Top ecologist suggests 4 ways to minimise damage caused by cyclones

By Anoop JaipurkaronDec. 04, 2021in Perspectives
Big budget national projects like Sagar Mala, meant to make optimum utilisation of sea water for transport, will extract a huge price on nature. Additionally, the locals won’t derive much benefit from such infrastructure projects. Building huge ports may result in joblessness for local fishermen, who would migrate to urban centres in search of petty jobs. | Representational Pic

First came Cylone Nisarg and then Tauktae. The trail of destruction left behind by the two strong storms in 2020 and 2021 has made it quite evident that governments (Central/state/local) and civilians living along the west coast of India need to be prepared for more such natural calamities.

A study, titled “Nisargache Thaiman (The devastating trail of Cyclone Nisarg), carried out under the guidance of noted ecologist Dr. Madhav Gadgil, specifies measures that need to be taken for conservation of natural, man-made, social and financial capital along the Konkan region of Maharashtra.

“A development model that ignores the need for conservation of natural resources will not help us attain sustainable development. There is a direct correlation between loss to Nature and social disharmony. The policymakers should keep this thing in mind when they think of new models of industrial development,” says Dr. Gadgil, who had prepared the famous Western Ghat Ecological Expert Panel (WGEEP) Report in 2011.

Here are some of the prominent suggestions that will be submitted to the government in the first week of November, said Dr. Gurudas Nulkar, the lead author of ‘Nisargache Thaiman.’

Suggestion 1 – To conserve natural resources…

Big budget national projects like Sagar Mala, meant to make optimum utilisation of sea water for transport, will extract a huge price on nature. Additionally, the locals won’t derive much benefit from such infrastructure projects. Building huge ports may result in joblessness for local fishermen, who would migrate to urban centres in search of petty jobs.

Big infrastructure projects also require largescale clearance of local vegetation, which leaves the sea coasts vulnerable to oceanic disturbances. Instead of setting up big industries, which only benefit the rich and influential, the government should promote local and nature-friendly industries.

At present, governments have taken the “development by exclusion” approach, keeping local communities out of the decision-making process. Failed projects like Dabhol power, Jaitapur and Nanar Super refinery projects among others are examples of what happens when the all-powerful government fails to take the local communities along.

Residents, especially tribals, have traditional wisdom, which can help achieve sustainable development. Such communities should be taken along while envisaging progress of coastal regions, suggests the report.

The Biodiversity Act of 2002 needs to be implemented in letter and spirit. Adequate attention should be paid to nature education in schools so that children learn how ecosystems work and the role of humans in saving or destroying them.

Natural vegetation of Undi, Nirgudi, Karanj, Karanj vel, Pilu and Noni trees should be grown back along the coast for their ability to withstand strong ocean currents and winds.

Suggestion 2 – To rebuild human capital…

Efforts should be made towards generating sustainable jobs and industries that work in tandem with the surroundings. In fact, the report suggests, fisheries and salt processing are the only two sustainable businesses for the Konkan region. There were several instances of coconut trees falling on houses and causing extensive damage because coconut tree roots do not grow deep. Locals should be encouraged to look for alternative plantations, which are native and more resistant to strong winds, but, at the same time, have financial value. Unfortunately, the oil ghanis (traditional method of oil extraction from coconuts) have wound up and everyone buys branded oil which comes from far off places. This has happened at the cost of local entrepreneurship and loss of traditional skilled jobs, which needs to be revived.

About 50 years back, big chemical industries were set up at Mahad, Roha and Lote talukas. It is quite evident that these factories were based on automation so they generated very few jobs for locals and also caused pollution in rivers and lakes nearby. Going forward, the government should plan for introducing small scale/cottage industries that do not completely depend on automation and can sustain financial shocks, such as the one caused by COVID pandemic.

Dr. Gadgil suggests that traditional fishing should be preferred over mechanised fishing with big trawlers, which threaten ocean diversity. Pic: PTI

Bamboo cultivation has been a success in Sindhudurg district with locals learning the skill of making artifacts out of bamboo and marketing them successfully. This is a sustainable business and there is a need to develop more such business models.

Similarly, traditional fishing should be preferred over mechanised fishing with big trawlers, which threaten ocean diversity.

Suggestion 3 – To maintain social capital…

It is difficult to imagine how families, especially the women folks, manage the kitchen after a natural calamity strikes. The woman has to cook food for the family and in these conditions it would be good if the government proactively starts community kitchens, which can greatly help women cope with the post-cyclone conditions.

Financial constraints post-cyclone force all members of the family to set out to earn. Each village should have an equipped and substantial workforce of Anganwadi sevikas who can look after the nutrition needs and educational needs of children left behind at home.

Suggestion 4 – To rebuild man-made capital…

Roads, bridges are other constructions suffered damages because of the cyclone. The Mumbai-Goa sea route has already caused enough damage to the Konkan coast’s diversity. The government intends to build about 30-40 bridges on creeks in the region, which is a clear invitation to more destruction as scientists say the frequency and intensity of cyclones will only increase in the coming years. The government should consider the local ecosystem and its requirements before bringing in huge infrastructure projects.

Construction activities should be strictly banned in eco-sensitive zones, which are susceptible to landslides or flooding.

The government should be aware that huge infra projects destroy trees and habitats for innumerable birds and insects, thus affecting biodiversity and weakening nature’s ability to bounce back from calamities. Environment Impact Assessment should be a must before planning any project.

Part 1: Do cyclones only affect life & property? Time to assess impact on nature, society

First published by The Federal on 30 Oct. 2021

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