ALL SET TO REDRAW ITS MAP
People struggle to find their feet as the Bay of Bengal washes away one after the other village in Satabhaya
THIS 6-METRE-TALL hand pump is testimony to the growing wrath of the sea,” says Pramila Behera, a resident of Satabhaya village in Oisha’s Kendrapara district, pointing to a bizarre structure. In the past one year, the Bay of Bengal has washed away chunks of land from the coastal village and now the pump’s water cylinder, which remains below the ground, stands exposed on the beach. The village residents have tied a rope to its handle to pump and attached a pipe at its mouth to collect water. “The sea has swallowed up to other hand pumps over the past 20 years. This one, when installed 18 years ago, was well in the middle of village. Today, it is too close to the sea and is likely to be gobbled up in a few months,” she says, adding that this is the last source of drinking water in the village. “The village’s 12 km-long beach is the fastest eroding in the state,” says Subhendra Kumar Nayak, Disaster Mitigation Authority (OSDMA).
In fact, the entire gram panchayat of Satabhaya, literally seven brothers, may soon become a thing of the past. It originally consisted of seven villages. Now, only Satabhaya and Kanhupur remain. Five others–Gobindapur, Mohanpur, Kharikula, Chintramanipur and Badagahiramatha–have been devoured by the Bay of Bengal since a massive cyclone hit Odisha in 1971, killing over 1,000 people. “More than 600 houses and 2,400 hectares (ha) of agricultural land have gone under the sea in the past 48 years,” says Maguni Raut, revenue inspector of the region. Once boasting of lush paddy fields and coconut trees, the two surviving villages are now hosts of their former selves where half-buried, decaying tree stumps greet the eye.
The first major instance of sea erosion occurred here some 30 years ago when the winter palace of Shivendra Narayan Bhanjadeo, scion of the royal family of Rajkanika, ended up in the sea. The 110-year-old Panchubarahi Upper Primary School in Satabhaya met the same fate in 2012, promoting the district authorities to build a thatched house as a substitute the next year. In 2015, that too, was washed away. This prompted the government to establish in 2016 the state’s first resettlement project for sea erosion-affected people in Bagapatia village, 12 km from Satabhaya.
Till April this year, 577 of the 650 families in the village had been shifted to the resettlement colony. The district administration has also shifted all the five village deities from the 400-year-old Panchubarahi temple to a newly built accommodation in the resettlement colony and has built a school. But people say they now face newer challenges. “So far, my daily routine has been to catch fish and crabs in the creeks of Satabhaya,” says Malati Mandal, a fisherman who shifted to the rehabilitation colony early this year. “Now, every day I walk all the way to those creeks of Satabhaya to eke out a living.”
But more worried are those who have been left out by the rehabilitation project. Unofficial estimates show some 75 families still live in Satabhaya under constant shadow of death. “The district administration denied us rehabilitation, saying they have allotted the standard 10-decimal (404.6 sq metres) plot and given the `2 lakh compensation to my father-in-law,” alleges Manorama Behera. “But we live separately and my husband should be rehabilitated separately. Now we are stranded in Satabhaya without neighbours and relatives.” District Collector Dasarathi Satpathy says the problems has crept in because the rehabilitation was done based on the Census 2011. The government is trying its best to provide lands to all the affected families.
Till then, relocation within the village has become the safest way to escape the fury of the sea. “Every night, the constant roaring of the sea strikes fear into my heart,” says Mahesh Sahani of Kanhupur village. He has shifted his house five times in the past three decades and yet lives barely 3 km from it. People who have traditionally depended on paddy farming, have switched over to fishing or shrimp cultivation after saline water rendered agriculture lands infertile.
Grazing fields are also turning saline. “Our village has lost over 6 ha of pasture,” says Rasmita Sahani, Sarpanch of Satabhaya. “People here have been known for making money by selling milk, cheese and curd. In fact, till two years ago, the residents used to get sufficient milk from around 400 cows and buffaloes. Now, we have only 100 milch animals left,” she says, sitting in her residence-cum-office at Bagapatia rehabilitation colony.
