India, recognized as one of the twelve mega-diversity countries of the world, is facing grave ecological challenges.
The theme of this year’s Earth Day celebrations is “The Face of Climate Change.” Here’s a quick snap-shot of climate change in the country struggling to strike a balance between its changing ecology and increasing stress on natural resources.
The Changing Himalayas
The Eastern Himalayas in India are one of the twenty-five biodiversity hot-spots in the world. The area exhibits high species richness that is geographically unique to Himalayan region.
However, the ecology of the upper reaches of Himalayas faces extensive threat due to tunneling and diversion of Himalayan rivers.
According to a report by an Indian magazine, Tehelka, the Indian Government has planned 600 dams on the river Ganges and tunneling of 130 km, starting just 14 km from its origin.
Environmentalists worry that tunneling for such long stretches would result in loss of flora, fauna, and fertile soil.
Warming climate across the globe is changing the Himalayas faster than any other region in the world, and the mighty glaciers feeding most of the Indian rivers are melting.
According to a study titled ”The Changing Himalayas” by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the warming in Himalayas has been greater than the global average of 0.74 degree Celsius over the past hundred years.
The study suggests in many areas, a greater proportion of total precipitation appears to be falling as rains than before. As a result snow-melt begins earlier and winter is shorter. This affects river regimes, natural hazards, water supplies, and people’s livelihoods.
Indian Coastline Under Stress
India has a long coastline, endowed with rich ecosystems. The coastal and marine ecosystems include a variety of mangroves, coral reefs, sea grasses, estuaries, and lagoons etc.
However, according to a World Bank report, “Protecting India’s Coastline,” in spite of their ecological richness and contribution to economy, the country’s coastal and marine areas have not received adequate protection and are under stress.
The report says that about 34 percent of India’s mangroves were destroyed during 1950-2000 (although substantial restoration and conservation has taken place over the past 10 years); almost all coral areas are threatened; marine fish stocks are declining; and several species of ornamental fish and sea cucumbers are fast disappearing.
The report further points out that only 9 percent of waste-water from India’s coastal towns is treated before entering coastal waters, adding to their already heavy chemical burden from the huge volumes of agricultural run-off that routinely flow into them.
Rivers Carrying Untreated Waste
India’s rivers have sustained country’s civilization since ancient times, acting as its lifelines. However, these days they are gravely threatened by the extremely large inflow of country’s waste into them.
Media reports say 80 percent of the country’s waste flows untreated into its rivers.
The Ganges and Yamuna rivers face extensive threat due to waste disposal, reports suggest that these perennial snow-fed rivers, originating from the Himalayas are being degraded to sewage-drains after reaching in cities.
The gradual killing of country’s resources is happening at a shocking fast rate, while the pace of conservation and protection measure is relatively slow.
The problem has become so grave that the polluted river water stands out as the biggest cause of skin problems, disabilities, and high infant mortality rate.