Water crisis of east & west Punjab

Both sides will have to rise above politics and focus on the water crisis, which requires difficult and bitter solutions.

As the long hot summer sizzles, one’s thoughts in Lahore and Amritsar turn to water. It is scarce on both sides of the border. When the British finally and fully took over the Punjab in 1849, their thoughts turned to the possibility of engineering for agriculture. In the 1860s, they built the first canal in the Gurdaspur-Amritsar area. During 1880-1920, they built the great canal colonies, in west Punjab. Life-giving water was spread over the Baars, pushing back forever the great story of herdsman Ranjha and the peerless Heer. The open scrub lands dotted with Kikar and lusty rivers were replaced with wheat and cotton fields, and vast citrus gardens. The graziers disappeared. Sikh farmers having little land in the impoverished east went west, and by the 1930s, they became fat and prosperous zamindars. Sadly, just when the fruits were coming, they were pushed back east.

The political battle of the 1940s was also a battle for land. Someone told me in Lahore once “we are land rich.” They added to their holdings, howsoever. In the east, Tarlok Singh, ICS, devised the graded cut for Nehru to settle far too many farmers, on much less land. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Punjabis, helped with cooperative loans, sank nine lakh shallow tubewells, built the Bhakra, and created the Green Revolution. I remember in my Amritsar village, sweet water was available at just 15 feet in the well; by our land passed a small canal, perfectly designed by the British. In summer, we grew green, sweet-smelling lucerne and other fodders, and the buffaloes yielded plenty of milk. In west Punjab, the farmers did not share the land bounty fairly. The few at the top took the most. But still in their skewed farm sociology, they prospered with good harvests, more citrus orchards and plenty of water to waste.

A woman walks with a bucket to fetch water on the outskirts of Amritsar, Punjab. "Both Punjabs should face up to the water crisis, with courage and steady application of science."

In the new century, all this changed. In 1960, Jawaharlal Nehru and Ayub Khan signed the Indus Waters Treaty in Karachi, mediated by World Bank president Eugene Black. For 50 years, this worked well for both Punjabs. Both built the Bhakra, the Beas, and the Tarbela dams, and expanded irrigation. My Punjab added nine lakh tubewells through cooperatives. The other Punjab failed with the public sector tubewells, and remains largely dependent on canal water.

Sixty years have drastically reduced the comfort of 1950 on both sides. In Pakistan, the population growth from 50 million to 175 million has put an unacceptable burden. This has reduced the water availability per capita, per year, from 5,000 cubic feet in 1960 to 1,500 today. In our Punjab too, the population has increased over 60 years but at a lesser rate. In 1947, in east Punjab, 6,000 cubic metres of potable water was available per person, per year. Now it is only 1,600 cubic metres. It is estimated to fall further to 1,147 cubic metres in 2050. However, the nine lakh shallow tubewells now dangle dry. The rich have started digging deep to 300 ft or more with submersible pumps to grab water. Small farmers who predominate cannot afford the cost and their wells are drying up. One deep tubewell will dry up a hundred around it. The water table has gone far down, and this situation will lead to social tension. We read every day that 95 per cent of east Punjab’s development blocks are in the grey area, for tubewells. In southern Punjab, and some other pockets, the underground water, in any case, is salty. West Punjab too faces these grave questions.

As a child I went to Sargodha in west Punjab to stay in the new lands. The land, the cattle and the people smiled. Now I read of Ghanzafar Ali, a farmer in Chak 95, Sargodha, and his woes. He says the water crisis means life and death to him. He does not get his regular supply. He cannot grow fodder and the cattle starve in summer. There are extended closures of the canal. According to him, the crisis is in the entire State, but particularly bad in Sargodha-Faislabad. He worries about the weather changes, and laments, “we are tied to river water, dams, rainfall and tubewells. You take away the river water, and this place will turn into a wilderness it once was.” This is what Calvert, ICS, warned of in 1928 in his classic book, The Wealth and Welfare of the Punjab. In Lahore, aggressive leaders challenge the IWT and accuse India of not being fair. Swiss arbitrators are brought in to adjudicate. The Americans with their satellite studies have recently put out ominous reports, of severe and steady groundwater depletion, in both Punjabs, and western Uttar Pradesh. In a convocation address at the Punjab Agriculture University in Ludhiana on November 5, 1998, I warned that there would be a crisis and tension within and without on the question of water. We see it already and I worry about the situation 10 years hence with more population, more demands, more anxiety and hysteria.

