October 13, 2007
Flooding Rivers in India -Why?
We know that the areas classified as flood-prone-defined as area affected by overflowing rivers (not areas submerged because of heavy rains)-has progressively increased over the past decades. It was 25 million hectares (mha) in 1960, which went up to 40
mha in 1978 and by the mid-1980s an estimated 58 mha was flood affected. But importantly, over these years the area under floods increased each year even though average rainfall levels did not increase. In other words, we were doing something wrong in the
way we manage the spate of water so that rivers would overflow each season.
The answer is not difficult to find. In flood-prone areas-from the flood plains of the mighty Himalayan rivers to many other smaller watersheds-the overflow of the river brought fertile silt and recharged groundwater so the next crop was bountiful.
But over the years, we learnt not to live with floods. We built over the wetlands, we filled up the streams that dispersed and then carried the water of the rivers and we built habitations in lowlands which were bound to be inundated. We cut down our forests,
which would to some extent have mitigated the intensity of the flood by impeding the flow of water. All in all, we have become more vulnerable to annual floods.
The current floods are all that, and much more. In recent years, the flood fury has intensified because of the changing intensity of rainfall. The deluge comes more frequently because of the sheer fury of incessant rain, which has nowhere to go. Just last
week torrential rain in villages of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka killed over 60 people. We know that climate change models had predicted extreme rain events. Is there a connection here?
We know that dam authorities maintain high reservoir levels because of the uncertainty of rains. We also know that when there are intense bursts of rain and levels of water rise to an extent that could endanger the dam, the gates are opened and the water rushes
out. If this flow of water is combined with even more rain in the region, then a deluge becomes inevitable. We know that variability in our rainfall is increasing at the sub-regional level. What then will this mean for the management of our reservoirs in the
future? The question is do we understand the phenomenon of floods?
We don’t. We have no mechanism to be informed of the changing intensity of rainfall; of the increased inflow into our reservoirs and of the water released by dam authorities. The fact is that today’s floods are a double tragedy: of mismanagement of our land
and water combined with mismanagement of science and data.
This mismanagement is criminal. Let’s at least know that.
Source: Editorial by Sunita Narain
September 21, 2007
Plastic or Paper? Neither
A landmark 1990 study by the research firm Franklin Associates—which factored in every step of the manufacturing, distribution and disposal stages of a grocery bag’s usable life- employed two critical measures in reaching their conclusion.
The first was the total energy consumed by a grocery bag. This included both the energy needed to manufacture it, called process energy, and the energy embodied within the physical materials used, called feedstock energy. The second measure used was the
amount of pollutants and waste produced. The Franklin report concluded that two plastic bags consume 13 percent less total energy than one paper bag.
Additionally, the report found that two plastic bags produce a quarter of the solid waste, a fifteenth as much waterborne waste and half the atmospheric waste as one paper bag. Plastic is not biodegradable, it litters our waterways and coastal areas, and
has been shown to choke the life out of unsuspecting wildlife.
A recent survey by the United Nations found that plastic in the world’s oceans is killing more than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles each and every year. According to the California Coastal Commission, plastic bags are one of
the 12 most commonly found items in coastal cleanups. Paper bags do not cause such after-the-fact problems, and are inherently easier to recycle.
Energy and waste issues aside, the manufacture of paper bags brings down some 14 million trees yearly to meet U.S. demand alone, while at the same time plastic bags use up some 12 million barrels of oil each year.
Consumers must “just say no” to both options and instead bring their own re-usable canvas bags, backpacks, crates or boxes to take away groceries. Another benefit of bringing your own, of course, is setting a good example so that other shoppers might do
August 03, 2007
To eradicate poverty, we have to regenerate our ecology
Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, announces a five-day refresher workshop on how to use the environment to eradicate poverty in rural India.
For more than two decades, CSE’s campaigns and research have shown that India’s poverty is ecological in nature. This means that to eradicate poverty, we have to regenerate our ecology. Many villages have done this. CSE has been studying their experiences.
