Will the climate ever change for Sundarbans?

Published online 30 April 2013 in Nature India

Seven years after the first report on the ‘vanishing islands‘ of Sundarbans, Subhra Priyadarshini revisits the fragile delta in the Bay of Bengal to find that it is not just climate change that threatens the existence of this world heritage mangrove tiger-land spread across the Indo-Bangladesh border.

(Pictures: Subhra Priyadarshini)

The seas are rising around the Sundarbans. That is old news.

Two islands in this 100-odd island conglomerate have vanished from the face of earth. Even that is old news, met with a stoic shake of the head by environment refugees who now inhabit Sagar, the biggest island in west Sundarbans. For them ‘climate change’ is just another phrase that NGOs and people from the media use to describe everything that is wrong with their lives.

In their life full of challenges, the loudest alarm bells ring almost before each monsoon — of the fury that the sea unleashes between September and November. Severe cyclones — four of which have visited the Sundarbans between 2007 and 2009 — are gulping in more and more land every year. The world’s only mangrove tiger-land is now a constantly shrinking landmass, its existence threatened by severe cyclonic storms, unmanageable demographics, rising seas, coastal flooding and erosion.

Though just a bit of this fear is reflected in government figures, it is clearly evident in Shamila’s voice. “The fury of the sea now is like never before,” she says standing right where she stood seven years back outside her hut in one of the many refugee colonies dotting Sagar. Shamila has grown from a shy teenager into a confident mother of two and knows where to flee if the going gets tough. “We will go to Kolkata and do something there,” she says talking of her secret dream to settle in the burgeoning megapolis, capital of West Bengal, where “you get beautiful saris”.

Climate displacements

Shamila’s father Sheikh Abdullah did something similar in the late 1990s when he left the sinking island of Lohachara in the vicinity, along with 7000 other refugees from various islands, and sought shelter in Sagar. Lohachara does not exist on the map anymore along with another island Bedford, which never had any human habitation.

Scientists estimate that Sagar will be the worst hit in future with over 30,000 people displaced by 2020 even as neighbouring Namkhana produces 15,000 more refugees. The other islands, all in the western end of the estuarine delta, predicted to face similar fates are Ajmalmari (east and west), Dalhousie, Dakshin Surendra Nagar, Moushuni, Lothian, Ghoramara, Dulibhasani, Dhanchi, Bulchery, Bhangaduani and Jambudwip.

According to estimates, between 2001 and 2010, the net loss of land to the seas across the Indian Sundarbans stands at 63 square kilometre. About 1.35 million people are currently at high risk from sea level rise, storm surges and coastal flooding with a further 2.4 million people exposed to moderate risk.

Sugata Hazra, Director of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Kolkata has been studying the seas and listening to the problems of these refugees for long years now. “There have been four cyclones — Sidr, Nargis, Bijli and Aila — in the northern part of the Bay of Bengal in the last part of the decade. Though the frequency of these storms and cyclones has gone down, the intensity appears to be increasing, possibly as a result of rising sea surface temperatures,” he says. Hazra predicts that the 2015 pre-monsoon is going to see another bout of massive flooding.

The pattern appears to be “in line with global climate models which also predict declines in cyclone frequency”, Hazra says. Other scientists studying the trends in the Bay of Bengal say the region has registered 26 per cent increase in severe cyclonic storms in the last 120 years, intensifying post-monsoon.1

However, quick flooding is by far the biggest threat. Slow sinking of islands, on the other hand, takes centuries to get noticed, Hazra says.

The Rising seas

Hazra has been harping on the sea level rise issue for long too, though not many acknowledge this as an immediate threat preferring to call it ‘part of a slow global phenomenon’. “The threat of severe coastal erosion due to relative sea level rise is something that needs immediate attention,” Hazra insists. He quotes an analysis of 50 years of data from three data stations in the Hugli estuary that show a sea level increase of between +0.76mm/year and +5.22 mm/year at different locations in the Indian Sundarbans.2

His own estimation of tide gauge data from the Sagar island observatory between 2002 and 2009 shows a relative mean sea level rise at the rate of 12 mm/year. “In the last 25 years, the rate of relative sea level rise comes close to 8 mm/year, significantly higher than the rate of 3.14mm/year in the previous decade,” he says.