Efforts to beef up coastline
So far, Odisha has lost 153.8 km, or 28 per cent, of its coastline due to coastal erosion, shows a study by the National Centre for Coastal Research, released in July 2018 (see ‘Climate assault’ on p60). This has dealt a massive blow to the state government’s plan to promote beach tourism. The beaches at Satabhaya, Pentha, Agarnasi, Hukitola, Eakakula, Madali, Habalikothi and Puri are losing charm as tourist spots. Disappearing and shrinking beaches at several other coasts are causing loss of work for fishing communities.
“Transition is imminent everywhere. Rising sea level coupled with change in wind patterns are causing high tidal waves and inundating coasts for a longer period of time,” says Ananta Kumar Sahoo, senior ecologist working on the World Bank-sponsored Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project launched in 2010 to build national coastal management capacity. As part of the programme, Garware Technical Fibres Ltd in Pune constructed a 505-metre long geosyntheitc wall two years ago at a cost of `32 crore to protect Pentha village in Kendrapara from tidal waves, cyclones and tsunami. “This is the state’s first such experiment. Its success will pave the way for other such projects in erosion-prone areas,” Sahoo says.
MOUNTAINS PLAY HOCUS-FOCUS
Climate change has reduced grass cover, forcing nomadic communities to alter their age-old tour patterns and profession
THE GADDIS of Himachal Pradesh are grass chasers. For ages, this 0.2 million-strong nomadic community has spent half the year traveling up the Himalayas and the other half travelling downhill. “In summers, when the snow melts in the mountains, we head upwards with our cattle, and in winters we tour the lower reaches. However, there has been a sharp decline in grazing land in the past decade,” Says 65-year-old Ajit Ram, a member of the Gaddi community in Karnathu village of Kangra district.
According to the India Meteorologidcal Department, Kangra has not received its average annual rainfall of 2,020 mm since 2004.the deficit has vari3ed from 200 mm to 800 mm. between 2013 and 2017, the deficit in winter precipitation has been 40-100 per cent. These changes in rain and snowfall patterns have reduced availability of grass and as a result, the routes and stay duration of Gaddis’ nomadic tours have undergone a change.
“It is September. They should have returned last month. But look around, can you see any livestock? Due to a shortage of grass, they have to stay there longer,” says Ram. He is referring to the group of five-odd people that left for Raigahar, which is 5,000m above sea level, but has not yet returned.
Earlier, the entire menfolk of the village used to travel, but now four-five people go on these tours and take with them sheep and goats of all the village residents. In bargain, they get to keep the lambs born in the six-month duration. Till 2010, Ram had 200 sheep, but gave up nomadic life because finding grass in the higher altitudes was too strenuous for him.
“The increase in stay duration has also led to overgrazing, which can loosen the soil and trigger landslides,” says Akshay Jasrotia, advisor to Himachal Ghumantu Pashupalak Mahasabha, an organization formed in Kangra by pastoral communities in 2017 to draw attention to their problems.
The tour schedules and the places of stay of nomadic communities are fixed and have remained so for ages. The Gaddis of Kangra, for instance, would stay at Tatwani hills for 15 days. “But over the past few years, they camp there for two months because grass is available,” say Naval Kishor of Karnathu.
“Not only has the duration of stay changed, nomads are now going even higher up in the mountain,” says Ranvir Singh Rana, principal scientist at the department of agronomy and grassland management, Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University (HPAU), Palampur. “The Gaddis of Mandi district would earlier go up to a height of 3,000m, near the Trilokpuri pass in Lahaul Spiti district. Now they go up higher, up to 4,000m, because the Trilokpuri pass is not blocked due to snow anymore and grass is available even higher up,” says Rana.
“The loss of grasslands has also triggered conflicts. Sometimes, the livestock stray and destroy standing crops,” says Prakash Bhandari, a forest rights activist with Himdhara, a Kangra based non-profit.
“The decline in snowfall has also doubled the area under cultivation in Lahoul Sptit from 1 to 2 per cent in the last decade. Earlier, we would witness snowfall even in November and March. Now it just snows in December and January,” says Rana. But access to bountiful supply of grass comes at a cost. “More livestock die in the upper reaches of the mountain,” says Nihal Chand, a pastoralist of Chherna village in Kangra. “Grasses found in higher altitudes are not very nutritious. This could be behind the increased incidence of livestock deaths,” says P K Dogra, a veterinarian in Palampur. “We cannot go to higher altitudes to check the cause of death. The government is planning to provide GPS devices to pastoralist to track their route so that the eating patterns of the livestock can be analysed,” he says.