The refresher workshop seeks to learn from these models and put in place a framework for sustainable villages. This highly interactive course is designed to clarify the linkages between environment and poverty, and to demonstrate its feasibility through a two-day
field trip to Laporiya, a village of pastoralists who have collectively drought-proofed their village and created sustainable livelihoods. In addition to experienced CSE staff, the course faculty includes eminent development experts.
Understanding India’s biomass economy
Eco-systems, land use and livelihoods: Linkages
Rainfed areas in crisis: Food security
Spectre of jobless growth: Chronic, concentrated poverty
Key indicators: Environment and poverty linkages
Poverty eradication programmes: A critique
Ecological opportunities, economic value
Decentralised governance: Ecology, Panchayati Raj
Ecological Act: The promise of NREGA, experiences
How to evaluate development effectiveness of NREGA
Case studies: Community-led village eco-restoration
Workshops: Create your own ’poverty line’; Prepare a detailed roadmap on how to create sustainable livelihoods using local ecology
Field trip: A two-day visit to drought-prone Laporiya (a community of pastoralists in Rajasthan) to experience a remarkable community-led water management initiative.
For more information
July 08, 2007
The Zero Waste Centre supported by the Kerala Hotels and Restaurants Association, Kerala Tourism and Indian Coast Guards have embarked on a major cleanup drive at Kovalam. The months of February and March have been declared Cleanup Kovalam months.
In one week of cleanup which started January 28th 2004, the regular dumping sites behind the Light House beach, the Samudra beach and the Guest House beach have been targeted. 225 sacks of discarded plastic water bottles totaling more than 37500 bottles
in number have been fished out of the ponds, wetlands and private properties. Another 100 sacks containing discarded glass bottles, broken glasses, tube lights and bulbs , other plastics and mostly mucky materials have also been fished out.
Twenty two brands of plastic bottles including the major brands - Aquafina, Kinley, Classic, Bisleri, Golden Valley were fished out in abundance. Earlier in October, Greenpeace had organized a cleanup and symbolically packed and transported sacks of PET
bottles to Coke and Pepsi demanding "Extended Producer Responsibility". This time the Cleanup has been very exhaustive and is intended to showcase the need for immediate and serious interventions from all stake holders for stopping this dumping culture and
a message to the bottled water companies to take responsibility of this waste.
In the coming weeks shops, restaurants and hoteliers in Kovalam would be supplied with paper bags and paper cups as part of the awareness drive to stop plastic material use. Use of packaged water would be discouraged and water kiosks selling clean filtered
water is also being setup.
May 23, 2007
The organized environmental movement has been almost totally ineffective at protecting the environment since the mid 1980s.
The big groups have been successful at protecting some resources in certain regions—staving off the drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife
Refuge and gaining more wilderness designation in the Green Mountain National Forest are two notable successes in the U.S.A—but in terms of protecting the major ecosystems and the general environment, they have largely failed.
There are many other environmental crises including loss of species diversity, loss of natural resources like wetlands and forests, and the
collapse of ocean fisheries.
A large coalition of environmental groups in 1970 endorsed a resolution stating that, “population growth is directly involved in the pollution and degradation
of our environment—air, water and land—and intensifies physical, psychological, social, political and economic problems to the extent that the well-being of individuals, the stability of society and our very survival are threatened.”
The connection between population growth and the environment is perhaps best expressed through what is known as the foundation formula or the environmental
What this says is that any environmental impact is the result of three factors; the size of the population, the affluence or wealth of that population and
the technology or type of consumption that the population spends its wealth on.
What has happened is that environmental organizations have disregarded the population part of the equation and focused almost entirely on the technology
part of the equation, be it driving more fuel-efficient cars or encouraging “smart growth.”
The Environmental Magazine
May 21, 2007
Yamuna is in danger and no single organization or person can handle
this. Everybody in Delhi has to come together to tackle its problems.
Instead of laying a concrete jungle, we should build a natural jungle of
10,000 hectares on the flood plain of the river. The people should help
in reviving recharge structures and distributaries of the river. The
Ridge should be declared as a recharge zone and the baolis and talaabs
that existed there should be restored. The ghats on the Yamuna should
also be restored.