In a recent report he co-authored for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)3, Hazra says besides global warming and the subsequent thermal expansion of water, the rather rapid subsidence of the Bengal delta (2-4 mm/year), compaction of silt and other local causes may be responsible for the exceptionally high rate of relative sea level rise in the Indian Sundarbans.

For the locals, these small numbers do not make a difference. “I don’t know if the sea level is rising. I can see the sea rise during high tide and ebb during low tide,” says Gokul Ghorai, who lives in one of the picturesque islands and sustains his family of five through fishing. “All I know is that the sea keeps pushing our embankements back every couple of years all over these islands.” In 2009 alone, the Aila cyclone demolished about 1000 km of embankments across Sundarbans. “Around 50,000 people left the islands to become labourers in places places like Mumbai and Delhi — there’s no official documentation on how many left,” Hazra says.

Hazra also estimates that the temperature in the Sundarbans will rise by 1°C by 2050 and might have a bearing on the chemical composition of sea water in terms of “increased acidification and decreased dissolved oxygen levels.”

Kumud Ranjan Naskar, a former national fellow of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and author of several compilations on Sundarbans, feels that the immediate issue at hand is to predict the severe weather events correctly and base the development roadmap of Sundarbans surrounding these events.

“That is much more immediate than climate change, global warming or rising seas,” he says. Naskar, who retired from ICAR a couple of years back and now lives with two 50-feet high Sundari trees in the backyard of his home in suburban Baruipur, not far from the delta, also suspects the theory of subsidence of the Sundarbans. “There is a lot of complex estuarine arithmetic here – to prove subsidence is not so easy.”

The dwindling forests

The Sundarban delta, formed by the river trio Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna, also faces a major threat from discharges of untreated domestic and industrial effluents carried by tributary rivers. A major oild disembarkment terminal in eastern India – the Haldia Port Complex – has been a source of contaminated mud from harbour dredging.

Multiple studies456 over the years have found that chemical pollutants such as heavy metals, organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from agricultural runoffs, wastewater, sewage discharges and agricultural wastes might be changing the estuary’s geochemistry irreversibly and affecting the local coastal environment.

Naskar says it does not augur well for the mangrove plant species Sundarbans is so famous for. Of the 69 species found in India, 63 exist in the estuarine delta and his estimate is that the delta may hold up to 140 mangrove, mangrove associates, back mangrove and coastal zone flora. Naskar, who spearheaded the creation of a natural genepool project in one of the islands some years back, is not so optimistic about the forest cover anymore. “The idea was to preserve one specimen of every mangrove species found across the Sundarbans for posterity,” he says.

Though the genepool might live on, the natural mangrove vegetation and the overall land area has been steadily decreasing.

Hazra fishes out satellite maps from his cluttered desk to show comparative images that establish a 5 percent loss of forest cover in the 20 years between 1989 and 2009.

Across the Sundarbans, degraded forests are being replaced by saline blanks, further reducing forest cover. “Climate induced increase in surface-ocean stratification has effects on phytoplankton productivity which may lead to an overall decrease in primary production,” Hazra notes.

On a visit to the islands his keen eye catches new creeks. “Look at the number of streams inside these forests. There are so many more now — the density of the streams is also increasing.”

Warming up to climate change

The West Bengal government, which till recently did not publicly acknowledge the climate change threat to Sundarbans, has made a clear departure in its stand in the last couple of years. A three-year long exercise that culminated in creation of a State Action Plan on Climate Change7, made public last month (March 2013), now underlines the major threat that climate change poses in the delta.

“The ground level workers always knew it. Now the policy makers have also quantified the vulnerability posed to the islands due to climate change,” says Debal Ray, Principal secretary of the state’s environment department and a member secretary of the West Bengal Biodiversity Board.

Ray says the government has initiated a number of scientific studies to understand and predict the influence of climate processes in the estuarine delta and is focussing its effort to “prepare for the inevitable”. “The idea is to create better linkages by constructing bridges for evacuation in times of emergency, to create better mobile phone penetration in the islands for early warning dissemination and to automate weather forecast,” he says.

