Ghoramara – Sinking of an island and a way of life

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Ghoramara Island (India), Lohachara Island (India), Bedford Island (India), and New Moore(India) are tiny islands located in the Sunderbans area. While New Moore and Bedford Island were uninhabitated, Lohachara was an inhabited island where more than 6,000 people used to live. Ghoramara is also inhabited.

Ghoramara, Lohachara, and Bedford Islands. Image source: http://ummoa.net Ghoramara, Lohachara, and Bedford Islands. Image source: http://ummoa.net

The  islands  Lohachara, Bedford, and New Moore  lying  to  the southwest  of  Ghoramara  have  already been  submerged and  Ghoramara is slowly being engulfed by the sea.

Ghoramara Island. Image source: www.matadornetwork.com Ghoramara Island. Image source: http://www.matadornetwork.com

Dr Sugarto Hazra, an oceanographer at the University of Calcutta says there is more than one cause of the problem.

“Cutting down the mangrove that used to cover the island, to make way for farming, destroyed the ecology. The mangrove used to bind the topsoil in position. Now it is being washed away. The farmers also used to dig wells to get fresh water for irrigating their paddies. But in time,  underground reservoirs emptied and then collapsed.  Added to all that, the sea level is rising around here, as it is everywhere in response to global warming. So the land is subsiding and at the same time the sea is advancing.”

Since these islands are part of a river delta, geomorphological changes, lack of proper dredging undertaken by the  Kolkata Port Trust,  subsidence have also been attributed as a cause for coastal erosion. The threat of rising sea levels may partly also be due to climate change. A villager from Ghoramara Island walks through the abandoned patches where many houses used to exist. Source: http://petercaton.co.uk A villager from Ghoramara Island walks through the abandoned patches where many houses used to exist. Source: http://petercaton.co.uk

The fact is that due to coastal destruction  a significant area of agricultural land and coastal stretches for fish drying have been lost rendering thousands of people homeless as ‘environmental refugees.’

Irrespective of the reason behind the sinking of these islands, one cannot underestimate the effects of human activities. How many of us can understand the correlation between environmental degradation and human sustenance?

Further reading:

Morphological Change Study of Ghoramara Island using Multi-temporal Satellite Data.

Application of a ‘bio-engineering’ technique to protect Ghoramara island from severe erosion.

Fine Arts College for the Disabled

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A concern shared among many individuals who cater to the disabled community is, how we, as a society relate to ‘disabled’ people. Instead of pitying them, we need to provide them with opportunities to develop their potential and recognize their contribution.

While conducting sculpture workshops for the disabled, an idea came to Chandrasekaran’s mind, to open a fine arts college for the disabled. Called “Ovvai Mulari”, the college has started accepting applications from disabled students for its three-year diploma course in sculpture, which begins in August 2015.

“I have seen disabled and physically challenged people creating great pieces of art. Many don’t continue it due to lack of encouragement and sponsorship. My main aim is to encourage them, mainly the hearing impaired, by teaching about the new trends in sculpture-making,” said Chandrasekaran, who is a former principal of the College of Fine Arts, Chennai.

Mr. Chandrasekaran is currently funding the college on his own. I do hope our government comes forward and provides funding for such positive endeavors.

(Ab)Use of Antibiotics

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Antibiotics have saved millions of lives, mainly of people suffering from tuberculosis, meningitis and other illnesses, since the treatment was introduced more than a century ago. Today, unless strict action is taken to curb  the overuse and misuse of antibiotics, we could be heading towards a situation where these previously “curable” diseases may become “uncurable”.

Overuse of Antibiotics is leading to resistance. Image source: http://www.thehindu.com

Overuse of Antibiotics is leading to resistance. Image source: http://www.thehindu.com

In India, weak regulatory practices compound the problem, leading to complex challenges.  Many upper respiratory tract infections, including colds, sore throats and even some ear infections, should not be treated with antibiotics, yet often still are. The unholy alliance between pharmaceutical companies and doctors resulting in over-prescription of antibiotics for ailments is very much evident.

Sumit Ray, vice-chairman, critical care medicine at Sri Ganga Ram hospital, says, “We are seeing more and more patients who have already been prescribed very strong antibiotics at primary or secondary level hospitals. This is leading to an increasing level of resistance to antibiotics in the community.  This leads to a vicious cycle, where physicians at the primary and secondary levels have to go for higher antibiotics for even basic infections and we at the tertiary centers end up giving even higher (or the latest) generation antibiotics like carbapenems. Over exposure of these antibiotics have led to a situation in India where we are seeing increasing incidence of even carbapenem resistance. The worst is that there aren’t enough training and educational programs for doctors to learn to deal with such issues.”

Another factor contributing to the problem is treating healthy animals with antibiotics to boost production, leading to resistance. And via the food chain, this spreads to humans. India does not have any mechanisms to check the use of growth hormones administered to cattle to increase milk production.

Is our government listening? Apparently, yes. The Union health ministry in 2011  formalized a National policy for containment of antimicrobial resistance however, not much is known about the fate of the policy. One can only guess it to be similar to most other policies in our country which lack the tooth for effective implementation.