The Jal Satyagraha 2007 was also launched at the event. It aims to raise
awareness among school and college children. It will create awareness in
both rural and urban India on the optimal use of water and need to
recharge to groundwater. The Satyagraha will work with media to raise
public awareness on water-related issues. It will advocate water as a
basic human right and hold camps in different states. The campaign will
also discourage people from using bottled water and drinking soft
drinks. Lastly, it will work to stop the privatization of rivers and
other water sources.
March 26, 2007
It all began two years ago when hundreds of butterflies perished at Muthalamada in Palakkad district of Kerala. The butterflies’ holocaust was followed by the unusual death of cattle in the area. Then came reports that several children were mentally retarded
or crtically ill. The situation was somewhat akin to Swarga in Kasargod where similar cases were recorded after indiscriminate spraying of endosulfan on cashew plantations.
WPSI was the first to raise alarm following the death of butterflies. A health survey of residents within a five-km radius of Muthalamada, found that genetic disorders were prevalent in children born in the past five years and they were susceptible to cancer,
kidney trouble and respiratory ailments. All of them were living close to plantations that had been sprayed with endosulfan.
Though endosulfan is banned in Palakkad, it is clandestinely obtained from neighbouring towns in Tamil Nadu. To stop such clandestine sprayings, environmental groups are demanding a complete ban on endosulfan all over India. All the same, there is no conclusive
medical evidence that endosulfan is behind the maladies of the residents.
When it comes to environment and health of people, isn’t it time we acted on possible causes of harm rather than wait for conclusive evidence?
(Source: The Week, April 2, 2007)
January 30, 2007
The number of sick birds, both wild and domesticated, continues to mount at the Sukhna lake in Chandigarh, with the UT wildlife department rescuing a large egret and a domesticated goose on Monday. While the egret showed signs of weak legs and was unable
to fly, the goose was on the verge of collapse displaying sign of shivering and a drooping neck.
With Monday’s rescue operation, the number of sick domesticated geese which live near the Lake Club has gone up to four. Twelve migratory wild birds have died since January 13 out of which the UT Wildlife department has managed to recover only nine, with two
Spotbill ducks and a likely wood sandpiper going missing within hours of their discovery in the Sukhna marshes on January 13.
Along with the rescue operations, a team of expert bird trappers of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) netted a Greylag goose, a Coot and a Northern Shovellor for blood sampling. The samples from a Ruddy Shelduck (Brahminny duck) trapped on Monday by
Ali Hussain have been sent to the Regional Disease Diagnostic Laboratary at Jalandhar.
BNHS veterinarian Dr Debojit Das, who examined the sick geese, said, "The birds were displaying symptoms of a nervine disorder that is common to avian diseases like botulisim and cholera. This means the birds’ functioning is affected by a nervous disorder that
reveals itself in symptoms like it going in circles or trying to look skywards.
Water pollution in Sukhna could be a possible cause. Dead storage level and pollution level in the Lake has been rising.
UT Wildlife Department might have acted fast in the matter concerning the death of migratory birds, but it is yet to explore the role of Sukhna’s water in the rising mortality of birds. Water quality of the Lake, experts in water conservation area say, might
have solutions to the mystery behind the death and sickness among the flocking birds. Very often, fall in the levels of dissolved oxygen in water has been found to cause bird mortality.
In case of Sukhna, therefore, testing of water samples is an absolute necessity. Over the past, pollution levels in the Lake have raised rapidly on account of several reasons, main being the rise in dead storage level of the Lake. Dead storage level is the
level below which water cannot be drained out of the Lake. Water present below this level is always highly polluted because it gets saturated with toxic elements and gets devoid of dissolved oxygen present in water.
The same might be true in case of Sukhna Lake where dead storage level currently stands at elevation -- EL 1151 feet. There was a time when the level was 1148 feet, but the same has risen over the past due to increase in water level of the Lake by three
feet. Naturally, more and more water under the dead storage level would have become concentrated, making it unhealthy for aquatic life.