Damning demographics, food fears

72-year-old fisherman Tapan Debnath, who knows the creeks and forests of Sundarbans like the back of his palm, says he went fishing across the islands and rarely saw large habitations when he was a teenager. “I see people everywhere now, in newer patches of land that were earlier forests,” he says.

The islands have an interesting mix of inhabitants — first generation immigrants from East Midnapore district in West Bengal and parts of what is now Bangladesh, descendants of settlers from the days of colonial administration and a small group of tribal people from Chotanagpur plateau brought to clear forests. In effect, Sundarban now has a very high population density.

According to the WWF report, there is a significant increase in the settlement area from 1226 square km to 1666 square km. Available agricultural land has also reduced and the population crossed the 45,00,000 mark in the 2011 census. The mathematics is simple then — it means an increasing threat to land and food security.

The West Bengal government has taken baby steps in trying to introduce salt-resistant varieties of paddy by providing subsidies to farmers. “Since these varieties have lesser productivity than higher yielding ones, we encourage the farmers to cultivate them on a small patch of land and offer them some incentives. This is one of the top priority things we are doing in the Sundarbans today — to conserve salinity tolerant seed varieties in the face of incessant flooding in the region,” Debal Ray says.

The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources hunted for the six locally recalled salt-tolerant farmers’ paddy varieties, but found only two — Hamilton and Matla. The others might have been lost from the region after the “green revolution”, the bureau says, and recommends re-introduction of these salt-resistant paddy varieties in the region to ‘enhance adaptive capacity of the farmers against recurrent salt water inundation’.

Ray says the government will need an outlay of Rs 20, 000 crore in India’s 13th Five year plan period to implement all the well-meaning adaptation and mitigation strategies they have set out in the state action plan. “We can only be optimistic that we get this kind of fund to do what needs to be done to protect the Sundarbans,” he says.

  • References

    1. Singh, O. P. Long-term trends in the frequency of severe cyclones of Bay of Bengal: Observations and simulations. Mausam. 58, 59-66 (2007)
    2. Nandy, S. et al. Trend of sea level change in the Hugli estuary, West Bengal. 21st Conference of Indian Institute of Geomorphology. (2008)
    3. Indian Sundarbans delta. A vision. WWF policy document (2011)
    4. Sarkar, S. K. et al. Water quality management in the lower stretch of the river Ganges, east coast of India: An approach through environmental education. J. Cleaner Production 15, 1459-1467 (2007)
    5. Guzzella, L. et al. Distribution of HCH, DDT, HCB and PAH in the sediments of coastal environments of West Bengal, Northeastern part of India. Environ. Int. 31, 523-534 (2005)
    6. Binelli, A. et al. Concentration of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in Sundarban mangrove wetland, north eastern part of Bay of Bengal (India).Mar. Pollut. Bull. 54, 1220-1229 (2007)
    7. State Action Plan on Climate Change, West Bengal (2013)

Ecological hazard: With denuding of queen of hills, it all comes crumbling down

Farid Ahmad Abbasi is no stranger to landslides. He has rebuilt his century-old house for the fifth time, different parts of which were damaged in the wake of subsequent landslides since 1996. “The landslides have left fissures in the remaining building and there’s a landslide whenever it rains,” said the 43-year-old taxi driver.

Incidents of landslides rose due to the construction of Murree Expressway over the last decade, he added. To pave way for the 120-feet-wide road belt, many trees had to be chopped down. Later the edges of the road were built, however no trees have been planted in most parks of the community forest that encompasses 98,000-acres.

According to a change analysis study, vegetation patterns during the last five decades, reveal that the local forest has suffered 13 per cent deforestation. This in turn has caused active landslides to increase unprecedentedly; from 10 in 1996 to about 132 in 2013.

District Officer (Forests) Javed Gill said, “Landslides have surged not only due to the ongoing construction on the highway but also because no serious efforts have been made to plant more trees which prevent soil erosion and mudslides.”

Over 100 houses in 22 villages in the community forest, suffer persistently as a result of landslides, which become frequent during monsoon. Murree receives 2,000 mm rain annually of which 1,700 mm pour between late July and mid-September. Other downpour and snow months making up for 400 mm are between December and February.

