Author: Pramila Krishnan

About Pramila Krishnan

Pramila Krishnan is special correspondent for the News 7 Tamil TV channel in Chennai, India.

Climate change is killing off India’s bees

A warming climate and the loss of natural areas to meet the demands of tourism are driving Indian bee colonies to the brink, imperilling an essential food source.

CHENNAI, 22 February, 2016 – A lethal combination of climate change and human interference is helping to wipe out colonies of the giant honeybees on which many plants and trees in India depend for their survival.

The precise cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD) is not known, but researchers say that the loss of the bees will become disastrous for the whole ecosystem if it is not tackled.

The giant rock bee (Apis dorsata) is in sharp decline in one of its strongholds in the Nilgiris mountain range in southern India. The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, the first in India, has always been known for its giant bees, which form honeycombs on cliff tops and in tree canopies.

The bees, which grow up to 2cm in length, are migratory and frequently move to a new site to take advantage of better foraging. In places where flowering plants were abundant, there were often more than a dozen large bees’ nests, almost touching each other, in some of the larger trees.

Rainfall patterns

Separate colonies of thousands of bees lived in harmony, producing large quantities of honey from the vast array of plants. But a change in rainfall patterns is now causing droughts that are wiping out some tree and flower species.

This, combined with the tourism that is prompting development in once natural areas, has led to a collapse in the numbers of bees, which scientists say help to pollinate 18% of 86 tree species and 22% of the shrubs in Nilgiris.

Local tribesmen depend on the bees for much of their nourishment, and 60-year-old Madhan Bomman, of the Kattunaicken tribe, is one of those campaigning to save the bees from the effects of CCD.

He says: “My community is completely dependent on honey bees. Teenage boys in our community will be trained in climbing trees and fetching honey from as young as 15 years. Fetching honey has been our occupation for several decades. Honey is also an important food in our menu for our family festivals.”

“It is visible that climate change has affected agriculture and the food chain in Nilgiris”

Bomman recalls how numerous the bees once were. “During my teens, our men would stick with one huge tree and draw honey for an entire week,” he says.. “Honey from one tree would be enough for 50 families.

“Now our sons have to climb 10 trees to get a few litres of honey. We find only very few tall trees in the forests, and several varieties of flowers have disappeared.”

He says tourism is also causing forest land to be lost and become covered in concrete. Nilgiris is a major tourist hub, receiving 2.5 million tourists every year. To cater for them, hundreds of legal and illegal structures have been built there, affecting land use patterns in the mountains.

Dr S Manivanan, a senior scientist at the Central Soil and Water Conservation Research & Training Institute, a government body, says the government should stop approving construction on steep slopes.

Water shortages

“It is visible that climate change has affected agriculture and the food chain in Nilgiris,” he says. “The yield of vegetables and fruits is very low because of inadequate moisture content in the soil. Changes such as heavy rainfall in unseasonable months and severe water shortages at regular intervals indicate climate change.”

To add to the other problems, huge numbers of bees are also falling victim to the temptations of plastic cups. A recent research paper says dregs left behind in the disposable cups attract honey bees on a large scale.

“Instead of visiting the natural flowers, the bees are attracted more by the sugary rich residue in the cups and use it as an alternative food resource,” says the author of the paper, S Sandilyan, assistant professor in the Department of Zoology and Wildlife Biology at AVC College, Mayiladuthurai, Tamil Nadu..

He says the cups are death traps for the bees, which are trapped in the sticky liquid and cannot fly out to safety. During his research, he recorded the death of nearly 170 bees a day at a single beverage shop. – Climate News Network

A warming climate and the loss of natural areas to meet the demands of tourism are driving Indian bee colonies to the brink, imperilling an essential food source.

CHENNAI, 22 February, 2016 – A lethal combination of climate change and human interference is helping to wipe out colonies of the giant honeybees on which many plants and trees in India depend for their survival.

The precise cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD) is not known, but researchers say that the loss of the bees will become disastrous for the whole ecosystem if it is not tackled.

The giant rock bee (Apis dorsata) is in sharp decline in one of its strongholds in the Nilgiris mountain range in southern India. The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, the first in India, has always been known for its giant bees, which form honeycombs on cliff tops and in tree canopies.

The bees, which grow up to 2cm in length, are migratory and frequently move to a new site to take advantage of better foraging. In places where flowering plants were abundant, there were often more than a dozen large bees’ nests, almost touching each other, in some of the larger trees.

Rainfall patterns

Separate colonies of thousands of bees lived in harmony, producing large quantities of honey from the vast array of plants. But a change in rainfall patterns is now causing droughts that are wiping out some tree and flower species.

This, combined with the tourism that is prompting development in once natural areas, has led to a collapse in the numbers of bees, which scientists say help to pollinate 18% of 86 tree species and 22% of the shrubs in Nilgiris.