What should the two Punjabs do? What should my Punjab do? I know we will have to rise above, and beyond, politics and focus on the crisis, which requires difficult and bitter solutions. Scientific solutions exist, and more can be found. But they will have to be applied with a will, and firmness, over long periods, to make any visible difference. As Development Commissioner, Punjab, from 1985 to 1988, I visualised that the time had come to license and regulate tubewell sinking, including the permissible depth. All must share fairly, and not take the maximum, by means of wealth and power. I also felt that it was very easy, in the computer age, to monitor all nine lakh tubewells all the time to know the depletion and recharge; to be able to plan and administer the fair share and use of groundwater. I would appoint a High Commissioner, for Ground Water Management, for the Punjab, with full scientific staff, and powers, reporting only to the Chief Minister. He should also present an annual detailed written report to the Assembly. A more balanced crop plan has to be insisted upon. I had said in Ludhiana that the Punjab is not a great agriculture State. It is only a grain growing factory, and factories have lockouts. We are facing one now.

In our Punjab, we faced an unprecedented crisis when far too many people returned from the west to be settled on too little of poor quality land. We created a new Punjab which, since 1966, has been providing the surplus for the country to avoid imports. If we face up to this new crisis, in the new century, we can certainly overcome it. Like Israel, let us use the full scientific knowledge of the world to lay out an efficient system of water usage. Our British canals are in a state of collapse and flood irrigation will not do. We also need to have a more balanced crop regime. This requires revival of the Punjab Agricultural University and making it efficient. As for my friends in west Punjab, they should, as their Foreign Minister said, stop wasting 40 per cent of the canal water, rely on their collective will and effort, and not allow people to mislead them with the comfort that they have no shortcomings and that others are to blame. Both Punjabs should face up to the water crisis, with courage and steady application of science. Else, they will be in trouble which won’t go away.

(Dr. M.S. Gill is Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports.) – From THE HINDU


Stop dumping plastics in canals – EcoWaste

Green advocates appealed to the public Sunday to stop the disposal of plastic bags along waterways after heavy rains again triggered flashfloods in the metropolis last Friday.

As the country braces for severe storms and accompanying floods, the EcoWaste Coalition asked the public to prevent disposing of plastic bags that clog waterways especially during the rainy season.

EcoWaste coordinator Rei Panaligan said the flashfloods in some portions of Metro Manila last Friday was reminiscent of the floods caused by tropical storm “Ondoy” last year.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) earlier warned that a repeat of storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” is likely with the prevalence of the La Niña event this year.

Based on the US National Weather Service (NWS), most climate models predict a transition from El Niño by June to the onset of La Niña conditions by July to September 2010.

EcoWaste also noted that, “carelessly thrown plastic bags block the drainage systems and waterways and will find their way into the country’s biggest ‘landfill,’ the Manila Bay, causing massive marine pollution.”

“Let us not forget the lessons of Ondoy and together cut our waste size, starting with single-use plastic bags,” Panaligan said.

The group urged Filipinos to reject all forms of littering and dumping, reduce trash and make it a habit to separate discards at source for reusing, recycling and composting.

A study by EcoWaste and Greenpeace show that synthetic plastic materials constitute 76 percent of the floating trash items in Manila Bay, with plastic bags comprising 51 percent; sachets and junk food wrappers, 19 percent; Styrofoam containers, five percent; and hard plastics, one percent.

The rest of the rubbish found in Manila Bay consisted of rubber (10 percent) and biodegradable discards (13 percent).