“The decline in rain and snow has made the higher altitudes warmer. Since warmer temperatures are conducive for the growth of Lantana and Eupatorium, these weeds are spreading from lower Himalayas to mid-range mountains like Dhaulagiri,” says Navin Kumar, principal scientist at HPAU.
Small wonder, the Livestock Census 2012 suggests a decline in livestock population. Their number in Himachal Pradesh was 5.10 million in 1992 but reduced to 4.84 million in 2012. The decline in the number of sheep has been a stunning 25 per cent–from 1.07 million to 0.80 million. The same could be the fate of nomadic and pastoral communities.
EITHER ADAPT OR PERISH
As desert receives more rains, big farmers experiment with cash crops; small and marginal abandon farming
FOT THE first time in nearly 50 years, Mohan Lal was determined to go against his traditional wisdom and grow mung (green gram) this kharif. So did several farmers in his village Sodawas in Pali district. Traditionally, the arid district along Thar desert received good rainfall once in every three years. Accordingly, say farmers, they would grow millets for three years and then mung or sesame for a year.
“But of late, Pali has been receiving heavy rainfall. Besides this year, the government hiked the minimum support price for kharif crops, and we ant3d to cash in on these,” says Lal, who grew mung on 2 ha. But a sudden spell of unexpected rain in the last week of September played spoilsport. For the crop, which would have been harvested in about a week. “My entire crop has turned black,” say Lal, adding that last year, too, heavy floods damaged his standing mund crop.
“Over the past three years, the amount of rainfall has almost doubled in the region. Earlier, the annual average used to be around 400 millimetres (mm),” says Deepak Gupta, scientist at the Jodhpur-based Central Arid Zone Research Institute. Due to heavy downpour, Pali and Jalore witnessed massive floods last year. To tackle such unprecedented events, Pali’s disaster management department for the first time acquired boats and life jackets. The state government is also looking for trained swimmers for joining its relief force.
Increased rainfall has also given rise to pest infestation. “Some pests like whitefly, which did not pose any major threat to crops earlier, is now causing excessive damage. The instances of wilt infection in cumin and chickpea; and powdery mildew, a fungal disease among mustard, have also gone up. In fact, we have been observing a rise in these diseases over the past four to five years. The population of aphids, small sap-sucking insects, is also increasing,” says Singh. Rabi crops like wheat fare no better. Their sowing is now a delayed affair as temperatures of western Rajasthan continue to remain high even after the end of August. A warmer climate makes crops prone to spotted bug infestation.
Dheeraj Singh, scientist at the Krishi Vigyan Kendra in Pali, says currently, the region gets more rainfall spread over a lesser number of days. “Since the region’s soil type does not allow easy percolation, heavy rains lead to waterlogging in the fields and do more harm than good to the crops.”
Gupta says the impact of changing climate is evident on the region’s vegetation. In the past 15 years, when the rainfall pattern has become highly unpredictable, rohida (Tecomella undulate) and khejri (Prosopis cineraria) trees have started flowering earlier–almost by a month.
From millets to cash crops
Troubled by unpredictability of weather, farmers are turning to horticulture crops that can be sustained through techniques like drip irrigation. “Pomegranate is one such crop that has piqued the interest of many farmers in western Rajasthan in the past six to seven years,” says Ramavtar Chaudhary, deputy director, horticulture department in Pali. Data with the agriculture department shows areas under the crop in Pali has increased by 78 per cent from just 15 ha in 2011. “The profit margin is huge,” says Moredhwaj Singh, Services in Jaipur, which provides technical knowhow to interested farmers. A farmer can earn up to `8 lakh from a hectare of the crop, he says.
There is a downside to the success story. This new wonder crop is being mostly taken up b affluent farmers. “Growing pomegranate involves a long-term investment of `4-5 lakh per ha. The saplings are expensive and farmers need to set up drip irrigation system. The saplings take at least three years to mature and yield. I don’t have that kind of money,” says Bhola Ram, a farmer from Sodawas.
