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WATER FOR LIFE—DECADE FOR ACTION

In December 2003, in recognition of the scarcity of fresh water around the globe, and the need to conserve and preserve vital water sources, the United Nations proclaimed the years between 2005 and 2015 “The Decade for International Action” with the theme “Water for Life,” recognizing the fact that without water, there is no life. The 22nd of March 2005—World Water Day—marks the beginning of this ‘Decade of Action,’ a decade dedicated to protecting and safeguarding our rapidly vanishing watersheds, and defending them from desecration and destruction. These watersheds are the forests of the world, especially equatorial rainforests like those found in Coorg and the rest of the Western Ghats.
In the previous year, the UN recognized the connection between water and disasters around the world. At least 75% of all disasters are weather and climate-related extreme events like tornadoes, thunderstorms, cyclones, blizzards, floods and droughts. Climate-related disasters have been steadily increasing over the past decade due to global warming. The polar icecaps are melting at a much faster rate than previously thought. This melting ice is changing water cycles, which in turn are affecting ocean currents and subsequently global weather patterns. Whether these changes will mean an overall warmer planet or a new ice age (like that portrayed in the Hollywood movie The Day After Tomorrow), only time will tell. But the first line of defense against global climate change is the same as that of protecting our vital water sources, and that is: protecting and preserving our forests—the watersheds and moderators of climate for the entire globe.
As mentioned in previous articles, the rainforests of the Western Ghats are the very heart of the watershed for the entire south Indian peninsula. These forests raise the underground water table in addition to setting up conditions for rain-cloud formation through the process known as ‘transpiration.’ The systematic destruction of these forests has led to a severe drop in rainfall and subsequent droughts in some areas, with catastrophic storms and massive flooding hitting others. Further destruction of these forests—whether as a result of the proposed dams on the Barapolay River or from drawing electricity cables through them—will further destabilize normal weather patterns, leading to more climate-related disasters while critically endangering our vital water sources.
But apparently, this is exactly what the Karnataka State Minister for Forests—Gurupadappa Nagmarapalli—is planning to do. In a statement made in the Legislative Assembly this past week, Mr. Nagmarapalli stated that, though there is a directive from the Supreme Court not to allow any activity that disturbed wildlife in forest areas, he will direct the officials of the Forest Department to allow electricity and water pipelines through forest areas, regardless of how this is going to affect the forests or the wildlife within them. Clearly his statement shows his contempt of both the Supreme Court and its directives. One can only wonder what his motivation is. But his words must motivate us to protect our forests and their wildlife all the more because doing so is critical to our very survival—both environmentally and economically.


 

Tree Supports/Eco-Tourism

Besides being the watershed for our water, our forests and their wildlife represent our economic future—not only in agriculture, but in Wildlife Eco-Tourism as well. The biodiversity of our forests is our real wealth, and this wealth can be realized with dollars and euros from wildlife tourists, and Japanese yen from the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) through its funding of Karnataka State Government’s Biodiversity Conservation Project. The JBIC has just granted the Karnataka State Government Rs. 745 crores for this project. The central plank of this program is biodiversity conservation, and with the Coorg forests being one of the eight ‘Hottest Hot Spots of Biodiversity’ on the planet, funds from this project will surely find their way into our district IF we protect our forests and wildlife from any and all sources that are threatening to disturb, damage and destroy them.
Another way that funds from this Biodiversity Project could come into the hands of the residents of Coorg is through the concept of ‘Tree Supports.’ Remember that the Indian Supreme Court has proposed giving compensation to those states, districts, panchayats, and even directly to individual landowners that forego logging and protect their forest areas. Similar in idea to ‘carbon credits,’ this compensation could be called “Tree Supports.”
By preserving native trees not only in our forests, but in our plantations as well, individual planters will benefit economically from money from eco-tourists, compensation from Tree Supports, and better agricultural income from enhanced soil fertility. Coorg’s forest cover will be preserved and our vital watersheds protected. At the same time, Tree Supports can preserve the planter’s options for growing different cash crops, such as vanilla, anthuriums, and other crops requiring shade.
This concept of “Tree Supports” offers a long-term solution to the dropping rainfall patterns as well as long-term economic security and flexibility for planters versus the short-term gain and long-term loss in all areas that logging from ‘tree rights’ presents. Hence, the first priority is preserving the existing forest cover through active community participation, which is an essential of the Rs. 745 crores Biodiversity Project. This can be coupled with encouraging large-scale afforestation of private lands—another plank of the Project—again through “Tree Supports” to planters for planting and maintaining tree species indigenous to Coorg that increase the forest canopy and induce rainfall.
So instead of concerning ourselves with tree rights, let’s set our sights on securing “Tree Supports” with funding through the state’s Biodiversity Project. But to be eligible for these funds, to get an income from Eco-tourism, we must protect our trees, our forests and our wildlife NOW. Tourists don’t come to see the dead stumps of chopped trees; they don’t come to silent barren lands devoid of the sights and sounds of Nature and her wildlife. And no money will come from this Biodiversity Project if there is no biodiversity to save because all the forests are gone, all the trees have been chopped down, all the wildlife has been killed and/or fled. No trees means no birds/wildlife, no birds/wildlife means no tourists and no income from Tree Supports either.
So let us fight to protect our forests and the wildlife they contain. Let us start this Decade of Action by taking a vow to defend our vital watersheds from all sources of destruction. For without trees there are no forests, without forests there is no water, and without water there is no life.


From the Trustees of SAI Sanctuary Trust

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