Another study published in 2009 by the US-based Ocean Conservancy revealed that 679,957 of over 1.2 million pieces of marine litter of various types that were gathered in seaside areas during the 2008 International Coastal Clean-Up Day in the country were plastic bags.

From MB

The big city in the jungle

The tourism industry in India has grown rapidly, especially during the past decade. It now contributes nearly nine per cent of the GDP and more than 6 per cent of total employment can be attributed to tourism, with eco-tourism as the fastest growing sector. Although a fairly new concept, it is hardly surprising that India, which boasts incredible natural biodiversity, is looking to expand in this sector. However, uncontrolled expansion can lead to extinction of the very world we are looking to promote.

Traditionally, eco-tourism is viewed as responsible, ‘friendly’ travel to natural areas that causes minimal damage to the environment, while sustaining and promoting the well-being of the local people and wildlife. This is an ideal that is often far removed from reality.

For eco-tourism to succeed, the government and organisations involved must strive to enhance the positive effects that eco-friendly tourism can have upon wildlife, while minimising the drawbacks that are inevitable if the local people and the environment are not at the forefront of the initiative. To some extent, the tiger census will provide a measure of how far eco-tourism has actually progressed.

There is no doubt that eco-tourism can make a difference to wildlife. One of the most noted examples is the Bandhavagarh National Park, a highly developed eco-tourism forest, which boasts a staggeringly high density of tigers — 1 in 5 sq km — in its tourism zone. This is not a lone example. Nearly every park in India popular with tourists has a thriving wildlife population. One reason that tourism has such an immediate impact is its negative effect on poaching. There is increased awareness, from lodge owners, conservationists and forest officials to preserve their livelihoods, so their vigilance against poachers, and other such local conservation deterrents increases.

On the other hand, in national parks without tourists, there are also few animals, and of course, no tourist will visit a national park that is devoid of its animals. So what is the problem? Wildlife numbers are seemingly increasing, poaching is down and it should follow that eco-tourists are happy. For the moment this is perhaps true, but in the long-term, this is more doubtful.

As eco-tourism expands, the demands on ‘eco-lodges’ increases and an increasing number of resorts are built, at the expense of the wilderness and the natural resources that are supposedly at the heart of eco-tourism. Such expansion also introduces ‘big city’ competition, followed by an inevitable decline in the ‘eco-friendliness’ of the resorts.

Kalyan Varma, a renowned wildlife photographer and naturalist suggests, “There is nothing ‘eco’ about many resorts. They pollute, pull out of ground water and sometimes even use round-the-clock generators.” Contrary to the nature of eco-tourism, resorts are an introduction of urbanisation to the wilderness.

The expansion of such resorts increases the strain on the already haphazard management of some parks. For instance, a Junior Tiger Task Force report found that there were up to 18 vacant forest guard posts. At one point in 2008, 3 of 5 posts for senior officials were vacant in the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve. Eco-tourism, without definitive management will not be ‘friendly’ to anyone in the near future. Another problem is that many parks do not have regulatory or standardised guidelines for crowds. During peak seasons, they are invariably overflowing with tourists, transforming the park into a circus melee.

Such numbers are unmanageable, and safaris become akin to a race, where the Bengal Tigers — supposedly one of the great treasures and symbols of India — surrounded by masses of jeeps, placing stress on the animal. Some parks may become less a national park and more a drive-through zoo. Is this the compromise that must be made to keep the tiger alive?

One of the main aims of eco-tourism is to support the local economy. Surely, with eco-tourism growing rapidly, this is the least of our worries? Unfortunately, all the money a national park earns from eco-tourism is redirected to a central India trust fund. Similarly, much of the employment is directed away from local communities. In many cases, even if a resort employs locals, it is mostly for unskilled labour like cleaning and is not truly empowering. In the true eco-resorts, there are dedicated training programmes and a determination to train locals for employment.

When I went to Kabini Jungle Lodges last summer, it was heartening to see the local community employed in its daily functioning — a fine example of eco-tourism. The locals are trained in a range of skills from cooking to working as naturalists. Indeed, some villagers may be familiar with the forests and have an unparalleled knowledge of the wildlife and its surroundings.