To create more awareness on this issue, a group of doctors formed the Indian Initiative for Management of Antibiotic Resistance ( IIMAR) to “promote prudent use of antibiotics so as to reduce the possibility of spread of antibiotic resistance.”

“The ignorance and callousness are at every level of the society – from care providers like doctors, to pharmacists, lawmakers, manufacturers and [even] the consumers.”

We should therefore make informed decisions for treating common ailments before submitting ourselves to antibiotics prescribed by doctors. Because, we are the ones who glean the benefits or suffer the consequences. Sensitizing the public to this problem, in a way could motivate political commitment to implement an effective policy.

Further reading:

Rationalizing antibiotic use to limit antibiotic resistance in India

Race against drug resistance

World Hydrography Day

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World Hydrography Day is observed on the 21st of June every year to commemorate the establishment of the International Hydrographic Bureau by 19 member states in 1921. In 1970, it was renamed as the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO) and presently has 80 Member States, covering the vast majority of Ocean States. The United Nations has  urged all states to work with IHO to promote safety of International Navigation, Maritime Development and Protection of vulnerable Marine Areas.

India is one of the member states of the International Hydrographic Organization.

The International Hydrographic Organization defines hydrography as “the branch of applied science which deals with the measurement and description of the physical features of the navigable portion of the earth’s surface [seas] and adjoining coastal areas, with special reference to their use for the purpose of navigation.”

The theme for this year’s World Hydrography Day is “Our seas and waterways-yet to be fully charted and explored.” It aims to raise awareness and attract support for improving the current absence of authoritative depth data for many parts of the seas and navigable waterways in the world. For example,there are higher resolution maps of the Moon and Mars than for many parts of our seas and coastal waters.

Hydrography is very vital for the maritime infrastructure and thereby the economy of India. This National responsibility is shouldered by the Indian navy and discharged by its hydrographic department.

Beach Survey by Trainees of the National Institute of Hydrography. Image source: http://www.nih.gov.in

Further reading:

India’s association with IHO and why is hydrography important for a maritime nation like India?

Chawang Norphel: Glacier Man of India

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Ladakh is an arid region with sparse vegetation and scanty rainfall. Glaciers are the fountainhead of water for farming communities in the area.  The Himalayan glaciers feed the region’s rivers which irrigate farm land in the northern part of the Indian sub-continent.  With global warming melting the Himalayan glaciers at an alarming rate, water shortage has been widespread , affecting numerous lives.

Meet Mr. Chawang Norphel, a retired civil engineer, also known as the Glacier

Mr. Chewang Norphel. Image source: www.outlookindia.com

Mr. Chewang Norphel. Image source: http://www.outlookindia.com

Man of India. He is waging a one-man battle to stop global warming melting the glaciers. He has developed a simple technique to harvest water into “Artificial Glaciers” using simple materials such as pipes.

By diverting meltwater through a network of pipes into artificial lakes in the shaded side of mountain valleys, he says he has created new glaciers. A dam or embankment is built to keep in the water, which freezes at night and remains frozen in the absence of direct sunlight. The water remains frozen until March, when the start of summer melts the new glacier and releases the water into the rivers below. So far, Mr Norphel’s glaciers have been able to each store up to one million cubic feet of ice, which in turn can irrigate 200 hectares of farm land. For farmers, that can make the difference between crop failure and a bumper crop of more than 1,000 tons of wheat.

Artificial Glacier process. Image source: www.india.youth-leader.org

Artificial Glacier process. Image source: http://www.india.youth-leader.org

The government had encouraged artificial glaciers in few areas of Leh. However, due to manpower and capital costs involved, this intervention is seen as a costly investment by experts.

But, what is remarkable is the willpower of Mr. Chawang Norphel to help the farming communities of Leh.

Climate Classification at a District Level in India

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Impacts of climate change on our planet have been well documented.   Over the period of few decades , the changes that have occurred seem to be significant.

According to a recent paper in Current Science, the twenty year old classification of districts on climate zones does not hold true today.

India district climate zones: Image source: www.makanaka.wordpress.com

India district climate zones 1971 to 2005: Image source: http://www.makanaka.wordpress.com

The study indicates

  • Substantial increase of arid region in Gujarat and decrease of arid region in Haryana.
  • Increase in semi-arid region in Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh due to shift of climate from dry sub-humid to semi-arid.
  • Moist sub-humid pockets in Chattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have turned dry sub-humid to a large extent.

Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute warns that four types of geographies will share the largest burden of climate change crisis. a)  the low-lying coastal settlements, b)  farm regions dependent on river water from glacier and snow melt, c)  sub-humid and arid regions that suffer from drought, and d)  regions of Southeast Asia facing changes in monsoon patterns.Most of India falls into one of these four zones.

It is imperative for us to comprehend the reasons behind this shift in the classification and identify the enabling mechanisms required to cope with this change.

State of India’s Media

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A documentary about the state of our media. Be it the elections, the Indian Premier League (IPL), stock markets, mutual funds, entertainment, or the daily news bulletin.  Can we hold a mirror to the glass buildings and ivory towers?