Zahid Ahmad, a plumber, said he has had to rebuild his own and his brother’s houses almost annually since the last 15 years. “We wrote requests to the National Highway Authority (NHA) and local MPAs to ask for financial help several times but nothing happened,” he said.

Before 2005, he had also inherited about 15-kanal agricultural land comprising apple and apricot trees, however he ended up losing all of the agricultural land to landslides. “It washes down the hill. Nothing stays,” he added.

He said the problem stems from water channels. Once the rain pours in, the water channels are flooded and move downstream. This disturbs the fissures in the hill, particularly those where the trees have been chopped down, causing the mud to slide downhill and onto houses.

Locals chop tree branches for fire, but fewer cut down trees, he said, adding that no officials of any government department have been witnessed planting trees along the highway or other places within the forest.

Gill believes the capacity building of local communities regarding need for forests can turn around things. “The state-owned forest is being rehabilitated now with help of WWF-Pakistan and their degradation is now six per cent, half of the community-based forest. Therefore there is greater need to save community forests,” he said.

Some plantations done by the locals have mostly been of broad-leave trees. These trees can only be utilised for firewood and provide lesser shade as compared to the indigenous conifer species.

Murree forests make up for the biggest conifer forests of Punjab. They are also the most vulnerable in the country due to the rapidly spreading twin cities. However, the government gives no funds for the community forests.

District Forest Officer (Hazara Division) Gauhar Mushtaq said they lack funds. Since 1950, the department is being run by selling 7,000 dried up conifers, that are chopped down every three to four months. A 25 per cent of the revenue goes into paying salaries of the staff while the remaining into construction of schools, dispensaries or wells.

“When we invite experts to share facts, they don’t show up. The government refuses to set a budget either,” he added.

Moreover, he said the NHA has sought its environmental impact assessment through the Punjab Environmental Protection Agency. “We have nothing to do with but even then, nothing has been done to make up for the deforestation,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 26th, 2013.

You can see the original story here.

Strategic changes: ‘Pakistan has complex issues due to climate change’

“We have suggested building several upstream water reservoirs in Pakistan to prevent floods. We are also examining reforestation as it slows down the process of floods and subsequent droughts,” Marius Keller, an adaptation consultant with the International Institute of Sustainable Development, said speaking to Lahore University of Management Sciences students on Monday.

Keller presented an overview of climate change, examining its impact on economy, poverty and development in several countries. He stressed the need for an enabling environment where government and research institutes could work together towards adapting climate resilient measures.

Keller said that in the last 20 years 140 climate-change triggered events in Pakistan had lead to an average of 500 deaths every year and a loss of $200 million to the country’s economy. He added that in the last 120 years, the average temperature had risen by 2 degrees Celsius globally. He said the temperature in Pakistan had risen by 0.57 degrees Celsius. He added that the sea level had risen by 1.2mm annually and would likely be up by 40mm in 2100.

Keller has been invited by Lead Pakistan to aid the Ministry of Climate Change in devising a national level implementation plan. He said his main objective was to integrate climate change development in a peaceful manner to help people adapt well. He said his team would also assess the climate vulnerability of semi-arid areas.

“Since Pakistan has a very complex geographical terrain, it also has complex issues arising due to climate change.” He added that the ministry had asked for assistance in the areas of food and water security. “But they place even higher importance on attaining sustainable energy.”

He said they had proposed more diversified and durable climate resilient crops which are less dependent on water. “Design systems have been suggested that are robust in more ways than one.” He explained this idea further saying that dams could be built not to certain capacity but to adjust to extreme weather conditions.

Keller said that the national climate change policy was a good stepping stone but no good would come of it until the provinces were engaged. “The policy needs to be decentralised … as people at the grassroots level are the most affected by climate change.”

He said Pakistan needed to figure out key projects and prioritise those. He said it was of utmost importance to bring all stakeholders on board for a project. He said the IISD involved stakeholders from day one. He added that recently they had had a scoping session with the key ministries in Islamabad.

Event moderator Rafay Alam announced a LUMS climate change project in collaboration with the Worldwide Fund for Nature-Pakistan. He said students and researchers were observing meteorological data of eight districts in the Punjab and Sindh to note changes in weather patterns and the ways in which local farmers adapted to those changes.

“It will be a good baseline study for future reference.”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 24th, 2013.

