Archive for June 23, 2013


Save Me.

Words That Flow Like Water

I have this great fear,

Of languishing in a moment

Despairing over something,

Not worth despairing over.

I can’t shake this dark

And heavy feeling,

Can’t throw it over a wall,

And climb over another.

I can’t run from it,

I just succumb to it because,

It consumes me,

Ties me tight,

Shrouds my closed eyes.

Save me.

Save me from myself.

I am drowning in this sea

Of great and unknown

Fears, of endlessness,

Of the great circle of life.

I am scared.

I can’t see.

I’m being yelled at…

For something stupid…

And suddenly I am drowning,

Swamped by the utter darkness

Of this fearful night…

I didn’t realise,

I lost all sight,

Of the future that had once been

So bright.

What happened along the way?

When did this cloud descend

Upon who I am?

I forgot…

And fell afraid…

Save me.

From my greatest fear,

Of…

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A submerged idol of Lord Shiva stands in the flooded River Ganges in Rishikesh. File photo

A submerged idol of Lord Shiva stands in the flooded River Ganges in Rishikesh. File photo

It was like Shiva dancing in rage: Shobha Karandlaje – The Hindu. EXCERPT

Former Karnataka Minister Shobha Karandlaje, who returned to Bangalore after remaining stranded for four days at Rudraprayag in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand, on Friday said it was a harrowing experience as her group of 1,000 pilgrims had to spend sleepless nights sandwiched between high mountains and flooded Ganga river.

“………. I also felt that Lord Shiva was dancing in rage, probably angered due to degradation of ecology taking place in Rudraprayag area,” she said

“We were sandwiched between high mountains and flooded Ganga river downwards. On top of the hill landslides were taking place. For one night I could not even get out of my car,” she added.She said after travelling a while she was stranded in her car at Kandiakhand and had to reach Budla by climbing a hill. .

“We were stranded at Budla for four days,” she said. Ms. Karandlaje said the pilgrims in her group were from West Bengal, Maharashtra and Rajasthan and majority were old women and children. They had minimal food supply and children fell sick and there was no doctor to attend to them. “We could not sleep either due to the rising river water or the possibility of more landslides,” she said.

Causes

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/nature-avenges-its-exploitation/article4834480.ece  

     The catastrophe in the Himalaya is the result of deforestation, unchecked construction of dwellings and large-scale building of big dams

A week is a long time in the Himalaya. In the late 1980s, I visited Arunachal Pradesh as a young researcher, with a keen interest in photography. I walked into the middle of the Dibang river, hop skipping over boulders, until my local tribal guide ordered me to return immediately. He smiled and said, “Sir, these mountain rivers are like daughters, you never know how quickly they grow up.” I was humbled by his knowledge and haven’t forgotten the lesson.

Deforestation

On the television, news of the devastation in Uttarkashi had started pouring in. It was painful to see the buildings, photographed only the previous day, being washed away like toys by the Bhagirathi.

There is little doubt that the present Himalayan disaster has been triggered by natural events, but the catastrophe is man-made.

Let us address the various man-induced drivers. One, there is ample scientific evidence that the Himalayan watersheds have witnessed unprecedented deforestation over a long period. Deforestation as a commercial activity began during the British Raj and has continued unabated after independence. While official estimates say forest cover has increased in the Himalaya, a number of credible independent studies have found significant discrepancies in this claim. The fact is that forests have been diverted for a host of land use activities such as agriculture, human settlements and urbanisation. Massive infrastructure development such as hydropower construction and road building has taken place. Scientific studies indicate that at the current rates of deforestation, the total forest cover in the Indian Himalaya will be reduced from 84.9 per cent (of the value in 1970) in 2000 to no more than 52.8 per cent in 2100. Dense forest areas, on which many forest taxa (groups of species) critically depend, would decline from 75.4 per cent of the total forest area in 2000 to just 34 per cent in 2100, which is estimated to result in the extinction of 23.6 per cent of taxa restricted to the dense Himalayan forests.

FLOODS AND INDIFFERENCE: Massive intervention in the Himalayan ecosystems through manipulation of rivers and their hydrology, is linked to what we are witnessing today.

FLOODS AND INDIFFERENCE: Massive intervention in the Himalayan ecosystems through manipulation of rivers and their hydrology, is linked to what we are witnessing today.

Global warming 

Vegetative cover slows the speed of falling rain and prevents soil erosion and gully formation — the precursors to landslides and floods. Dense vegetation, by evapotranspiration, also stops nearly 30-40 per cent of rainwater from falling to the ground, thereby significantly reducing run-off. Besides holding the soil together, forests and soil soak water from the rain, release it slowly and prevent water flowing as run-off. So, deforestation brings about slope destabilisation, landslides and floods. Given that the Himalayan range is geologically young and still rising, it makes the area vulnerable to erosion and instability. Therefore, it is all the more necessary to take land use change more seriously.

Two, there is mounting evidence that global warming is fast catching up with the Himalaya. In a recent study, we reported that Himalayan ecosystems have experienced faster rates of warming in the last 100 years and more than the European Alps or other mountain ranges of the world. In such a scenario, we expect faster melting of glaciers causing higher water discharges in the Himalayan rivers.

