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World Bank picks Hazarika’s ship idea

Recognizing innovativeness, creativity and a pro-people approach, the World Bank has awarded a national award to the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, which is run by the eminent writer and editor Sanjoy Hazarika, for its idea “A Ship of Hope in a Valley of Flood.”

Altogether 20 innovators from across India were picked as winners from 50 finalists who in turn had been chosen after a rigorous examination of over 1,500 competitive entries from across the country, predominantly of non-government groups in a unique process called the India Development Marketplace.

The IDM 2004, organized by the World Bank, is a nationwide competition for novel ideas that could transform the lives of rural communities in a range of sectors, including drinking water, control of malaria, reaching flood-hit communities with health ships, dew harvesting, participatory theatre, rural education and housing.

The award to C-NES, which works extensively in Assam and elsewhere in the North-east on issues concerning livelihoods and governance, was made for Mr. Hazarika’s proposed prototype of a “Boat of Hope in a Valley of Flood” for Assam, to reach poor, marginalized and displaced rural groups at flood time with basic health services. This is the only winner from the North-east; other awardees are from Orissa, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, New Delhi and Kerala.

Mr. Hazarika, who was formerly with The New York Times and has written extensively on the North-east and also made numerous acclaimed documentaries on the region and the Brahmaputra, seeks to develop a modified, improved, safer and more powerful country boat-ferry, based on existing local technology and skills but better engines and structures, to take doctors and health workers to flood-hit areas, at a time when infrastructure collapses, rural populations are devastated by high water and ill-health and government capacity to deliver basic health services are inadequate. The boat would cater to a group of villages.

A model of the boat with extensive designs, time-line, the problem of floods and devastation in Assam as well as photographs of different boats, sketches of modified boats were displayed on two panels at the C-NES Stand at the World Bank’s local office in Delhi. The presentation and discussions with Mr. Hazarika impressed two jury teams, which included the chairman of Microsoft India and the regional manager for the International Finance Corporation.

“I regard the award as a recognition of the discussions with boat makers in Assam, boat users and government officials and leaders as well as my research team who have worked very hard for this moment: it is an opportunity to seize and help transform the region ? imagine how many new jobs would be created with a fleet of such boats,” said Mr Hazarika. ?The Ship of Hope can do several things: it can meet basic health needs, generate employment, upgrade skills, increase incomes, improve livelihoods, protect and strengthen traditional technology, make use of the greatest resources of Assam ? its rivers ? and solve problems in an innovative and unique, people-first approach.?

Mr. Hazarika, who has extensively traveled, researched, written and filmed on the Brahmaputra ? from Tibet to the Bay of Bengal — envisages that based on the success of such a prototype, a fleet of ships could be built by local communities across the state to deal with such crisis. In the lean season, the boat would continue treatment to rural areas accessible by the river and run health campaigns to raise rural consciousness on issues as diverse as sanitation, dysentery, malaria and the challenge of HIV-AIDs.

In addition, it is also visualized that the boat could double as a floating documentation centre that would map the cultural traditions and oral histories of rural communities in the villages where it conducts health treatment, taking on board scientists and researchers, documentary film makers and communications specialists. In a two-way process of learning, local residents could also be trained in new skills and opportunities.

In the awards ceremony here on Monday, World Bank Vice-President Praful Patel spoke of the “creativity, commitment and passion” of the participants. He said that the event, the first time held in India although there are similar events conducted in seven other countries as well as an international prize for innovation, aims at enabling the poor to have a say in service delivery.

President APJ Kalam who also spoke emphasized the need to synergize talent and capability through connectivity to take urban services to rural areas.

The awards are worth $20,000 each and the winner also has to raise funds from other sources; the project is generally expected to be completed within a year.

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