Press Release- #Uttarakhand- We cannot ignore the climate crisis anymore!


INDIA CLIMATE JUSTICE

 

STATEMENT ON THE UTTARAKHAND CATASTROPHE

We cannot ignore the climate crisis anymore!

 

 

25 June 2013

 

The India Climate Justice collective notes with deep anguish the devastating loss of life, livelihoods, and homes in Uttarakhand and beyond. The death toll is likely in the thousands, way beyond current official figures. We extend our deep condolences to the families and friends of those killed, and our support to those still fighting for survival, and to local populations whose livelihoods will take years to rebuild.

 

This tragedy was triggered by extreme unseasonal rains in North India, 2-3 weeks in advance of what is normal for this region. The Director of the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), Dehradun, said that 340 mm fell in a single day at Dehradun, a record not seen for five decades. Such extreme and unseasonal rainfall seems to us to indicate a global warming induced climate change phenomenon. Warmer air due to global warming has the capacity to hold more moisture, leading to more intense bursts of rainfall. The natural monsoon cycle in India has already been badly disrupted, and a new cycle of extreme rainfall events and prolonged droughts have been reported from all over the country in the recent past. Thus, contrary to statements by senior politicians, the Uttarakhand disaster is not natural: it is no less man-made than the other contributors to the tragedy. And if it is indeed induced by global warming, similar catastrophes could recur with increasing frequency and intensity anywhere in the country in the coming years.

 

In Uttarakhand, a chaotic process of ‘development’ that goes back many years exacerbated the effects of this extreme rain. Extensive deforestation of mountain tracts, by the state and more recently due to ‘development’ projects, led to soil erosion and water run-off, thus destabilizing mountain slopes and contributing to more intense and frequent landslides and floods. Unchecked hill tourism has resulted in the huge growth of vehicular traffic, spread of roads not suitable to this mountainous terrain, and the construction of poorly designed and unregulated hotels and structures, many near rivers. Sand mining along river banks has intensified water flows into rivers.

 

Most of all, the construction and planning of hundreds of small, medium and large dams across the Himalayan states from Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in the northern Himalayas to Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in the east, have destabilized an already fragile ecosystem and threatened biodiversity. A staggering 680 dams are in various stages of planning, or construction in Uttarakhand alone! These dams have a direct connection with the extent of the damage that can be caused in such flooding events, in that the tunnelling and excavation in the so-called run-of-the-river projects cause huge and unregulated dumping of excavated debris into river basins, leading to increased siltation, and in turn aggravating the flood situation. The electrical power generated by these dams will be consumed by urban elites elsewhere. It is ironic that these dam projects, while adversely impacting people’s access to their river commons, claim to be climate change solutions in the guise of renewable and green energy, and have already made huge profits by fraudulently claiming CDM (clean development mechanism) status. In 2009, the CAG had warned the government of Uttarakhand that the “potential cumulative effect of multiple run-of-the-river projects can turn out to be environmentally damaging”. Like many other warnings by environmentalists and local community groups in the past, this was also ignored. And now we are facing one of the biggest disasters that the country has seen in decades.

 

The central government of India and various state governments, including the govt of Uttarakhand, have prepared action plans for combating climate change. Any such plan ought to include the establishment of a disaster-prediction and warning mechanism. The Uttarakhand government has taken no measures to prepare for this kind of eventuality, though it has paid lip service to climate action plans over the last three years.  In the present case, the IMD issued inadequate warning, which was disregarded by the state government. An urgent prior warning could have ensured that pilgrims don’t move forward and retreat to relative safety, that locals reduce their exposure to risk to the extent possible. Thousands of pilgrims from different states, locals, workers in hotels and dharamshalas, and transport animals have been killed. Cars with people inside them were washed away. Those who have survived had to go without food for several days. Thousands are still stranded at different points, or in forests, and we are still counting the dead.

 

There has also been extensive devastation of local lives and the regional economy. Serious devastation has been reported from over 200 villages, so far. Innumerable locals, including agricultural workers, drowned in the raging waters or were submerged under mud and debris. Houses have collapsed or been washed away. Tourism and the local employment it generates have been hit indefinitely at the peak of the tourist season. Floods, landslides and debris have devastated agriculture along the rivers. Irrespective of whether these extreme rains are due to climate change or not, this is what a climate change world in the Himalayas looks like. This devastation is a glimpse into a climate uncertain future.

 

We see this tragedy as a result of cumulative and widespread injustice and wrongdoing: not only against the Himalayan environment, but also against mountain communities whose survival depends on that environment. This tragedy is also a crime, because our policy makers and administrators are also part of the larger climate injustice at a global scale that threatens, displaces and kills the marginal and the poor everywhere. On another plane, they simply let it happen. We believe that adaptation to disasters does not just mean desperate rescue work during and after the event, but also reducing vulnerability and risk before. Effective adaptation involves a series of measures that need to be adopted on a war footing. The sustainable development of a hill economy, and equity – not profit for a few – should be at its core.