Expanding settlements

Three, expanding human settlements and urbanisation which, besides bringing about land use changes offer themselves as easy targets to the fury of natural forces. While it is important to appreciate the aspirations of the local people and their economic activities, there cannot be a lack of enforcement of land use control laws on the part of local governments and officials. Huge building construction, cheap hotels and individual dwellings at Uttarkashi, on the banks of the Assi and Bhagirathi rivers have been allowed. There is little buffer between the river and the human settlements.

Four, large-scale dam building in recent years has caused massive land use changes with ensuing problems in the Himalayan watersheds. Hydropower and allied construction activities are potential sources of slope weakening and destabilisation. Massive intervention in the Himalayan ecosystems through manipulation of rivers and their hydrology, is linked to what we are witnessing today. Most downstream damage in otherwise flood-free areas is caused by dams and barrages, which release large volumes of water to safeguard engineering structures. Dam operators often release more water during rains than the carrying capacity of downstream areas, causing floods.

Pilgrims

Five, neo-religious movements, linked to changing socio-political developments in India, are responsible for significant human movement into the Himalaya beyond the region’s carrying capacity, whether it is Amarnath in Jammu & Kashmir, Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Hemkund in Uttarakhand.

The heavy pilgrim population has also resulted in the mushrooming of shanty towns, cheap accommodation and numerous ramshackle buildings along river banks.

What is the road ahead? There needs to be an integrated policy on the Himalayan environment and development. Enough information is available in the public domain, which only needs to be put together and looked at in a cohesive manner. Himalayan State governments need to consider imposing high environmental tax on visitors, particularly during summer and monsoon months. Heavily sizing down pilgrim numbers in fragile areas must begin. All vulnerable buildings need to be either secured or relocated away from rivers. Governments must impose penalties on building structures within 200 metres of river banks. Hydropower policy must consider building fewer dams and prioritise those that have the least environmental and social costs. Independent and serious monitoring of the catchment area treatment plans proposed by Forest Departments with funds from hydropower companies needs to be carried out and reported to the Green Tribunal.

Related articles

Cow dung cakes are another poisonous option. Photo:AP

 

The shocking truth – The Hindu. Excerpt

They saw electric light for the first time since India became a free country. A curious news-item reported that Mohanlalganj, a village just 20 km away from Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, was connected to the electricity grid for the first time in March this year. Why should we be surprised? After all, an estimated 400 million people in this country that boasts of generating electricity through nuclear power are not connected to the electricity grid. All they hold on to is the promise of light but the tunnel has remained dark and they certainly have seen no light at the end of it.

The lack of electricity apart, there is a tragic twist to the Mohanlalganj tale that speaks of callousness compounding indifference. When people in the village realised that they had finally got electricity, scores of them rushed to the electricity pole that was the source of the “current”. And in their excitement, they touched the electric pole that had finally made them an electrified village. In so doing, they did not expect to be shocked. But that is precisely what happened. The electric supply authority forgot to install insulators. As a result, anyone who touched the pole received an electric shock and many were injured. How can anyone overlook installing insulators? In this instance they did. And needless to say, no one has been hauled up or held accountable, nor have the injured been compensated.

Electric power is a basic component of development. No one will argue that without electricity, the backwardness we see in our villages will continue. Children suffer because they cannot study after dark. Everyone suffers because there is no electricity to pump up water, thereby forcing people, especially women, to walk miles searching for shallow sources of water. Yet even as all this is well known, somehow “electricity for all” still seems a distant dream.

………………….. Yet, the reality in an India that is forging ahead on so many other fronts is that 83 per cent of rural households still continue to depend on firewood, wood chips and cow dung for cooking energy. The task of gathering the firewood and the cow dung falls principally on women. Even today, if you go to any village, you will see women bent double carrying head-loads of firewood.

The daily grind. Photo: Lingaraj Panda

The story does not end there. While the daily search for cooking fuel increases the amount of work women have to do every day, they come home and literally line their lungs with poison when they light their stoves. Women, children and the elderly sit in poorly ventilated rooms as traditional chulhas using firewood and cow dung belch out poisonous fumes. The chulhas are not just inefficient, in that they use more fuel to generate less energy, but are also dangerous because of the smoke they emit.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, there were many different efforts made to introduce smokeless chulhas into village homes. This effort was the result of growing awareness of the health impact of indoor pollution on women. But these campaigns slipped on to backburner. Surveys suggested that the smokeless chulhas were not being accepted. Instead of investigating why this was so, the efforts slowed down.

Of late, there has been a renewed push for smokeless chulhas. But this is being fuelled by the realisation that soot from millions of wood fires is contributing to global warming. So there are funds available now for introducing more efficient chulhas that can work on cleaner fuels.

I believe that the campaign for smokeless chulhas never found enough takers among policy makers because the issue concerned women. It is women who cook. It is women who collect fuel. Mostly they do it silently, without complaining, because they have been socialised to accept that this is their work. The men, for whom they do this day and night, also do not question because they too believe that this is “women’s work”.

As a result, the urgency of dealing with something so basic as cooking energy and clean fuel does not make its way into the air-conditioned rooms where energy policy is made. Even if it finds a voice, it is not put on the front burner, or backed by the funds and political will that could make a difference.