Ultimately, it is the guide on a safari that can boost a tourist’s trip. Local people have the potential to be an invaluable knowledge source. The eco-tourism industry should design and fund a programme that will be fully empowering to the local population, tourists and eco-tourism as a whole.

A rapidly growing field in the tourism sector, careful management and guidance of its expansion is necessary for eco-tourism’s long-term success. As it stands, the traditional aim of eco-tourism exists only as an ideal. Fortunately, solutions do exist. International certification programmes similar to those introduced in South America by the Rainforest Alliance could be implemented in the short-term to allow tourists to make more informed choices before choosing a resort.

This would hand over some responsibility to the tourists themselves and hopefully relay the importance of this issue back to the industry. But eco-tourism in India can only truly survive if regulations and guidelines encompass more sustainable, long-term solutions, rather than focusing on GDP figures that place high value on the number of resorts and its tourists. Quality of resorts, not numbers is what matters.

— The writer is a medical student based in Britain.

rohitsrini89@gmail.com – Express Buzz

WWF-India meet in Kerala on responsible wood trade and forest certification

WWF- India in association with the Malabar Chamber of Commerce hosted the global multi stakeholder meet on responsible wood trade and forest certification here on Thursday.

The conference is aimed at understanding the various approaches for responsible wood trade.

The conference saw the participation of SME’s across India, international experts on wood trade and certification, wood processors, forest and plantation managers, farm forestry/agro forestry growers, timber traders, paper and pulp companies, retailers dealing with wood and non-wood forest products, NGOs, certification bodies, financial institutions, builders, architects and relevant government agencies.

Business to business meetings were also conducted amongst the companies committed to promote responsible wood trade and credible forest certification.

WWF-India is a partner in implementing the project “Sustainable and Responsible Trade Promoted to Wood Processing SMEs through Forest and Trade Networks in China, India and Vietnam” with the support of the European Commission.

A major objective of this project in India is to build capacity among SMEs in wood processing sectors of Kerala, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh towards providing certified sustainable forest products to national and international markets. By Juhan Samuel (ANI)

From Sify

No global warning processes in Antarctic: Explorer

ST PETERSBURG: Allegations about global warming processes in the Antarctic have nothing to do with real facts, a Russian polar explorer has said.

“They are of opportunistic and time-serving character, and have nothing to do with the real weather and climate on the southern continent,” Head of Russia’s 54th Antarctic expedition Viktor Venderovich told Itar-Tass.

“The past summer on the south pole was cold and windy, and ice floes in the offshore water failed to melt over the entire season.

“The atmospheric air temperature near the Vostok station deep on the continent reached the customary minus 70 degrees Centigrade in the summer, and near the Novolazarevskaya station it never exceeded minus 6-8 degrees,” he said after staying at the Novolazarevskaya station for a year.

The previous winter in the Antarctic, he said, “was remarkable for its unusual severity, with blizzards and snowstorms.”

The average air temperature was 0.5 degrees lower than usual, and there were too much snow, he said, adding that a “slight warming was registered only on the Antarctic peninsula, while the rest of the continent has not been affected by the global warning and is not going to be.”

From TOI

Chemicals in plastic may pose cancer risk

Plastics and food containers lay scattered in Cubbon park in Bangalore. Bisphenol A (BPA), which is found in plastic bottles, reusable food containers, and food cans, is ubiquitous in industrialized nations and is linked to cancer. File Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Scientists have described the cancer-causing effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which have hormone-like effects in the body. The researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine said that although the health-threatening effects are known to a vast extent, more complex strategies for studying how these chemicals affect health are required.

“The strength and breadth of existing research on the negative effects of EDCs, including bisphenol A, warrants immediate action to reduce EDC exposure, particularly among the developing fetus and women of reproductive age,” said author Carlos Sonnenschein, MD, professor in the department of anatomy and cellular biology at Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM).

Experts say that studies in rodents show that EDCs can cause harm if exposure happens during organ formation as opposed to exposures during adulthood.

