The Thar Desert, situated in North-west India, receives less than 200mm of rain in a year, and in some parts less than 100 mm. This meagre rainfall means that groundwater cannot serve as a long-term source of water for drinking or irrigation, and the parched soil is unable to conserve enough moisture for vegetation. Scorching summers, chilly winters, dry monsoon seasons, and regular dust storms are characteristic of the region. Despite all this, however, the Thar Desert is the most densely populated desert ecosystem in the world, home to a population of more than 23 million people with unique cultures, heritage and traditions. Water scarcity often plays a major part is shaping the lives of these people, with many villages lacking a secure source of clean drinking water and water for irrigation. This lack of necessities has a knock-on effect on the health of many villagers, particularly the elderly and those under 5, and education, with children required to collect water and help on the farm in order to support their struggling parents. 

Gramin Vikas Vigyan Samiti (GRAVIS),  is a voluntary organisation which was founded by Laxmi and Shashi Tyagi along with a group of Gandhian social activists in 1983.  The organisation was set up to assist the people of Thar Desert in rural development and environmental conservation. At that time, no major organisations existed in the Thar Desert region and the area is one of the most under-developed regions in the world. GRAVIS focuses on sustainable rural development programmes for alternative rural construction with active community participation. GRAVIS has a firm belief in blending local, traditional wisdom with the modern technology in order to identify remedies to the problems of the region. Currently, GRAVIS covers over 1300 villages and nearly 1.3 million people with its programmes.  

GRAVIS, now led by Dr Prakash Tyagi, and WaterHarvest have been working together for more than 21 years on a number of projects focused on activities related to water conservation, rain-fed farming, horticulture, empowering women, school education, water quality, sanitation, community health and training and capacity building. All these projects have benefited about 75,000 people living in about 50 remote villages of the Thar Desert.   Dr Tyagi describes the relationship as follows: “GRAVIS and WaterHarvest have been very close in ideology and approach. The work that has been done in the partnership has always put community needs in front and has focused on most needy sections of the society.  

Munna Devi with her taanka in Jaisalmer.