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Tag: rivers

Who speaks for the Sundarbans?

The 2015 UNEP Champion Of The Earth‬ (Policy Leadership) award has gone to Bangladesh‘s PM Sheikh Hasina.

With a population of 140 million, Bangladesh is one of the world’s most populated countries. It is also one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Cyclones, floods and droughts have long been part of the country’s history but they have intensified in recent years. Her vision is to turn Bangladesh into a middle-income country by 2021 and a developed one by 2041 through implementing environmentally aware policies.

The Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan of 2009 made Bangladesh the first developing country to frame such a coordinated action plan. Bangladesh is also the first country to set up its own Climate Change Trust Fund supported by nearly US$300 million of domestic resources from 2009-2012.

Her government earmarks 6-7 per cent of its annual budget on climate change adaptation.

In addition, the Bangladesh Constitution was amended in 2011 to include protection of the environment and safeguarding natural resources for current and future generations. Prioritized in the constitution along with wetlands and wildlife, the forestry policies initiative by Prime Minister Hasina has provided a natural barrier from some extreme weather events and the country’s forests cover has increased by almost 10 per cent.

Here’s the irony.

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Mr. Jadhav, Jonai Circle, Assam

“I do milk-work,” he said in Hindi with no Assamese accent. “Next time you come to the area, call me. Take my number.” He fished out a tiny 2″x 1″ booklet from his breast pocket. Hunted for the number, showed it to me, reading it upside down in English. Mistaking the 9s for 6s and correcting himself.

“Call me. I will make sure a meal is ready for you. I will feed you well. You must come and eat with me and my family.”

Then this milkman, this Bihari settler Mr. Jadhav, continued on his way, crossing sand and water towards his makeshift home 45 minutes away.

I learned later that he had, not two months ago, lost four out of six cattle, his farmland, and a homestead on the banks of the Brahmaputra to erosion.

Moinuddin, Dibrugarh, Assam

Early one morning, I asked my hotel manager for directions to the fish market. He sent Raju with me to find me a cycle rickshaw. An old man stood, one hand on a rickety blue cycle, at the end of the road. “Twenty rupees,” he said with a smile that revealed three fence-post-like teeth.

I climbed in. And from my perch, watched the inscrutable machinations of serendipity at work.

Moinuddin, once a fisherman, had been pulling rickshaws for 20 years, ever since the river went quiet and the fish disappeared. (Fish catches in this part of the Brahmaputra have fallen 85-90% over the last few decades). He’d watched the city exchange their wild catches for farmed alien species. He’d watched kids of humble fishermen grow up to become fish-barons, their riches feeding on the bland imports.

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Why rivers meander

Have you ever wondered why rivers in their lower courses — in the plains — meander? This video is a fantastic primer for the intercourse of land and river.

This mid 20th century map traces the course of the Mississippi as it floods its plains, silts, up, carves new channels, makes ox-bow lakes, all the while meandering at will through the years. (Mississippi River Meander Belt: Cape Giradeau, MO–Donaldsonville, LA,” from Geological Investigation of the Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River, by Harold N. Fisk, 1944).

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Feeling the pinch

The mighty Brahmaputra river spans a whopping 7 km at Dibrugarh, Upper Assam, India. A writhing pile of fat water and sand snakes that wanders and meanders, protean, amorphous, and willful.  The only way to cross this river is by jumping on a ferry and hoping it makes it across, escaping shoals lurking just under the muddy surface. Jeeps, cars, motorcycles, chickens, goats, people, they all jump on the hourly ferry that runs south bank to north bank. Reaching the ferry dock is not trivial either. The road is a dustbowl, also protean, hostage to the whims of the wandering river.

A bridge across the Brahmaputra would be a boon to all, if executed correctly.

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Four rivers

Rivers are forces of nature, but over time, humans have learned to harness their power and change their course — often for the worse

The intro to a Longreads collection on four mighty rivers and what we are doing to kill them resonates. After all, Peepli as a concept began with this Arati Kumar-Rao exploration of the many ways in which another of the world’s storied rivers, the Brahmaputra, is at increasing risk. Here, the four stories from the Longreads collection:

The Ganges: Holy, Deadly River

Move still further downstream and you reach Varanasi. I assume that this — the cultural heart of India and of Hinduism and, it is said, the world’s oldest living city — must be the place to understand what is being done to the Ganges and why Indians so abuse the river they worship. At dawn near the ghats (the riverside steps) and funeral pyres, holy men meditate and pilgrims bathe. A pair of dogs fight over charred human remains on the muddy shore (one scientist has calculated that 32,000 human corpses are cremated here each year, with 200 tonnes of half-burnt human flesh discharged into the Ganges). The rotting remains of a monkey, its face distorted in a watery rictus, is caught on a boat’s mooring line. A rotund man snorts like a hippo­potamus as he swims across to the far bank and a yoga lesson broadcast by loudspeaker punctuates the subdued roar of awakened humanity.

Killing the Colorado — a fantastic, and fantastically well conceptualised, Pro Publica project on the myriad ways in which a river that sustains 40 million Americans is being choked to death

River of Death: Pegged to the death of a young boy, Steve Fisher investigates how American companies dump toxic waste into Mexico’s storied Santiago River

The San Jacinto, and the toxins that flow through it — this story, via the Houston Press, is notable for the many themes it shares with the Ganges, the Colorado, the Santiago. And the Brahmaputra. Different rivers, same old story.

Bonus link: Chasing the Sacred, Peter McBride’s exploration of the Ganges from source to sea, underlines many of the themes and points Victor Mallet makes in the FT piece linked to above.

(Lead image courtesy Der Spiegel)


Where Rivers Run Black

Last year NASA released a map that should be a wakeup call for each one of us.

“You are,” it screamed across patches of warning-red spanning all of India, “consuming way more than the natural recharge rate of aquifers. Beware, your water reserves are running out.”

India extracts more groundwater than any other country in the world. Runner-up China uses just half the amount India does. Further, our water is grossly contaminated in many places — and that toxic brew is what a large percentage of our population consumes every day.

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