You can see the original story here.

Climate compatible development: Focusing on adaptation and mitigation aspects

In Pakistan, there is need to integrate climate adaption action with socio-economic plans. This was stated by former ambassador and UN Assistant Secretary General Shafqat Kakakhel during a workshop scoping adaption and mitigation plan of action for climate compatible development.

Khel observed that capacity building is not only required regarding climate change related research and the meteorological department, but also important for institutions relevant to energy, water and food security.

These actions will help achieve the government’s priorities, such as a National Adaptation Plan (NAP) and Framework for Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs). The actions will increase readiness to address adaptation and mitigation, and help ensure that the government has the plans and policies in place to access funding.

The Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) has invited officials of International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD), a Canadian orgranisation, which has helped countries like Indonesia, Dominican Republic and Kenya design framework for national adaptation plans (NAP).

The IISD team presented the plans implemented in these countries and also presented suggestions for developing similar actions for Pakistan. Local experts gave input to start developing terms of references.

Ministry of Climate Change Deputy Secretary Syed Mujtaba Hussain said the IISD team will help provide a roadmap for developing NAP and NAMA for Pakistan. Both will align with national climate change policy, which clearly outlines that there is a need to set up action and mitigation plans at the provincial as well as national level.

“The implementation could be anywhere from 12 to 15 months from today as we have to have plans for each sector.”

Deborah Murphy, Jo-Ellen Perry and Marius Keller highlighted the challenges they coped with while engaging with the stakeholders in Kenya, Indonesia and Dominican Republic.

Ellen, while narrating examples of designing NAP for the two countries, said in Kenya, 340 priority NAPs were identified and narrowed down for getting funds to only 12 cross-cutting and 30 sectoral adaptation plans.

Endorsing Kakakhel’s points, another participant said that capacity building of the policymakers and even sectoral heads in the Planning Commission is required.

Kakakhel emphasised that roles of about a 100 statutory bodies, like National Flood Commission and National Agricultural Research Council, formed before the ministry came into existence, needs be re-evaluated.

“A diagnostic study needs be conducted to evaluate the terms of references of these statutory bodies, who attain autonomous position under the government’s umbrella when no one is familiar with their expertise, their specific functions.

“How would we know if the National Flood Commission has enough specialists on floods. We do not know. Even we do not know if the climate change ministry has the expertise for sea water intrusion, glaciers or floods or droughts,” he emphasized.

Ali Tauqeer Sheikh of Lead said there is also a need among organisations working on climate change to build and benefit on and from each others’ strengths.

Syed Mujtaba Hussain, suggested holding baselines studies of each ecosystem. “The IISD has brought to attention to upscale the meteorological department, but Pakistan has multiple ecosystems and a baseline study of each ecosystem can guide the future adaptation process,” he said.

The government representatives included officials of the National Disaster Management Authority, ministries of climate change, water and power, the planning commission, National Energy Conservation Centre run by ministry of water and power, National Council of Agriculture Research and Alternative Energy Development Programme. Officials of World Wild Fund Pakistan, other NGOs also participated in the workshop. The team will remain in Islamabad for two weeks and will compile a report.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 17th, 2013.

You can see the original story here.

150 farmers in Thatta to learn multiple crop cultivation

Nearly 150 farmers in Thatta will learn how to cultivate multiple crops and adjust to the new cropping calendar.

Through a project initiated with the help of three community-based organisations in Thatta, local farmers will find a lot of relief in their work. The project director, Haseeb Kiani, called the project, “the first local adaptation plan of action in response to climate change at the grass root level.”

Lead Pakistan in Muzaffargarh district will also launch a similar project – training 450 farmers to build salinity drains, necessary to drain excess rain water to the canals while preventing soil erosion and water logging problem, leaving the land unsuited for agricultural purposes. The pilot projects, launched last week in Thatta and a week before in Muzaffargarh, are set for completion by April 2014.

Kiani, the director for Lead’s Climate Leadership for Effective Adaptation and Resilience project in 13 districts across South Punjab and Sindh, said they are interviewing 150 people in each district about the changes in response to extreme weather, floods, and uneven rain patterns.