“The evidence indicates that exposure to BPA and other EDCs may contribute to diseases that manifest during adult life, such as increased cancer rates in the industrialized world. These chemicals have also been linked to obesity, altered behavior, and infertility,” said author Ana Soto, MD, professor in the department of anatomy and cellular biology at TUSM.

BPA, which is found in plastic bottles, reusable food containers, and food cans, is ubiquitous in industrialized nations and is linked to cancer.

“EDCs act additively and their effects are dependent upon exposure and context, making them inherently complex to study. New mathematical modeling tools and computer simulations will provide a more precise understanding of how these chemicals interact with each other and within the body at different stages of life,” said Sonnenschein.

The article is published online on May 25 in Nature Reviews Endocrinology. – From THE HINDU

Biodiversity challenges ahead

The world needs to act quickly to counter the erosion of species. The task is particularly important for India, one of the 12 mega-biodiversity centres.

May 22 marked the International Day for Biological Diversity. It commemorates the adoption of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that day in 1992. As of December 2009, exactly 192 countries and the European Commission were signatories to it. This year has been declared the International Year of Biodiversity.

Biological estimates suggest that the number of species may be 10 times those described so far. Plant and animal species from major families are still being discovered in rainforests. Photo: K. Murali Kumar

The term biodiversity denotes the variability of life forms on earth. It is a vital resource that needs to be assiduously conserved as it holds the key to progress in medicine, agriculture, forestry and other fields.

Globally, 1.4 million life forms have been named and described by science. Biological estimates suggest that the number of species may be 10 times those described so far. Plant and animal species from major families are still being discovered in rainforests. Over 300 new fish species have been described from the Amazon region. Amphibians have recently been reported from the Sathyamangalam forests in Tamil Nadu.

Botanist Alvin Gentry estimates that 15,000-20,000 species of tropical flowering plants are yet to be documented. But then, this diversity is being eroded on an unprecedented scale. During the last 200 million years about 100 species became extinct in each century due to the natural evolutionary process.

At the same time, evolution ushered in new life forms that more than compensated for those that were lost. Today, the extinction rate is approximately 40,000 times higher than this background rate due to human depredations. For the first time an enormous proportion of terrestrial plant species that form the basis of land ecosystems remains threatened. Previous mass extinctions had no palpable effect on terrestrial plants.

But today, one-fifth of all plant species on land face annihilation in the next 20 years. A disappearing plant can take with it 10-30 dependent species such as insects, higher animals and even other plants. According to one estimate, we may already be losing 100 species a day.

Indian scene

India is one of the world’s 12 mega-biodiversity centres, and the subcontinent one of the six Vavilovian centres of origin of species. Some 45,000 plant species and over 89,000 species of animals have been documented here, comprising some 6.5 per cent of all known wildlife.

The faunal diversity comprises inter alia 2,500 fishes, 150 amphibians, 450 reptiles, 1,200 birds, 850 mammals and 68,000 insects. Although India is designated as a mega-biodiversity area, it also has two of the world’s most threatened ‘hot spots’, the Eastern Himalayan region and the Western Ghats. To quote Professor M.S. Swaminathan, both are paradises of valuable genes but are inching towards the status of ‘Paradise Lost.’

At least 10 per cent of India’s recorded wild flora and possibly more of its wild fauna are on the list of threatened species; many are on the brink of obliteration. Of the wild fauna, 80 species of mammals, 47 of birds, 15 of reptiles, three of amphibians and a large number of moths, butterflies and beetles are endangered. Out of 19 species of primates, 12 are endangered. The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and the pink-headed duck (Rhodonessa caryophyllacea) are among species that have become extinct. There must be many more that have been annihilated, unrecorded either because they were not that spectacular or because their existence remained unknown.

Causes of erosion

The primary cause for this erosion of diversity is human greed. Never before has one species influenced the environmental conditions all over the planet to such a magnitude as today. The human species now uses 40 per cent of the planet’s annual net photosynthesis production. The consumption of two-fifths of the planet’s net food resources by one species is incompatible with biological diversity and stability. Loss and fragmentation of natural habitats, overexploitation of plant and animal species, the impact of exotics and invasive alien species, industrial effluents, climate change and, above all, the greed of man are causing the erosion.