As part of coping mechanism, small farmers are tuning to livestock rearing. “As per preliminary observation, we have witnessed an increase in cattle population,” says Hari Singh, animal husbandry officer of Pali. Warns Gupta: Too much dependence on livestock can create problems in a region where soil organic carbon content is low. In case of prolonged dry spells, overgrazing can further decrease soil productivity.
CUISINE, CULTURE TAKE A HIT
Flood amid drought triggers heavy siltation in rivers; fragments communities
Weather is changing and so is naamsing,” retorts Renu Pegu of Hapekhati village on being asked about a fish recipe, relished exclusively by the Mising fishing community of Assam. People in her village, located on the banks of the Dhansiri river which flows along Kaziranga National Park, prepare the delicacy fro locally available minnows and 60 wild herbs, including turmeric, yam and siju (spurge leaves). They say the nutritional content of naamsing is comparable to chhurpi, a hard cheese consumed by yak herders of Tibet. “It also helps prepare a quick meal after a hard day’s work,” says Renu, who helps her husband in running a paan shop.
Minnows start rotting within half-an-hour of landing. So the Mising usually store them after drying. “For preparing naamsing, we crush the dried fish into a paste along with the herbs and stuff it in bamboo stumps, which are then sealed with leaves and clay from the river bank. At the time of preparation we simply scoop out the paste, mix with water, add salt to it and let it boil for a few minutes. Till a few years ago, Renu and her family used to relish naamsing with rice almost every day. “These days I make it only occasionally,” she says.
Elaborates her husband Jatin, “Like most other fishes, minnows have become a rarity in the Dhansiri. Till about five years ago, I could catch more than 5 kg of minnwos within an hour of casting net. I had set up a counter next to my paan shop for selling the excess catch. Now, I do not get a kg of fish even after spending the entire day I the river.” Bothka Doley, an experienced jalua (one who casts nets) from the village blames changing rainfall pattern for the dwindling catch. “The production cycle of fish is closely linked to rainfall and floods.”
On an average, Assam receives the third highest rainfall in the country and experiences there waves of floods during the six-month rainy season that begins in April. As the rivers swell they connect the numerous waterbodies, rivulets and streams along the course. Dring pre-monsoon floods, when the Dhansiri is in spate, schools of fish migrate towards the Kaziranga National Park, whose 300-odd waterbodies serve as hatchery and nursery waterbodies sereve as hatchery and nursery for fish and other aquatic fauna. They return along with the new batches towards the end of June, when the river swells again and the water bodies spill over. “This is when we cast our nets around the mouth of the tributaries from the park and get a god catch,” says Doley. This cycle has broken in recent years.
The detailed project report for Climate change Mitigation submitted by Kaziranga National Park authorities to the Union environment ministry in 2016 states that the annual rainfall has decreased by 2.96 mm per year between 1951 and 2010. During this period, the mean temperature in the state has increased by 0.01oC per year, with pronounced warming during post-monsoon months and winters. Due to this changing climate and decrease in annual rainfall, there has been an increase in extreme rainfall events that are causing flash floods, says the document.
Natural floods are boon to the community, says Pranab Doley, advisor to Jeepal Krishak Sramik Sangha, a local farmers’ and marginalized rights organization. But the community is now worried about the changing intensity and frequency of floods and the amount of sediments they carry.
Consider this. This year, Golaghat received 30 per cent deficit rainfall and was experiencing a drought-like situation. In August, 116 villages in Bokakhat sub-division of the district got inundated within a span of three days, following heavy rainfall and landslips in upstream Nagaland. The met department of Nagaland. The met department of Nagaland recorded 348 per cent excess rainfall in July alone. Experts say similar instances of flashfloods during droughts were also witnessed in 2009 and 2011, when the state recorded 20 and 30 per cent deficit rainfall.
