Livelihoods, Ecology and Climate Change, 25th August 2018


Fury of floods: shall we learn some lessons

Extraordinary tragedy in Kerala has brought into sharp focus the persistent, pervasive and profound neglect of drainage, waterbodies, conservation of catchment areas, excessive denudation of forest, and several other areas of resource management. With environmental clearance further relaxed by the Ministry of Forest and environment, such disasters are likely to recur more often and widely. The human deaths are most tragic but animal deaths are no less tragic. Let me enumerate the factors which are well known but needs restatement responsible for floods: having excessive rains in western ghat area is not extraordinary. In 1924, the rainfall was almost double but the loss was much less. Why has damage increased with less intense rainfall? The western ghats have been denuded and devastated with unbridled exploitation through mining. Gadgil Committee had suggested conservation measure which were ignored by everybody including civil society. His report was seen as anti-development. The chickens have come to roost now.

The damage in the catchment area can be easily seen through ISRO maps. The filling up of tanks and urban water bodies can also be mapped block by block through similar maps. The frequency of landslides, the turbidity of river water due to soil erosion and various other blockages of drainage can be mapped and quantified.

The point is clear: the persistent neglect of desilted tanks and cleaned up drainage channels is bound to precipitate floods with even lesser rain in future. This is a countrywide problem but Kerala is a special case because it receives already very heavy rainfall both at the time of onset and recession of monsoon.

The landslides and damage to the road are no less serious. Some of this will have a cascading effect. While rainfall cannot be managed, but its consequences can be. Post-flood several other adverse consequences for human, animal and environmental health are going to follow. The shallow water wells have been polluted by the flood, a lot of them will need cleaning and treatment. The carcass of animals which died due to floods will cause serious environmental and health problems. Collection of these carcasses and safe disposal would need a time-bound strategy. Use of DDT and such other persistent organic pollutants will be disastrous for the environment. They will further pollute the future generation through the breast milk of the mothers.

The damage to the buildings poses a challenge of disposing debris properly. The widely prevalent unfortunate practice of dumping waste in low lying areas will further clog the drainage channels. The floods will become more frequent.

The biodiversity in the western ghats helped in slowing down the flow of water and thus the rate of erosion. Higher the denudation and mining, greater the erosion and siltation of rivers and tanks and thus higher the overflow. The system of tanks all along the rivers acted as a buffer. Maharashtra recently witnessed hiring JCBs by self help groups and other NGOs to desilt the tanks before rain. The results have been extremely impressive. Kerala will have to create new rituals to take similar steps to ensure lesser fury of floods and minimal damage to property and people. Many infections will spread after flood and preventive medication for human and animal use are imperative. Rivers have dumped a lot of waste that we had put in them back into our backyards. Cleaning up of all these wastes without creating more problems requires careful thinking and application of technology and innovations in handling them.

The loss has been extraordinary and the Honey Bee Network expresses deep condolence to all the bereaved families. We feel equally sorry for the livestock and pets lost during flood. We will in fact be very disappointed if no lessons are learnt, no course correction takes place in the future policy of managing resources, drainage, conservation and sanitation. We are very optimistic that Kerala will show the way for the future transformation.

The author is founder of Honey Bee Network & visiting faculty at IIM-A

Kerala shows how floods are changing

…The crisis is a timely reminder that climate change is expected to increase the frequency and magnitude of severe flooding across the world. Although no single flood can be linked directly to climate change, basic physics attests to the fact that a warmer world and atmosphere will hold more water, which will result in more intense and extreme rainfall…

Remote sensing data shows massive erosion of forests in Kerala

Between 1973 and 2016, Kerala lost 9,06,440 hectares of forest land, more than 50% of the present forest cover, according to an Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc) study…

Kerala flood lesson for Assam: Experts

The similarity is a network of dams in the “control of other States” surrounding both the States

…‘Flood-experienced’ Assam can learn a lesson from the Kerala deluge to avoid large-scale disaster, say water resources and ecology experts in the Northeast. The experts have found a similar pattern to recurrent floods in Assam – up to four times a year between April and October – and Kerala’s worst flood in 100 years that has claimed 357 lives so far.

The most worrying similarity is a network of dams in the “control of other States” surrounding Kerala and Assam.

