Two months of rains for one year of water, the Thar Desert at the mercy of the monsoon

The monsoon is the big event of the Thar Desert; thousands of families are craving the first rain drop in order to bring life again to their land. The monsoon sets over in mid June and lasts up to the beginning of September. It represents 97% of the annual rainfall therefore around 244 mm over the 251mm annual which is also the least in the country (national average of 1083mm). Most of the people are fully dependant on this rainy season as the only water supply.

Monsoon uncertainty

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A seepage well : Beri

Because regions with a monsoon climate have distinctly wet and dry seasons, they are prone to floods and droughts, both of which are hazardous to health, agriculture and therefore economy. In the Thar Desert, droughts are a permanent risk. Water stocks are made on the monsoon so that families must use 2 months of rain for one full year of water. The task is harsh during the dreadful months of April and May when the temperature can reach up to 45°, the reserves of water might decrease substantially. The remaining time to wait until the rain is then long and hard for families at the mercy of weather conditions. The monsoon may arrive early and linger on for a long time or it may arrive too late therefore leading to water restriction often to the cost of basic hygiene and food diversity. Some beneficiaries from GRAVIS are unable to maintain their kitchen garden (Horticulture Units) due to the lack of water and monsoon delays which affects health and nutrition. In this condition, the uncertainty of monsoon emphasizes a big issue for locals that GRAVIS try to solve by improving water access and storage.

 

Taking advantage of the monsoon

A major part of agriculture entirely depends upon rain fed crops that put at risk famers therefore GRAVIS support them by developing efficient water harvesting methods. It selects farms and families with no other source of water apart from the rain to set up different kind of water reservoirs enabling them to reach water security. Taankas are cylindrical tank with the capacity to store 20,000 liters collecting from 30-foot catchment areas. A Beri provides underground storage by collecting run-off during the monsoon. It is a non-cemented structure filled by percolation of water. One of the benefits is that it creates a layer of calcium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate deposits which serve to purify the water.

 

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Winter chickpea cash crops thanks to a Khadin

The khadin system is based on the principle of harvesting rainwater on farmland and subsequent use of this water-saturated land for crop production. Its main feature is a very long (100-300 m) earthen embankment built across the lower hill slopes lying below gravelly uplands. Sluices and spillways allow excess water to drain off. It can make arid wasteland productive. There is 3-4 fold increase in agriculture production, in comparison with non-Khadin conditions depending upon rainfall quantity and distribution. This system assures the farmers of at least one crop even in very dry time that turn into a cash crop. Those techniques allow villagers to take advantage of the heavy rains during the monsoon to provide future supply of water.

Health concerns

Apart from uncertainty, the monsoon has a permanent feature that is to intensify the prevalence of malaria, dengue,  cholera, and chikungunya due to high temperature and humidity. These inherent diseases to the Thar Desert critically step up in time of heavy rains which lead to a main health concern during the summer monsoon season since mosquitoes that carry disease breed in open containers that are filled with rainwater. In case of epidemic GRAVIS supplies treatment to infected patients. Moreover as a preventive measure GRAVIS tries to reduce the risk of infection by adding trapdoors to the taankas and other reservoirs.

The monsoon is a cyclical calendar that deeply dictates life in the Thar Desert. It brings water which is a requirement for life, but it also needs to be master. GRAVIS enables communities to do it by maximizing the benefits of the rainy season so as to improve their lives.

*by Mathilde Serange, Volunteer

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