Editorial content is decided by marketing executives. Politicians/ political parties & industrialists have become owners or major shareholders, and owners have become editors. The amount of dedication and truthfulness – basically an urge to bring about positive changes through investigative journalism has somehow disappeared.  Even the reasons of getting into journalism have changed. And all of this has happened with active support from the top media houses – who now concentrate more on the business of news rather than news.

—Umesh Agarwal. National award-winning  film maker

No pillar is more important in a democracy than the fourth estate. Currently,  integrity standards of our news media seem appalling. However, despite the absence or decline in ethical standards across board, there are a few journalists  who take their job seriously. Some in the national media while some in the regional media.

As citizens of a democracy, all we can wish for the true journalism minority is “May their tribe increase!”

Videos – of the Farmers ,by the Farmers

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Content Generation. Image source: www.microsoft.com

Content Generation. Image source: http://www.microsoft.com

Agriculture is crucial to human civilization. If not for the farmers who toil, we would be starving.  It is imperative for us to understand that agriculture is sensitive to variations in climatic conditions and that farmers often have to the face the challenges of increasing agricultural output while adapting to external changes.

Many acres of fields are witness to agricultural innovations initiated by our farmers. The problem is: how do we get ideas from Farmer A who is using a technique successfully,  to Farmer B, who wants to do the same, but can’t afford experimenting with untested techniques?

Digital Green  has pioneered a system to raise the livelihoods of smallholder farmers across the developing world through the targeted production and dissemination of agricultural information via participatory video and mediated instruction through grassroots-level partnerships. Currently prevalent in Karnataka, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa, this unique social organisation is reaching out to at least 60,000 farmers and 900 villages.

The unique components of Digital Green are: (1) a participatory process for content production, (2) a locally generated digital video database, (3) human-mediated instruction for dissemination and training, and (4) regimented sequencing to initiate a new community.

The videos can be found online. DVDs are sent to various villages. DVDs are received by local village mediators who  engage the community by pausing and rewinding the videos, fielding questions, and encouraging group participation.  Unlike broadcast programs or standalone kiosks, the mediators take  the shared TV and DVD players to farmers at their choice time and place and serve as a feedback mechanism for farmers.

In the cities, Digital Green is organising workshops where farmers can discuss their practices and teach city-dwellers urban farming.  “We are aiming to connect urban consumers with the people and experiences of rural India,” says Rikin Gandhi, CEO of Digital Green

“The farming community, their long-term interest and their confidence, are affected by the broader perceptions and culture of our society. Amid a nascent but growing movement toward sustainable and local foods in cities, it makes sense to screen films that are relevant to and will connect the two groups — essentially sending out the message that anyone can be their own farmer.”

Leisure…

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William Henry Davies, a Welsh poet who lived from 1871 to 1940 and spent much of his life in the USA, wrote a poem called “Leisure”. In the poem, he poses a question, ‘What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.’

Nearly a century later, these words still hold true.  In the cut-throat world we inhabit, pressure exists in umpteen ways. Our lives revolves around the notion of acquiring more. Be it knowledge, wealth, or social status/acceptance. Our notion of real wealth  – sharing and bonding with people, nurturing relationships, creating memories and observing the small wonders of nature seems to have undergone a transformation.

Sharing this poem is my way of reminding all of us caught in this “wired world” to take time and enjoy the simple joys of daily life!

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
                                            ————-W.H. Davies

Flower Power: Story of Nusrat Jehan

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Kashmir is  a paradise that has been lost in the clash of terrorism, and the callousness of our politicians. Kashmir’s youth have struggled to find a footing in their home state. Though educated, and resilient, the limited opportunities available in the ravaged state has not helped their cause. However, there appears to be an oasis of hope.

Nusrat Jehan. Image source: www.moneycontrol.com

Nusrat Jehan. Image source: http://www.moneycontrol.com

Take the example of Nusrat Jahan.  Nusrat  is from Dadoora village in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. She graduated in computer applications in 1999. She worked as community organizer in Jammu Development Authority. Not satisfied with her job, she decided to quit and start her own business.

The cut-flower business attracted her. For Kashmiris, who suffered from militancy and resulting violence, purchasing flowers was the last thing on their minds. To start something where the returns are not assured required a lot of courage.

Nusrat’s persistence was paid off when she bagged her first contract with Jammu and Kashmir bank for their functions. As the demand for fresh flowers steadily grew, she began to grow them in her backyard. Unable to meet the growing demand, she started procuring flowers from other states, and eventually started floriculture in Budgam district of Kashmir.

After a decade of hard work and determination today, she is the president of 2000 strong J&K flower association and  owns three flower farms, a retail outlet and employs around 20 on roll staff members. The struggle of achieving annual turnover of Rs.2 Crores was not an easy job. She faced the ferocity of militants, who once threatened to kill her because of the contracts with government departments.

Kashmir’s government seems to be focused solely on tourism and  has been slow in tapping floriculture, fisheries, and agriculture based industries for income-generation opportunities. Success stories of entrepreneurs such as Nusrat Jehan are an inspiration in the troubled valley.

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