The year-long training project in Thatta was launched on March 29. Interviews with local farmers revealed that winters are becoming shorter while summer season is becoming longer, said Kiani. This has delayed the cropping period since the traditional sowing season for wheat started on October 15 and lasted till the first week of November. With shorter winters, it has moved as farther as December 15, he pointed out.

Many crops do not survive because most local farmers are still following the old cropping calendar. This had led to low yields or has damaged the entire crop of wheat, sunflower, sugarcane and cotton. This programme will train farmers on techniques for maximum utilisation of their land. For one field, they will be trained to crop cotton or wheat along with some local vegetables. If one crop is damaged, the other could serve as a financial cushion, he explained.

The vulnerability study for Muzaffargarh, worst hit by the floods in South Punjab in 2010 revealed the foremost demand to establish salinity drains. Old ones are broken down or non-existent in most areas, he said, adding that uneven monsoon patterns also make these drains an absolute necessity.

Their studies also revealed that only 1.5 million acres of the total 2.5 million acres remains cultivable in Muzaffargarh. Salinity and water logging cannot be blamed entirely for the land becoming infertile, but they are definitely one of the big reasons behind the loss of agricultural land, he said.

The farmers who manage to establish salinity drains will be given small incentives. “This will not only encourage them to build drains they are to benefit from, but will also encourage other farmers to build similar ones to prevent flooding and water logging in the future.”

After the interviews, a vulnerability assessment report is compiled and then focus group discussions are held. Following the focus group discussions, Lead will prepare a local plan of action. So far, assessment studies and focus groups have already been held in Layyah, Dadu, Badin, Muzaffargarh and Thatta, while the plans of actions are in process.

Lok Sanjh, another Islamabad-based NGO, is conducting research to prepare local plan of actions for farmers in Attock, Chakwal and Rawalpindi districts of North Punjab and in Layyah in South Punjab. Its founder, Shahid Zia, said a project to understand climate change will last a year, but a plan of action and implementation will take more time. Research is underway on crop rotation and seed management given the changing weather in these regions, he added.

Five years ago, Zia also introduced the system of rice intensification, a climate-resilient rice growing technique, in northern districts of Punjab. Over 500 farmers are currently applying the technique to grow rice crop.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2013.

You can see the original story here.

Women most affected by climate change, says Shirkat Gah recent study

For woman in rural areas, the consequences of climate change have been a sharp increase in their daily workload and a host of health and social issues, according to a study conducted in Shaheed Benazirabad, formerly Nawabshah, district in Sindh.

Climate Change and Women: A Study, conducted by Shirkat Gah, assesses the impact of changing weather in four flood-affected villages, particularly on women. According to the study, yet to be published,the heavy floods of 2010 and 2011 affected women more than men as it had resulted in an increase in their workload.

A report cited in the study estimated that the floods affected 51 per cent of the women in the district and 40 per cent of the men. About 3.6 million women in Sindh were affected by the floods in 2010 and 2011, of whom 133,000 were pregnant at the time.

Since the floods, women in these villages have been travelling to other villages to find work such as cotton harvesting, while continuing with their household chores and home-based work like embroidery to make extra money.

The floods wiped away most crops, meaning families needed money to buy vegetables and grains previously available in the fields. The loss of a substantial portion of agricultural land meant more labour was required, so women were spending more time in the fields alongside men than before, in addition to their usual tasks.

Many women complained that the rise in heat intensity over the summer and loss of livestock in the floods meant they had to rise earlier to ground and knead flour, cook, fetch water from wells, buy firewood from markets, clean the house, and then also help in the field. Rising temperatures, coupled with poor diet, made it especially hard for women to work in the fields as well as do house chores.

Deforestation, which had made the floods worse, also meant less fodder available for livestock and fewer and sicker animals in these villages. In the past, livestock provided milk as well as income cushion. Now with fewer animals, women were compelled to sell milk and look for work on days men failed to find work.

The increased use of pesticides on the cotton crop had detrimental effects on women’s health. In the absence of firewood, dried and contaminated cotton was being used to light fires. Women, being in charge of the cooking at home, were exposed to the high carbon emissions in the smoke.

The study noted that the riverine forests in three of the four villages started disappearing in 2001, when local landlords and the Forest Department began to clear the land for agricultural purposes, mostly to plant banana trees. Until then, the forests provided beehives (honey was used particularly by pregnant women), grazing land for livestock and free wood.