“Floodwater laden with sediments is not suitable for spawning, and thus affects the post-monsoon catch,” says bothka Doley. Desperate by the situation, some are catching the fish migrating for spawning, ignoring fish migrating for spawning, ignoring a fishing ban from April to July on the rivers and waterbodies in the vicinity of the park. The dwindling catch has also dissuaded fish traders who camp on the sand bars at Dhansiri Mukh, where the Dhansiri meets the Brahmaputra, with large nets, own team of fishers for three to four months post monsoon. “Fish from Kaziranga is a prized catch. But it has now reduced by 2,000 to 3,000 kg,” says Momin Ali, a trader from Goalpara who comes to Dhansiri Mukh every year. “Earlier, at least 20 traders used to camp here. This year, only five have come,” he adds.
Side effects of siltation
Heavy rainfall and increasing siltation load in the river has also changed the taste of naamsing and a traditional self-governance system. “Earlier we would wait for the land to emerge from the floods. The ideal way to dry fish is to spread it on the white sand in the winter,” says 76-year-old Holiram Miri of Rajabari village. But now, due to heavy siltation load, the river is changing its course frequently. Miri relocated nine times since 1977. As many as five villages in Bokakhat sub-division had to move away from the Dhanisiri and the Brahmaputra since 1999. “Most displaced people are living on the embankments. Here, we do not have enough space to dry the fish,” he adds.
The 2015 report of the Centre for Natural Disaster Management, Assam Administrative Staff college, says a combination of actors, both natural and anthropogenic, contribute to flooding in the state. The primary reason, however, remains that surplus water generated by Assam’s dynamic monsoon regime is no longer draining away through the earth’s natural channels or old river courses due to the altered physiographic setting of the Brahmaputra basin after 1950,” it states.
Worse, the communities have already lost their traditional system of cooperation and resilience, called rikbo-ginam. Under the system, explains Miri, the entire community would come to the rescue of a family if it needs help for, say, sowing or harvesting paddy or ferrying stranded livestock from a flooded area. In return, the affected family contributes to the community food basket which is used in times of calamity. “Now we have no one to fall back on,” he says.
THE PROBLEM OF PLENTY
Regular rains in Gujarat’s arid Banni grassland force Maldharis to take up farming; an internal feud erupts
FIFTY FIVE-year-old Khan Mohammed Abdarman is a proud Maldhari, one of India’s oldest pastoral communities that has lived a nomadic life in Gujarat’s arid Banni grassland for over 500 years. But in 2007, he decided to do the unthinkable-to settle down and do farming. “The decision was difficult, but it had to be taken as I was unable to feed my cattle, who we consider our family members,” says Abdarman, who today grows guar and jowar in 20 hectares. He says it was the only way he could adapt to the sudden increase in rainfall in the arid grassland, which is home to more than 40,000 Maldharis.
He explains that the increase in rainfall meant the grassland got taken over by Prosopis juliflora, an invasive species that was introduced in the area in the 19505. The species, locally called gando baval, literally, the crazy growing tree, today covers almost 55 per cent of the grassland, spanning over 2,500 sq km. This has led to an acute shortage of fodder. Interestingly, the rains made the arid region conducive to farming.
“Traditionally, the region received rainfall every four years. Starting 20000, it has been raining almost every year,” says Pankal Joshi, executive director of local non-profit Sehjevan. Ovee Thorat, researcher with Bengaluru-based Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), says the last long dry spell in the region was seen between 1970 and 1980. Data with the Bhuj Metrological Observatory shows that the area today receives 1.4 times more rainfall than the average in 1991-2000.
While changing rain pattern sets the stage for agriculture, other factors pushed the Maldharis to bring the land under plough. “Around 2008, the forest department started to cut plots in the reserve to stop ingress of saline water from the neighbouring salt mash of Rann of Kachchh. The community viewed the move as a way to lay claim on the grassland over which they have traditional ownership,” says Thorat. The fear was further fuelled because the state government is yet to give community forest rights (CFR) to the Maldharis under the Forest Rights Act 2006, he says. The community, in 2012, filed for 47 CFR claims. Today, farming is being carried out in over 17,000 ha, which is roughly 7 per cent of the reserve.
The sudden surge in farming has divided the community. In May this year, Banni Breeders Association, a local organization of Maldharis working to conserve the grassland, filed a petition in the National Green Tribunal against rampant farming. On July 11, the tribunal told the forest and revenue department to stop all agricultural activity in the grassland.