The introduction of exotic species can pose a threat to indigenous diversity. Invasive alien species include plants, animals and pathogens that are non-native to an ecosystem and that may cause economic or environmental harm or adversely affect human health. According to CBD reports, invasive alien species have contributed to nearly 40 per cent of all animal extinction. Introduced fish species threaten to decimate the diverse fish fauna of big African lakes. Exotic weeds such as lantana and parthenium pose forest management problems.

Global warming

Global warming and climate change pose threats to plant and animal species as many organisms are sensitive to carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere that may lead to their disappearance. Pesticide, troposphere ozone, sulphur and nitrogen oxides from industries also contribute to the degradation of natural ecosystems. Poaching puts pressure on wild animals. Elephants are being hunted for their tusks, the tiger is being shot for its skin.

Nature is beautifully balanced; each little thing has its own place, its duty and special utility. Ecosystem stability is a compelling reason for preserving biodiversity. All living organisms are an internal part of the biosphere and provide invaluable services. These include the control of pests, recycling of nutrients, replenishment of local climate and control of floods.

Target 2010

The Conference of the Parties (COP) established under the CBD at its sixth session in 2002 set common global targets to reduce the loss of biodiversity by 2010. These include:

• Conservation of biodiversity at the level of ecosystems, species and genes;

• Addressing risks such as invasive alien species, global warming and developments that threaten the natural environment;

• Maintaining the function of ecological services that support human livelihood;

• Maintaining the rights of the aboriginal people and protecting their traditional knowledge;

• Ensuring equal and equitable distribution of profits from the use of genetic resources.

COP-10 will be held in Nagoya in Japan in October 2010 to review the progress made in biodiversity conservation targets and discuss the establishment of clearer rules for access to and benefit-sharing of genetic resources. The outlook indicates that biodiversity is declining at all levels and on geographical scales. However, targeted response options such as the expansion of protected areas, resource management and pollution prevention can reverse this trend for specific habitats and species. For instance, protected area coverage has doubled over the past 20 years and terrestrial protected area now covers 12 per cent of the earth’s surface. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, with the declaration of the Kanyakumari, Sathyamangalam and Megamalai sanctuaries the percentage of protected area in the total forest area has gone up from 14.79 per cent to 20.01 per cent in the last three years. The introduction of a system of joint forest management over 20 million ha in the last two decades has minimised biodiversity losses. Similarly, the implementation of the Tamil Nadu Afforestation Project over the last 15 years with people’s participation has helped restore forests and rejuvenate biodiversity over 6.5 lakh ha in Tamil Nadu.

Water quality in Europe, North America and Latin America has improved since 1980. The National River Conservation Plan and the National Lake Conservation Plan of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests aim to improve water quality in rivers and lakes. But only the active participation of all stakeholders including local bodies, industries and the public at large can bring glory back to rivers and lakes. The experience in other developed countries indicates that such transformation is not impossible. Conservationists are looking to COP-10 to come out with a better strategy to achieve the biodiversity targets.

What Prime Minister Indira Gandhi said in 1980 is relevant even today: “The interest in conservation is not a sentimental one, but the rediscovery of a truth well known to our ancient sages. The Indian tradition teaches us that all forms of life — human, animal and plant — are so closely interlinked that disturbance in one gives rise to imbalance in the other.”

Our welfare is intimately connected with the welfare of wildlife; by saving the lives of wild plants and animals we may be saving our own. Time is running out. We can no longer remain spectators. We need to think globally but act locally, rededicating ourselves to protecting biodiversity in forests, coastal ecosystems and in our own neighbourhood.

(Dr. S. Balaji is an Indian Forest Service officer belonging to the Tamil Nadu cadre and is an expert in biodiversity assessment. He is Chief Conservator of Forests, Chennai. He is at balajisrinivasagopalan@gmail.com)