Another reason why Sukhna’s water has become highly polluted is that the Lake’s spill away gates were last opened in the monsoon season of 2005. That is more than one and a half years earlier. During 2006, there was no escape of water from the Lake at all.
This has led to increased level of toxicity in the water and this toxicity, in turn, could cause sickness and death among birds, unless detected otherwise.
Admitting to the possibility of water pollution behind the death of birds, Mr G.S. Dhillon, water resources expert, said a similar problem had once arisen in Harike Lake. "In certain pockets of the Lake, migratory birds were found dying without apparent
symptoms. We sampled the waters from those pockets and sent them to Irrigation and Power Research Institute at Amritsar for testing. We found that water was so toxic and so deprived of oxygen that no aquatic or any other form of life could exist. For years,
decaying organic matter had caused the absence of dissolved oxygen in water, leading to death of birds. Finally, water had to be pumped out of the Lake and fresh water introduced."
The same institute can be asked to conduct water sample testing of Sukhna.
SOURCE : The Tribune, Monday, January 29, 2007 and Times of India, Tuesday, January 30, 2007
January 25, 2007
Our transportation choices obviously have a major impact on the environment, so what can we do to lessen our impact on the planet and reduce our dependence on oil?
The Federal Transit Agency(USA) reports, “Americans lose more than 1.6 million hours a day stuck in traffic. Without transit, the nation’s $40 billion in annual traffic congestion losses would be $15 billion higher. In fact, if all the Americans who take
transit to work decided to drive, their cars would circle the Earth with a line of traffic 23,000 miles long.”
Long-distance trains, so-called “heavy rail,” are making a comeback, despite setbacks. Amtrak in USA, as a whole has lost about $25 billion since it was created in 1971, a staggering sum until you consider the $40 billion annually spent on highways.
Rapid-transit ferries can compete with cars in commuting times. The city of Sydney, Australia, for instance, makes major use of ferryboat commuting, as does Hong Kong, Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. There are some environmental problems and some
cost issues with ferries, but, overall, when you have feasible water routes, it’s a great mode of transport.
Biking is also gaining in popularity, for health, for its environmental benefits and to eliminate auto-related costs. The National Personal Transportation Survey found that approximately 40 percent of all trips are less than two miles in length—which represents
a 10-minute bike ride or a 30-minute walk. Fifty-four percent of all commuters live within 10 miles of their worksite—making their commute time by bike or car just about the same.
Employers also benefit, because studies show that people who bike to work are more productive and take less time off for illness. Bikers cut down on an employer’s need to subsidize employee parking, and exercise tends to make workers more alert.
Europe is showing the way forward in many ways.
European car-free zones have become very successful. Sixty cities have declared that they’re going to make their centers car-free. Britain has developed a car-free day, which is supported by 75 percent of the British public. Similar ideas have spread to
Central and South America. In some places, such as Athens or Singapore, because of pollution problems, you can drive only every other day (license plates ending in an odd number one day, even the next), and London now is charging cars a hefty fee to enter
the city center. In Copenhagen, Denmark, 30 to 40 percent of commuters get to work by bicycle.
January 22, 2007
Roots and Shoots
I had the privilege of listening to Jane Goodall at the Brish Council on 21 Jan 2007, while she was addressing the audience of "Wildscreen India".
Jane Goodall is intenationally known as the saviour of chimpanzees. But it was indeed more thrilling to listen to her enthusiasm for the "Roots and Shoots" program she has initiated in 100 countries and is soon starting in India too.
Roots and Shoots of plants have the uncanny ability to pierce/sprout through brick walls. She believes that the brick wall of unsustainable development/global warming will have roots and shoots growing all over soon - roots and shoots being the young workers
she is organizing into groups of grassroot workers from all corners of the world.
The youth of today and even senior citizens can be mobilised for action and they are our "Reason for Hope"
Do visit the site http://www.rootsandshoots.org for more info.