The quake is just about a month old. We are supposedly phasing out of the `rescue-cum-relief' arena, to that of the medium-to-long term demands of rehabilitation. If 'speed',`sensitivity', and 'self-respect' were the dominant attributes required for the earlier phase, this next phase is no different, except for the diminished emphasis on speed and emergence of pro-activeness, surfacing as an extremely important aspect in evolving a vision of how to go forward, with the decision making at the people's level. It is in this framework that I put forward some random thoughts on the matter.
The quake has in more than one way shaken up considerable parts of Gujarat, more particularly Kachchh. This has meant some upheavals, restructuring and readjustment, however small in a number of aspects-especially the topography,soil and sub-soil conditions, water levels in the area; apart from quality aspects of water, soil, drainage patterns, infiltration aspects, and consequent factors like predisposition towards certain kinds of vegetation cover, species etc. Monsoon is just a few months away and it may be wise to check up on all these factors before it arrives, so that we are better equipped to minimize the damage thereof, while making the most of opportunities on which we can capitalize in order to evolve sustainable livelihoods in areas other than just crafts i.e. agriculture, animal husbandry,and related areas.
Currently, it is understandable, though unfortunate, that almost the entire attention is on housing, with some marginal attention been given to livelihood management,but then only through revival of crafts. Agriculture and animal husbandry somehow seems to have been relegated to backburner. If we have to promote these sectors also in our quest for meaningful and sustainable livelihoods for considerable sections of the people there, then we will have to re-survey all the parameters mentioned earlier on, in all its various dimensions to arrive at a new understanding of the way the things are to be, so that our strategy can be pro-actively adapted to that. For example, even minor changes of a few inches in the slope in a given area will influence the drainage, and possibly recharging capacities. Fissures opened up, even apparently insignificant, can affect ground storage of water. It could help greater acquifer recharge, but it may also be at depths too high for as tap. Increased salinity in certain areas may need change in cropping pattern or working out remedial measures. It could also work out the reverse way, if sources of sweet water have now emerged anywhere.
Having done that, one has to work out appropriate cropping patterns, with indigenously adopted seeds. The practice of organic farming were slowing but surely making a headway in Kachchh, due to increased disillusionment of local farmers with chemical cocktails and the addictive treadmills, it pushed agriculture into. In harsh environments like Kachchh, organic methods with locally adopted seeds and practices were giving more consistent results. This brings us into the area of animal husbandry, which is integral to organic farming. Areas like Banni, which was the home to the best of cattle and had ample lush grasslands, have now degraded to a level where they import fodder for survival. We must examine how we can reverse this and whether the quake has given us any hidden advantage in our thrust to achieve the same. Appropriate forestry and silvicultural-cum-pastoral activities,then enter the strategy of related synergetic changes. Multipurpose vegetation, for food (local fruits etc.), fuel, fodder, medicine, shelter, local craftwork etc., etc. has to be worked out. And, logical follow-up and connectivity built up.
The best part of all this is that this process does not need experts, except at the mapping and information generation stage. Once that is done, shared with people, then their accumulated knowledge, collective wisdom, and adaptive skills will surely work out the 'best practices'. Research, development and adaptation which has always been an integral part of their survival kit, needs to be handed back to them, reinforced and encouraged so that they can once again sort out their lives, meaningfully, with dignity and self-respect. Do not push them our way, simply because we feel we know better. The'bunghas' are an eloquent testimony to the folly of our ways.
In the final analysis, we need to support their efforts at rehabilitating themselves. For that, we need to study, in detail what changes have occurred, however insignificant it may appear at first, interpret them in terms of what it would entail, in the form of adaptive behavior, anticipate possible impacts and help work out strategies jointly, for its containment or enhancement , as the case may be -That's it; and it has to be done quickly , before the monsoon sets in. Opportunities that have emerged in the wake of such massive devastation and suffering, needs to be capitalized on, to the extent that they have the potential to rectify things and provide positive healing. That will be our real contribution!!!!!!