“We have had Kerala-like floods albeit on a smaller scale because of hydropower projects in neighbouring States and in adjoining Bhutan. Assam has been rain-deficient by 30% this year, but Golaghat district experienced flash flood due to the release of excess water by the Doyang dam in Nagaland,” Partha Jyoti Das, a water resources specialist, told The Hindu…

…Arunachal Pradesh too is wary of the impact of big dams. “The river Siang (one of three that meet to form the Brahmaputra downstream) has suffered from dams and other constructions in China upstream,” Pasighat-based green activist Vijay Taram said…

India Needs To Fix Its Flawed Water Equation

…A recent European Commission report counted more than 2 crore (200 million) boreholes in India, up from tens of thousands in the 1960s. The water table is falling on average by 0.3 meters and by as much as 4 meters in some places. Some farmers in these parched states now need to dig 300 feet (91 meters) for water, compared to five feet (1.5 meters) in the 1960s, according to research by a local government scientist. They have been drilling wells deep beneath the tilled soil into the volcanic rock — 700 feet, 800 feet, even 900 feet down. Lately, though, many farmers drill wells and find nothing at all. In some severely affected areas, bore wells as deep as 500 meters (1,640 feet) have all gone dry. The underground water level has dropped so much that there is no water at all…

India’s new compensatory afforestation rules dilute rights of forest dwellers

Forest dwellers and tribal communities may no longer play a key role in management of their forests as the new Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Rules dilute the powers of the Gram Sabhas (village councils).


Climate Change: in simple barcodes, Australia, other countries and globally

This is Australia’s climate bar code 1910-2017. The darkest blue is the coldest year, the darkest red the warmest. If there was no trend, the bars would be random…

Annual global temperatures from 1850-2017…

Australian prime minister ousted

As prime minister Malcolm Turnbull stepped down this week, he warned the ruling coalition had been captured by ideologues who made it tough to get any agreement on climate and energy policy. Roll on next year’s federal election.

On Monday, prime minister Turnbull had admitted he could not get support in his party for electricity carbon targets, weak though the proposals were. By Friday, he had been ousted.

His successor, Scott Morrison, infamously brandished a lump of coal in parliament last year. He’s no tree-hugger.

It could have been worse for the climate. Morrison narrowly defeated a candidate, Peter Dutton, who raised the alarming prospect of Australia quitting the Paris Agreement. That risk has receded.

USA and Coal

The Trump administration revealed its replacement for the US Clean Power Plan, which allows more coal pollution. It justifies the change by ignoring the cost of climate change to the rest of the world and barely valuing the impact on future generations, NYT’s Brad Plumer explains. Think Progress looks at likely legal challenges to the new rule. Miners are grateful for the support but hold no illusions about the industry’s ultimate demise, reports E&E’s Zack Colman from West Virginia.

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Arctic’s strongest sea ice breaks up for first time on record

The oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic has started to break up, opening waters north of Greenland that are normally frozen, even in summer.

This phenomenon – which has never been recorded before – has occurred twice this year due to warm winds and a climate-change driven heatwave in the northern hemisphere.

One meteorologist described the loss of ice as “scary”. Others said it could force scientists to revise their theories about which part of the Arctic will withstand warming the longest.

FAO Projections

In 2012, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said we would need to produce 60% more food by 2050. FAO’s baseline was 2005-07: they meant 60% more than in 2005-07. We’ve increased production a lot since then. 1/

60% was a price-weighted-average of all foods, with much of the cereal growth being required for meat growth. The increased production of cereals was reckoned to be 46%. But since cereals have already grown by 24%, we’re a good part of the way there already. 2/

Many people are still saying that we need to increase food production by 60%, ignoring growth in production in the last decade. Hunter et al (2017) calculate that growth in cereal yield could actually slow down and we’d still reach the goal.   3/

FAO’s forecast is based primarily on growth in population and in improvement in living standards. That is, more people overall and more middle-class people, who will demand meat. 4/

By saying we ‘must’ increase food production by this much amounts to setting this as a hard constraint, a bottom line that over-rides other considerations. 5/

Hunter et al say this faulty interpretation of the forecasts “fosters a produce-at-all-costs mentality, which may exacerbate existing environmental challenges by increasing the use of fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, and tillage.” 6/6

(Interestingly, developed and developing countries today have similar rates of food waste, but for different reasons. Countries that become richer won’t necessarily reduce their food waste).

World Water Week

Based at Colombo, International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is a non-profit, scientific research organization focusing on the sustainable use of water and land resources in developing countries.

Whereas, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) organised World Water Week (WWW – this year from 26-30 August), is a key annual focal point for discussion of global water issues. This year the theme is Water, ecosystems and human development.

In an attempt to reach beyond the walls of World Water Week and engage a wider water conscious audience, SIWI will be broadcasting a number of events live on Vimeo and Facebook throughout the week. 

Carbon Pricing 2018

Discover more about the growing momentum for carbon pricing worldwide with the “State and Trends of Carbon Pricing 2018” report. Download: 


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