“We have been rearing cattle for generations. That is what we do. In the past five or six years, farming has become rampant. This is not good for community as we are not like the settled agriculturists,” says Salam Hasham Halepotra of Hodko village. He owns around 100 buffaloes. He says from being an area where resources was communally owned, people are staking individual claim on the grassland by converting those into agricultural lands. Last year, Misriyara panchayat in eastern Banni region asked the district collector to intervene and through a public meeting made the encroachers stop farming. “To save the farmlands, they started digging trenches around the field where our buffaloes would often fall and die. Our estimate is that the community was losing over 200 animals every year due to the trenches. So we had to stop it,” says Bhuddha Hazi Khamisha, sarpanch of the panchayat.
Farming is destroying not only the community, but also the ecology of the grassland. “Banni’s landscape, like any other ecologically sensitive area, has reached here through a long process of successive natural changes. Agriculture will tip the balance and reduce the nature’s ability to restore the land. Once ploughed, the soil is exposed to erosion due to the sea breeze. Over the time, only the lower alkaline soil layers will be left. Then nothing will grow here,” warns Joshi.
“The wind velocity during summer is very high in Banni. If the land is ploughed, the high rate of top soil erosion will lead to desertification,” says Vijay Kumar, director, Gujarat Institute of Desert Ecology.
SINKING CHAIN OF ATOLLS
Coastal erosion and El Niño are slowly eating up India’s most vulnerable archipelago
I HAVE lost almost half of my land in the past 20 years, but the government does not even have data regarding how much land is being lost and how much is being added,” says M M Hassan, resident of Androth, one of the 11 inhabited islands in Lakshadweep. His neighbour Fatullah Thangal says it is a desperate situation on the island that is fast going under the sea. “Just like that, within 20 years, around a third of my land has been swallowed by the sea. I can see it go, but I am helpless,” says Thangal. The story is equally harrowing for the 64,000 people residing on the chain of islands, where the slow invasion of the sea is more real than numbers could describe.
The archipelago has already lost one of the uninhabited islands, Parali I, realized R M Hidayathulla while working on five uninhabited islands of Lakshadweep for his doctoral degree. In his thesis, published in July last year, he says Parali I, one of the 36 islands in Lakshadweep, had an area of 0.032 sq km in 1968, but today it is “completely eroded”. Apart from Parali I, net erosion was highest in Parali II (80 per cent), followed by Thinnakara (14.38 per cent), Parali III (11.42 per cent) and Bangaram (9.97 per cent). Even the Fifth Assessment Report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in two parts in 2013 and 2014, unequivocally states that sea level rise and associated coastal erosion is the most widely recognized and serious threat posed by climate change. It says while the average rate of sea level increase over the 20th century was between 1.3 and 1.7 mm per year, the rate has doubled since 1993. The rate of rise has followed a similar pattern around Lakshadweep too, where the sea level rise has been up to 0.6 m in the past 20 years. For the island, where the average elevation is 1-2 m above sea level, this is alarming and could imply complete submergence. It has lost 5 per cent landmass between 1989 and 2006, suggests ISRO’s Shoreline Change Atlas in 2014. The situation is particularly bad in the southeastern and southwestern islands of the group, the atlas indicates.
Erosion is not the only challenge for the island, which is on top of corals. El Niño events of 1998, 2010 and 2016 have weakened the coral colonies, warns a study published in Springer in September. The report, “Coral reefs respond to repeated ENSO events with increasing resistance but reduced recovery capacities in the Lakshadweep archipelago”, suggests that absolute coral cover has reduced by around 40 per cent during the period. The deteriorating health of Lakshadweep’s reefs is disastrous and requires careful planning for development and infrastructure.
This realization, though, is yet to be acted on by the administration. A 2014 report submitted by a panel led by Justice R V Raveendran to the Supreme Court says there has been “flagrant disregard to the fragile ecosystem of the island in the developmental priorities and projects that have been undertaken on the islands”. The report adds that poorly planned infrastructure and coastal embankments have increased erosion. “Lakshadweep’s landmass depends on sediments of sand and gravel that are transported and deposited, mainly during the southwest monsoon, from other places. Human construction has altered these flows and this is compounding the effects of climate change,” says Idrees Babu, a scientist with the Department of Science and Technology of Lakshadweep in Kavaratti.