Environmental Awareness

Progress must continue to prevent urban flooding in India

The 2015 Chennai floods was a wake up call for city planners and residents in metro cities across India. Since then, there has been endless debate and discussion on the causes and possible solutions for urban flooding. Although there has been some progress, flooding continues to occur, as we currently witness during the monsoon season. While we revisit and reiterate these discussions, there are also some radical solutions from other countries that could be worth looking at for continued progress.

Poor city planning and management happened to be one of the factors for disaster in Chennai. Through analysis and research of the Chennai floods, it was discovered that wetlands and water bodies could be taken into better consideration while planning. Research shows that there has been an immense loss of wetlands in Chennai, which has unfortunately translated into becoming flood zones for the city. You see, these water bodies, if maintained, are ideal for groundwater recharge. When they are encroached upon by private settlements, there is a greater risk of flooding. Every Indian metro city needs to identify its flood zones and avoid building settlements and encroachments there to avoid the risk of flooding.

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The city’s drainage system was also looked at after the 2015 floods. The lack of and careless solid waste management clogs up many of Chennai’s drainage systems. Lack of a macro drainage network connecting all parts of the city well happened to be a contributing factor to the 2015 floods.

Although various communities in Chennai came together for rescue efforts during the floods, discussions of having better disaster management plans were also brought up. Practicing safety drills in schools, companies, and other institutions could prepare the public a lot more. A good forecasting system well in advance could help carry out rescue efforts more efficiently.

A few more radical solutions can also address urban flooding. One of which includes green rooftops that can be easily incorporated in urban areas. Researchers in the West have been fascinated with the concept of green roofs, or roofs covered with plants, and finally begun to implement them in cities like California, New York, and Toronto. These green roofs have immense potential in storing rainwater. It is these miniature green spaces that will absorb a large percentage of rainwater. D 201

Keeping the city greener by planting more trees is always the simplest solution for flood control in metro cities. Rain gardens that are similar to green roofs, but lower to the ground, are also being implemented in countries abroad. These gardens also naturally trap and re-circulate rainwater.

Even more radical than these solutions are permeable concretes, which have already been incorporated in cities in China. Acting like a concrete sponge, this type of concrete allows water to pass through, accumulating storm-water underneath. Since 2016, China has incorporated the sponge city pilot construction in over 30 cities. Of course, pipes and drainage system would have to be completely re-arranged to accommodate this concept but it could be worth pondering over…

Aside from discussing layouts and radical ideas, residents and community groups need to get much more involved to protect their own city. Although civil society groups organize occasional cleanups in Indian metro cities, they can be much more regular and consistent in their efforts to appeal to the masses. Creating digital awareness by circulating eye-opening pictures and videos on social media could also help shatter ignorance and indifference. By giving access to information in a convenient and simplified manner to the public, there can be a much more collaborative effort to spark change.

The city of Chennai came together after such a huge stumble. With increased awareness and knowledge, residents of all Indian metro cities would surely come together to protect their city.

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Words: Arushi Dutt

Pictures: M. Karthick and B. Vinod

 

Greener Chennai= Healthier Chennai

The title of this blog is pretty straightforward, and we’re pretty sure you’ll agree with us when we say trees are beneficial. A greener environment means reduced pollution, reduced heat in public spaces, less soil erosion, and fostering a sense of better physical and mental health. A quick escape to your closest hill station or wildlife sanctuary make for a great rendezvous with nature where you’ll reap all these benefits of greenery. But in today’s fast-growing industrial world, what we need to be focusing on is incorporating more green spaces in urban areas. With more proactive city planning and enthusiastic community involvement, Chennai has great potential in becoming greener.

The busy day begins for tree counting in the South Zone of Chennai

The busy day begins for tree counting in the South Zone of Chennai

When we’re discussing urban green spaces, the city’s holistic planning needs to be taken into consideration. We have been conducting a tree census for quite some time in various zones of Chennai. While we have found certain developed areas, such as the Madras University staff quarters, or the Manali satellite city, to be far greener, the more rural, underdeveloped areas, such as Karapakkam and Pallavakkam, are compromised. Vast barren spaces, that provide ample space to plant trees, remain untouched. The damage from poor planning and lack of maintenance is also evident through the vast amount of trees collapses after the 2016 cyclones.

Some streets lie completely barren of trees in Chennai...

Some streets lie completely barren of trees in Chennai…

The damage is yet to be stopped. Due to incorporating more drainage systems, a common problem that avenue trees face in Chennai is root pruning. Pruning the roots of trees lead to unstable tree-tops, making them more vulnerable to damage. Ongoing discussions to send all power cables underground would need to seriously take the environment into consideration. New infrastructure should not interfere with damage to the Earth, in the long term.

Many trees faced damage after the cyclones of 2016. Proper maintenance and care is recommended to preserve the greenery of Chennai.

Many trees faced damage after the cyclones of 2016. Proper maintenance and care is recommended to preserve the greenery of Chennai.

Dense and compact canopies provide to be the most idealistic choices for trees in a city like Chennai, but greater selectivity of species increases time and effort. So what we feel is a faster and more efficient method is by planting more shrubs and palms to increase the green cover of Chennai. The Palmyra Palm and the Wild Date Palm make for suitable and fairly aesthetic choices. Various species of bamboo also have stable roots. Other shrubs, such as the Viraali, Seetha Pazham, or the Custard Apple are just as beneficial in providing plenty of oxygen, moderating the temperatures, improving the groundwater recharge, and providing a healthy habitat for birds and species.

More trees definitely accounts for a better society, giving more shade, more relaxation, and ultimately a healthier environment.