 

India Climate Justice demands:

 

·         That the governments at the central and state level retreat to a low carbon pathway of development that has equity, decent employment, and sustainability at its core.

 

·         That the planning and construction of dams in the entire Indian Himalayas be reviewed, and all construction be halted until such a review is carried out.

 

·         That the use of explosives in all such infrastructure development works is completely stopped.

 

·         That, given the likelihood of extreme rainfall events and other climate extremes in the future, extensive and sub-regional warning systems are put in place urgently across all the Himalayan states, the coastal areas and beyond.

 

·         That a proper assessment of the carrying capacity of specific ecosystems is carried out.

 

·         That the eco-sensitive zone measures be implemented from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi and eco-sensitive zones be established in other river valleys.

 

·         That a river regulation zone be enforced such that no permanent structures are allowed to be constructed within 100 metres of any river.

 

·         That the residents and their organizations are thoroughly consulted in a democratic plan on climate change, in the revival of the local hill economy, and the generation of decent employment.

 

·         That all working people be compensated for the loss of life and livelihood, and that urgent plans are put in place for the revival of local livelihoods and agriculture.

 

·         That the central government learn from the Uttarakhand catastrophe to put in place prior adaptation measures not just for the mountainous regions but beyond, for coastal and the drought-prone interiors as well.

 

 

 

(INDIA CLIMATE JUSTICE)

 

 

Endorsing Organizations

All India Forum of Forest Movements; Pairvi; Beyond Copenhagen; South Asia Network of Dams, Rivers and People; National Alliance of People’s Movements; Himalaya Niti Abhiyan; New Trade Union Initiative; All-India Union of Forest Working People; Chintan; Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha; Toxics Watch Alliance; Nadi Ghati Morcha, Chhattisgarh; Rural Volunteers Centre, Assam; Vettiver Collective, Chennai; Himal Prakriti, Uttarakhand; Maati, Uttarakhand; Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti; River Basin Friends (NE); India Youth Climate Network; Intercultural Resources; Kabani, Kerala; Human Rights Forum, Andhra Pradesh; National Cyclists Union, India; Equations; Posco Pratirodh Solidarity, Delhi; Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives; Science for Society, Bihar; Nagarik Mancha; SADED; JJBA, Jharkhand; BIRSA; Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee; Adivasi Mulvasi Astitva Raksha Manch; National Adivasi Alliance; Bank Information Centre; Focus on the Global South; Jatiyo Sramik Jote, Dhaka; Jharkhand Jungle Bachao Andolan; People’s Union for Democratic Rights; All India Students Association; All India Progressive Women’s Association

 

Individuals

Badri Raina, Kamal Mahendroo, Benny Kuruvilla, Subrat Sahu, Arun Bidani, Saurav Shome, Amitava Guha

 

India Climate Justice is a collective comprising social movements, trade unions, other organizations and individuals. It was formed in 2009 to respond to the growing climate crisis, from a perspective of justice and equity.

Emailindiaclimatejustice@gmail.com

Tel:  09434761915, 09717771255, 09910476553

 

The Death Of A Waterfall in Orissa — thanks to Mining


The Death Of A Waterfall
The mining scourge reaches the sacred Khandadhara. Will it turn ‘raktadhara’?
Madhushree Mukerjee, Outlook

A rugged, tree-covered mountain range sweeps vertically into a brilliant blue sky. Out of a cave on its western side gushes a natural spring, its lacy, white water tripping 244 metres over a sheer black-and-red cliff face to fall into a blissful rock pool, before cascading further downhill. The site is of ethereal beauty, evoking awe, elation, a sense of rejuvenation.

One of India’s highest and most sacred waterfalls, Khandadhara in Sundergarh, Orissa, is cherished by tens of thousands for the life it brings to all in its vicinity. “It’s because of the Khandadhara that my life flows with power,” says a Munda resident of Bandhbarna village, which lies near the foot of the mountain. Although a migrant from Jharkhand, he shares the reverence of all the indigenous peoples here—including the Christians—for the Khandadhar mountain and its waterfall.

By common consent, the guardians of the range are the Pauri Bhuiya, a tribe of shifting cultivators who traditionally live in the dense sal forest that covers the peaks. Genetic research finds that about 24,000 years ago the Pauri Bhuiya shared a common ancestor with the Jarawa of the Andaman Islands—a reminder that India’s indigenous peoples directly descend from some of the first modern humans to wander the earth. The Pauri Bhuiya are also unique among Orissa’s tribals for speaking a version of Oriya, rather than an entirely different language: they claim theirs is the original Oriya.

A Pauri Bhuiya legend speaks of how their mountains came to be so munificent. The Sundergarh branch of the community was once possessed by a rapacious goddess named Kankala Devi, who consumed trees, soil and everything else. In despair, the Pauri Bhuiya placed her on a rock, which she ate through as well—creating a deep hole from which poured out the Khandadhara (split-rock waterfall). So they had water. Then a couple from the community went to visit relatives at the eastern, or Keonjhar, end of the Khandadhar mountain range. Their prospective hosts were away but a pile of grains had been left outdoors and, amazingly, not even the birds were eating it. Inside the heap, the couple discovered a small goddess, Khand Kumari, protector of the region’s prosperity. They stole her and brought her back to Sundergarh, and so her bounty became theirs.