With the forests gone, in the last three years locals have had to start buying wood and livestock fodder. The disappearance of beri beri and neem trees put an end to several traditional herbal remedies, meaning villagers must buy modern medicines.

The loss of trees has also led to the loss of indigenous bird species such as partridges, doves and parrots. The swamp deer, whose antlers were used in traditional medicines for kidney ailments and TB, has become extinct. The pollution in the Indus has increased, affecting fish populations.

The floods also destroyed several lakes in Sarkand, one of the four villages studied, compelling local fishing communities to take up seasonal wage labor.

The study said that the shift in agricultural patterns to cash crops and farmers using more chemicals and mechanisation had had adverse effects on income and health. In the last three years, cases of hepatitis, skin infections, hypertension and malaria have gone up considerably. The social fabric has also been damaged, with conflict, domestic violence, drug use and suicide rate among women going up.

The study cited several sources showing that rainfall and maximum temperatures had increased in the district since 2006.


The study recommends special adaptation funds for grass root levels to prepare for changes affecting their livelihoods. It also suggest including women in decision making regarding use of natural resources and 33 per cent representation of women seats in local government systems. Introducing schemes backed with green technologies (drought resistant crops, water conservation and management systems) and owned by women will help, it suggests.

The study also recommends promoting climate resistant crops, ensuring of schemes promoting secondary education amongst women, and extending services regarding reproductive heath education and training women in marketing skills. Measures for reducing degradation of natural resources is also suggested.

You can see the original story here.

Goa decides to demarcate Ecosensitive Zones outside Protected Areas

This is a story telecast in the Konkani News bulletin of Doordarshan News, Panaji, on 3rd March, 2013.

Despite a Supreme Court Order in 2004 that no mining activity should be carried out within 10 km buffer zone outside Protected Areas, mining was going on in the vicinity and sometimes inside Goa’s 7 Protected Areas.  All that is set to change under new recommendations for mandatory Ecosensitive Zones outside all PAs in the country as   given by Central Empowered Committee set up by the Apex Court.

See story here.

Translation of the text:

Ecosensitive Zones outside PAs is a transition  corridor  meant for wildlife to pass from areas of maximum security to those of lesser security.  Buffer Zones should therefore  allow minimal human activity.  However in Goa extensive laterite quarrying and iron-ore mining is going on just outside the limits of PAs.  Says Rajendre Kelkar, noted environmentalist, “A reasonably wide buffer zone is required to protect wildlife and biodiversity.  Considering the extensive ecological damage done by intensive mining, at least 3 km buffer zone should be maintained.

Recently the Central Empowered Committee set up by the Apex Court to consider the question of demarcating buffer zones for PAs nationwide, recommended EcoSensitive Zones (ESZ) of maximum 2 km for the biggest PA of 500 sq km, and of  mimimum 100m for the smallest PA.  If wildlife sanctuaries are contiguous as in the case of Goa,  2 km buffer zone has to be maintained, and natural boundaries like water bodies should be protected.

Reversing its earlier stand of maintaining zero buffer zones, Govt of Goa has accepted these recommendations and decided to demarcate and notify 1 km buffer zone for its wildlife sanctuaries at Mhadei, Netrawati, and Mollem National Park, and a 100 m buffer zone for Chorao Bird Sanctuary and Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary.  Govt has also decided that for mining 2 km buffer zone will be demarcated, whilst announcing that mines currently operating within 1 km buffer  zone will be phased out within a period of five years.

This ecofriendly action has elicited sharp reaction from the Goa Mineral Ore Exporters Association who has demanded that govt should reconsider its decision as mining provides livelihood to more than 4000 people.  Their demand is considering that more than 38% of Goa’s land is under forest cover, out of which around 24% is under PAs, buffer zone should be less than 1 km.

All mining in Goa has come to a halt following a Supreme Court Order after Goa Foundation filed a public interest litigation for implementing  the recommendations of the Shah Commission.  As manay as 33 mines are operating in the periphery of Goa’s 7 PAs .   Goa exported around 54 million tonnes of iron ore in 2011-2012, much of which came from illegal mining.