to raise awareness on international efforts to combat desertification. Following the United Nations, desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas; it does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts. The main caused are human activities and climatic variations. Over 250 million people are directly affected by this phenomenon, and about one billion people in over one hundred countries are at risk.

Concerning drought, it is defined as an insidious hazard of nature which originates from a deficiency of precipitation over an extended period of time resulting in a water shortage. Its impacts result from the interplay between the natural event (less precipitation than expected) and the demand people place on water supply, and human activities can exacerbate the impacts of drought. Drought cannot be viewed solely as a physical phenomenon. As an example, the Thar Desert is highly vulnerable to drought since its encounters low adaptive capacities to climate variations. Rains around 15-20 % below the normal are enough to lead to drought and scarcity which have many direct and indirect impacts on population.

Effects on health and medical condition

The first issue raises is lack of water. The inadequate quantity and quality of water available for household use is harmful for food security and lives. In the Thar Desert droughts can force people to drink groundwater that is brackish and highly saline making it unfit for life.

Lack of water also affects agriculture and fodder leading to food shortage and loss of food diversity. Nutrition deficits in vitamin and calcium provoke malnutrition and disease. In the Thar Desert around 80% women and children have vitamin A deficit that can lead to blindness  and a whopping 72, 4% of the rural children in Rajasthan are anemic.

In time of droughts water as a scarce commodity is kept for drink purpose and agriculture, combined with low sensitivity to hygienic issue results in bad medical condition. The spread of infectious diseases such as acute respiratory or gastrointestinal illnesses increases in time of drought since households use less and less water for personal hygiene like cleaning hands.  Skin allergies and skin related disease are also really common as well as skin dryness which can be attributed to a lack of fluid in the body due to limited water intakes.

Economical effects and indirect consequences  

Both subsistence farming and cash cropping are affected. Droughts and desertification prevent from reaping many crops hence fertility diminishes since it is maintain by the constant rotation of crops. Even though seeds and grains like bulgur, millet or wheat are quite resistant to dryness the yield and the quality decrease when the land is not wet enough. It also fosters the appearance of parasites dangerous for fodder. Likely farmer might use the recycle water to irrigate crops which extends the probability of contamination by pathogens such as salmonella.  Consequently to the amount of extra difficulties for the farmers, droughts are sources of instability. Rained fed agriculture yield decreases which represents a relative loss of assets. It widens disparities between food producing farms and cash crops exploitation, increases unemployment and credits costs. In the broader economic system, reduced rainfall can depress economic activity in rural towns and increase the financial stress on farming communities. As a consequence mental health is at stake. Australian studies provides clear evidence to support the hypothesis that male farmers, farm workers and farming families are at risk of depression and suicide due to droughts. An increase in the suicide risk of about 7% for men and 15% for women has been shown.

The ultimate consequence is large scale migrations of families, either to find another occupation or to become wage worker in bigger exploitation that have the capacity to resist droughts. Migrations impact social milieu, communities, weakening and stressing social support systems and lessening social interaction. Furthermore in the Thar Desert the most common alternative occupation is to become a daily wagers in sandstone mines. In addition to the ridiculous wage of few rupees a day, it is a one way ticket to early death. Inhalation of crystals of silica from stone dust provokes silicosis which is an incurable disease that affects lungs.

Overall drought and desertification consequences are exacerbating gender inequalities, the lack of infrastructure and vulnerability of communities. It is a long term burden for population that gives rise to global issue like migration, land degradation, inequalities and unsustainable development.

GRAVIS Intervention against droughts

One of the main focuses of GRAVIS has always been to deal with the Thar Desert weather conditions as agriculture is prevalent. Thanks to many researches on droughts, purifying water, welfare scheme and evaluation of vulnerable groups it develop effective way of dealing with it.

It aims at building efficient rainwater harvesting structures to ensure the most optimum use of rainwater. It combines traditional methods with modern technologies in term of filtration. It erects Khadins which are an ancient skillful and scientifically sound system for minimizing wasted water. They are designed to harvest surface runoff water for agriculture. On the total runoff 50% can be used, the remaining part in lost to evaporation and underground absorption for recharging aquifer.

While protection of the crops from the harsh drought conditions is a priority for GRAVIS, ensuring water security at household level is also on its agenda. For that purpose, GRAVIS uses traditional storage facilities such as Taanka, Naadis, or Beris. It allows rainwater storage and filtration.  Bio sand filters are also used; it is as innovative adaptation of the traditional slow sand filtration system which has been used for drinking water treatment for 200 years.

To prevent from the severe consequences of droughts, GRAVIS organized medical and health awareness camps.  They help to screen the general health of people, and then suggest remedies. The constant features of the health awareness camps are the importance of maintaining hygiene, need for regular health check up, and the importance of nutrition. A peculiar emphasize is put on reaching the youth.

Through all its efforts to mitigate droughts effects, GRAVIS help to protect a fragile system. It reminds us of land’s importance in producing food and generating local employment; as well as its ability to add to the sustainability, stability and security of living.

 * by Mathilde Serange, Volunteer



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