The mining firms call the Khandadhar range the “jackpot”; Orissa govt has promised Posco 2,500 ha of it.

The Pauri Bhuiya never cut down a shade or fruit tree, so the mountaintop abounds with nourishment. The pristine, ancient jungles are home to elephants, sloth bears, leopards, gaur, pythons, peacocks, tigers and a rare limbless lizard—a keystone species that testifies to the richness of the ecosystem. The thick jungle absorbs monsoon rain, releasing the water in perennial streams that feed the Khandadhara. But in the ’90s, some 80 Pauri Bhuiya families were shifted by the Pauri Bhuiya Development Agency (PBDA) from the mountaintop to the plains, under the pretext that their shifting cultivation was damaging the forest.“Here we have nothing,” laments Kalia Dehuri, who now lives in a PBDA settlement. “Our houses are as small as latrines. They promised us five acres of land each but gave us just a little over one acre. When we lived in the forest, if I cut my leg I could find a plant to heal it. Now I have to walk miles in the sun to the doctor, who tells me to come back another day.” The despair and hopelessness is palpable. Of the families brought down, at least 15 have since returned to the mountain. “There it is cool,” says Dehuri, “and they have fruit, water, wood, tubers.”

Not for long. The strikingly coloured rocks that give Khandadhara its beauty are red jasper and black hematite—both made of iron. Downstream of Khandadhara, one can pick up massive, gleaming chunks of largely pure iron. The mining companies call the Khandadhar range the “jackpot”, and at this very moment the Supreme Court is deciding which of several contending firms has the winning ticket. The Orissa government has promised the Pohang Steel Co of South Korea (Posco) as much as 2,500 hectares of Khandadhar—essentially the entire Sundergarh section of the mountain range.


Red waste The Kurmitar mountain now

All the region’s tribals know what will happen if Posco comes, because they have had a foretaste. Deep inside the range, invisible from normal roads, rises a horrific sight: the blood-red carcass of Kurmitar mountain, flayed of its skin of trees and topsoil and terraced into a giant pyramid by a spiralling road for trucks laden with iron ore. Dynamite blasts have pulverised the underlying rock into a fine dust that gives the mine its brilliant red colour. Behind this Mars-scape, the partially shaved surface of another mountain rises—readied for mining by clear-cutting the trees. Dust smothers the jungle for hundreds of metres around, but in the distance one can see the undulating green of what remains, for now, of the Khandadhar reserved forest.

The Kalinga Commercial Corporation Ltd (KCCL) operates the 133-hectare Kurmitar mine. It boasts on its website of having exceeded production targets by several hundred per cent, and of exporting iron ore to China and manganese ore to an unnamed Korean company. Hanuman is said to have carried on his shoulders a portion of the Himalayas in order to find a medicinal plant to save Lakshman’s life. The Samal family of Bhubaneswar, which runs kcc, could be even more powerful: it is transporting an entire mountain to China and beyond.

Kurmitar was a “devisthan”, the abode of a goddess, say the Pauri Bhuiya. It was covered with dense jungle in which thrived elephants, bears and luscious kakri fruit hanging from vines. No doubt driven out by the blasting and loss of habitat, the elephants have begun emerging in the plains. A tigress appeared in January near Phuljhar, at the foot of the mountain. In April, the forest department burned down the huts and food stores of some 20 Pauri Bhuiya families who had come off the mountain and were sheltering in jungles that had been their own.

Just as frightening, the destruction of the forest and the diversion of a mountaintop stream by KCCL has caused the Khandadhara waterfall to partially dry up. Its water no longer reaches the Brahmani river as it used to, and a canal that Bandhbarna’s residents used for fishing, bathing and irrigating crops has been bone-dry for two summers now. All over the region, tubewells are becoming defunct as the water table falls. Streams by Phuljhar and other villages run red with mining dirt, killing fish and polluting fields. When it rains, even the Khandadhara bleeds red, transforming into a ‘raktadhara’ that flows from the mountain’s gaping wounds. If a 133-hectare mine can cause such havoc, the devastation to be wreaked by Posco’s 2,500-hectare lease is beyond imagination.

To begin with, the Khandadhara waterfall will completely dry up, depriving tens of thousands of the water of life. “The miners are demons…they not only eat the soil and trees and rock, but even the water,” says a Pauri Bhuiya woman in Phuljhar. “Kankala Devi gave us this water, these demons will consume it too. We have to get rid of them or they will eat up everything.” All around the Khandadhar range, the tribals are gearing up for a fight—not only for their own survival, but in defense of a common heritage of humankind.


(Mukerjee is author of Churchill’s Secret War and The Land of Naked People.)

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