More trees definitely accounts for a better society, giving more shade, more relaxation, and ultimately a healthier environment.

There has been community effort by educational institutions and companies already to restore greenery in Chennai, especially after the cyclone of 2016. However, community involvement should be consistent with strong guidance and support. Community service programs can be implemented making it mandatory for students to perform tree planting in their local areas at least once a month. Students can be provided with small incentives to keep the engagement active. There can be exhibitions and festivals across the city targeted at the public, concerning environmental issues. Representatives from NGOs and CSR teams of companies can provide interactive workshops and presentations to educate the community about environmental issues and what can be done further to help.

Restoring the green cover of Chennai is going to benefit us all in the long run so let’s start now before it’s too late.

Author and pictures: Arushi Dutt

Prosopis juliflora — A threat to the Ramsar Site

 

Point Calimere wildlife and Bird Sanctuary through the looking glass

Natural resources form an important part of the economic development of a country. Although our dependence on these resources contribute to economic benefits, when close attention is paid certain actions become a major threat to the environment we live in. Despite the benefits we reap out of the resources, it is important to look into the ill effects of it as well.

The advent of Prosopis juliflora in the early 1970s is a classic example of this condition. It was introduced in several countries as an attempt to limit the risk of deforestation and shortage of fuelwood. Interestingly with time, it turned out to be a noxious invasive weed posing a major threat to the environment.

Native to the South America and Carribean, the plant gained a lot of importance in India in the initial years for its economic benefits. As its invasive nature aggravated, the negative impacts of the species became more transparent. In 2004, the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) recognised Prosopis as one of the 100 most unwanted species in the world.

Two main factors called for the need for eradication of the species: the deep penetrating roots caused serious imbalance in the water table, drying up the water bodies in the surroundings. Therefore their presence, mainly in the arid or semi arid regions, created an unstable environment for other inhabitant species. Another problem here was their ability to spread faster and to thrive despite dry and drought conditions. They form impenetrable thickets suppressing the growth of the indigenous species, also colonising the agricultural lands to a large extent in most of the cases studied so far.

For instance, the curse of Prosopis was quite evident in the case of Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary. The sanctuary gained the status of a Ramsar site in the year 2002, recording the largest congregation of migratory waterbirds in the country exceeding a count of 100,000. However, the dwindling population of Blackbuck and the need to conserve it was also one of the main motives behind its creation in 1967. According to March 2005 census, the population of Black buck had grown to around 1450, harbouring the largest population of blackbucks in south India.

The Mesquite-blackbuck conflict

Although Prosopis invasion has created several damages to the sanctuary in various ways, one problem that needs major attention is the destruction it caused to the open grasslands of the sanctuary. Comparative studies conducted using the LANDSAT ETM imageries of the year 1999 revealed an increase in the growth of Prosopis mainly in the Tropical Dry Evergreen Forests and the open grasslands.

Cattle grazing have already been established as a major issue within the sanctuary. It was found that the food consumption of one cattle head is equal to that of the entire blackbuck population of the sanctuary. In addition to this, the Prosopis invasion of the open grasslands poses a major threat to the survival of the blackbucks. Other than the blackbucks, animals like the spotted deer, Black-naped hare, Small Indian Civet and the Indian star tortoise also frequent the grasslands. Therefore, the removal of Prosopis in the open grasslands becomes crucial because it serves as a major feeding habitat for the blackbucks and various other species in the sanctuary as well.

Factors contributing to Prosopis invasion

As the sanctuary is surrounded by the sea and backwater swamps on all the four sides, the areas around it became one of the largest salt producing regions in the country. The overflow of bittern from the nearby salt factory has largely led to the encroachment of the northern banks of Muniappan lake by Prosopis. Interestingly the inverse effect of frugivores mainly Bonnet monkeys and Feral Ponies as seed dispersal agents can be noticed in the case of Prosopis as they contribute vastly for their spread.

The need for eradication

It is important to understand that the substitution of natural vegetation with foreign ones can prove fatal to the existing bio diversity of the forest. The invasion of Prosopis today can be compared to the loss of forest area and disappearance of animals in the sanctuary in the late 40s. This condition occurred as a consequence of the government’s experimental measure to grow Casuarina within the forest. A striking evidence for the ill effects of Prosopis was established through plot studies conducted by Dr. Rauf Ali of FERAL, Pondicherry in 2005. It revealed that the number of trees were 63% higher in the plots without Prosopis. As the Net Primary Productivity (NPP) of Prosopis is very low, it creates a less productive environment for the entire sanctuary. On one hand as it contributes to the decrease in open grasslands, on the other hand it is enabling the spread of Tropical Deciduous Evergreen Forests (TDEF) at a faster rate. This phenomenon again has dire consequences of its own.

All the studies continuously remind us about one important fact. It is the necessity to preserve the vegetation of the Sanctuary in its natural state. Although eradication of Prosopis is an expensive process, there are habitat improvement measures that have been undertaken from time to time to protect the sanctuary. However, if the attempts to remove the species are carried out in a larger scale, it would be beneficial in the long run.

 

The author Maithreyi Kamalanathan was a Documentation Intern at Care Earth and also a student of journalism and communication with a keen interest on documenting issues related to human-wildlife conflicts.

The Legal Safeguards for Conservation

The landmark Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was introduced at the Rio Earth Summit on June 5th, 1992. The CBD is a framework agreement, i.e., the emphasis is to place the decision making at the levels of national governments without handing down any targets or goals. The CBD has 3 tenets

  1. Conservation of Biodiversity
  2. Sustainable use of its components
  3. Fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use

Apart from conservation aspects, there are two particular articles of the CBD that are pioneering