RCE Srinagar, CEE Himalaya and JSW Foundation promote natural resource conservation on the International Day of Forests and World Water Day 2016

The Himalayan state of Uttarakhand in the Central Himalayas of the Indian Himalayan Region, is largely dominated by biodiversity rich forest ecosystem thus making it one of the most unique yet fragile ecosystems. The majority of the traditional hill communities are dependent on natural resources for food, fruits, fuel wood, and fodder along with a variety of ecological services. Traditional belief was that the natural resources are essential for the livelihood and ecological security of mountain regions.

The Himalayan Tragedy of June 2013 witnessed by the state of Uttarakhand has been attributed to the anthropogenic activities intensifying the effects of climate change in the state. Immediately after the catastrophe Centre for Environment Education (CEE), Himalaya Initiative with the support from JSW Foundation have been working in the three blocks- Dunda, Chinyalisaur and Bhatwari in the Uttarkashi district extending psychosocial care and support to school going and non-school going children; strengthening school education and improving quality of teaching/learning through open air school model “Umang”; and awareness and capacity building on disaster risk reduction, climate change and sustainable mountain development.

The district of Uttarkashi surrounds the sources of two major rivers, Ganga and Yamuna as well as lies on the route of two main pilgrimage sites, Gangotri and Yamunotri thereby attracting thousands of pilgrims on a regular basis. The high influx of tourists and population explosion in the district has extensively endorsed deforestation, encroachment near riversides, construction of roads and tunnels, and dams on rivers destroying the ecological sustainability of the region.

People of the district are dependent upon the rivers Ganga and Yamuna for water but the increasing tourism has drastically deteriorated the quality of water in these holy rivers because of excessive pollution and littering as well as discharge of sewerage into them. Though a few springs and naulas exist entirely depend on monsoon but the water is not portable due to its poor quality, causing water scarcity in the region, especially during summers and monsoon. Another major cause for drying of seasonal springs is the decreasing forest density. The traditional forests are being cut down to construct roads and hotels to meet the demands of growing tourism in the region. To address the issue, the Government of India has initiated Integrated Ganga Conservation Mission called “Namami Gange” Yojana to clean and protect the Ganga River in a comprehensive manner.

CEE Himalaya and the JSW Foundation under their umbrella of “Rebuilding Faith” are also promoting “Namami Gange” by awaking communities to work collectively in cleaning and protecting the natural sources of water in the region.

Acknowledging the International Day of Forests, 21st March 2016, and World Water Day 2016, 22nd March 2016, CEE Himalaya with the support from JSW Foundation and in association with the Mountain Partnership and under RCE Srinagar of the United Nations University of Advanced Studies seized the opportunity to raise awareness among the people of Kuroli village, located in Bhatwari block of the district, about the importance of natural resources like forests and water, to establish linkages between natural resources and to address the urgency to conserve these.

Discussions and open dialogues with the communities helped in understanding the changes in their traditional lifestyle due to the aggravating impacts of climate change on land, water and forests. They said that forests in their regions are depleting due to excessive deforestation for fuel and fodder and increase in forest fires during summers. To curb this, participants stated that the each family in Kuroli community has adopted some patch of their traditional forests and nobody is allowed to cut even a single branch from any tree. The increasing incidences of water borne diseases due to pollution and poor maintenance of water collection points and water conservation and management was also put forth by CEE team by means of water quality testing of major point of water collection in village. Women argued that they are the ones who have to bear the brunt of climate change and depleting natural resources as they have climb uphill for water, fuel and fodder collection then carrying hefty load downhill, consuming their maximum time of the day. They also alleged this is causing excessive back and spinal problems in women and even some have also died while climbing hills with heavy loads during collection of fuel and fodder.

During the event, Yuva Mangal Dal (Youth group) along with the CEE Team initiated a ‘Clean Drive’ in the village wherein the entire youth of the village was involved in cleaning the major collection points, small streams and drainages. Another major reason asserted by the community for degrading water sources and forest quality is the increasing number of trees providing raw material to industries and fetching revenue, e.g. pine. Consequently CEE Team along with the women of Kuroli village planted saplings of native species like Baans (Bamboo), Deodar (Cedrus deodara), and Oak during the event. The event culminated by pledge writing for dedicated and sincere effort for preservation of forests and fast depleting water sources as well as maintaining the existing sources of water.

For further information, contact: HIMANI Project Officer Centre for Environment Education, Himalaya Initiative himani.joshi@ceeindia.org