Local tribesmen depend on the bees for much of their nourishment, and 60-year-old Madhan Bomman, of the Kattunaicken tribe, is one of those campaigning to save the bees from the effects of CCD.

He says: “My community is completely dependent on honey bees. Teenage boys in our community will be trained in climbing trees and fetching honey from as young as 15 years. Fetching honey has been our occupation for several decades. Honey is also an important food in our menu for our family festivals.”

“It is visible that climate change has affected agriculture and the food chain in Nilgiris”

Bomman recalls how numerous the bees once were. “During my teens, our men would stick with one huge tree and draw honey for an entire week,” he says.. “Honey from one tree would be enough for 50 families.

“Now our sons have to climb 10 trees to get a few litres of honey. We find only very few tall trees in the forests, and several varieties of flowers have disappeared.”

He says tourism is also causing forest land to be lost and become covered in concrete. Nilgiris is a major tourist hub, receiving 2.5 million tourists every year. To cater for them, hundreds of legal and illegal structures have been built there, affecting land use patterns in the mountains.

Dr S Manivanan, a senior scientist at the Central Soil and Water Conservation Research & Training Institute, a government body, says the government should stop approving construction on steep slopes.

Water shortages

“It is visible that climate change has affected agriculture and the food chain in Nilgiris,” he says. “The yield of vegetables and fruits is very low because of inadequate moisture content in the soil. Changes such as heavy rainfall in unseasonable months and severe water shortages at regular intervals indicate climate change.”

To add to the other problems, huge numbers of bees are also falling victim to the temptations of plastic cups. A recent research paper says dregs left behind in the disposable cups attract honey bees on a large scale.

“Instead of visiting the natural flowers, the bees are attracted more by the sugary rich residue in the cups and use it as an alternative food resource,” says the author of the paper, S Sandilyan, assistant professor in the Department of Zoology and Wildlife Biology at AVC College, Mayiladuthurai, Tamil Nadu..

He says the cups are death traps for the bees, which are trapped in the sticky liquid and cannot fly out to safety. During his research, he recorded the death of nearly 170 bees a day at a single beverage shop. – Climate News Network

India blames climate for Chennai floods

COP21: As the southern Indian city of Chennai still struggles to cope after floods that have cost hundreds of lives and left thousands homeless, India says climate change is to blame.

CHENNAI, 5 December, 2015 – “We will have to resurrect an entire city,” was the verdict of one Indian army officer involved in rescue operations after 17 continuous days of record-breaking rainfall devastated the coastal city of Chennai.

Yet the plight of India’s fourth largest city, and other parts of the state of Tamil Nadu, has attracted little attention at the COP21 climate change talks in Paris, which aim to prevent the atmosphere overheating and causing extreme weather events such as the one that has ravaged Chennai.

The scale of the devastation has been vast after rivers and lakes broke their banks when rain three times more than the usual figure fell in the days leading up to the Paris summit.

The confirmed death toll has reached 280, and 28,000 people have had to be rescued. Three million people were left without basic services at the height of the crisis, the cost of which is estimated at more than US$225 million.

Perhaps conference delegates are just getting used to extreme weather. In 2012, it was Haiti and the Philippines that were affected, and a super-cyclone hit the Philippines again in 2013. This year, it is India’s turn.

No monsoon

But India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, insists: “We are seeing the impact of climate change now. The unseasonal rains resulted in the floods in Tamil Nadu. We have witnessed heavy rains in non-monsoon weather.”

During a radio address to the Indian people before the Paris summit, he stressed the need for capacity-building and spreading awareness about the impact of climate change in India. He also proposed joint exercises by South Asian nations for disaster preparedness.

India’s environment minister, Prakash Javadekar, linked the deluge to the actions of industrialised nations. “What is happening in Chennai is the result of what has happened for 150 years in the developed world,” he said. “Historically, they have reaped the benefits of growth, and now they can’t say that the past is the past.”

More than 50 villages in the region were marooned, and 50,000 people were sent to relief camps that resemble wartime refugee camps.

Two left alive

In the village of Periyakatupalayam, near the coastal town of Cuddalore, the flash floods killed eight members of a single family, including four children.

“We lost everything,” said 50-year-old Amirtham through her tears after she and her son were the only family members to survive. “There is no meaning now for me in living out the evening of my life. I could see my house just washed away with my grandchildren inside.”

Rajalakshmi, a 12-year-old schoolgirl who found a place in the relief camp with her family, said: “I lost my school books in the tsunami in 2004, then in the Thane cyclone in 2011, and again this year. I have nothing with me. There is an empty space and a mass of soil in the place where my house was.”

Gagan Deep Singh Bedi, appointed by the Tamil Nadu government to manage relief work, agrees that the district’s infrastructure must be strengthened in the face of floods and other disasters. “Relief programmes are being carried out,” he says. “We provide food and water, and medical camps are being organised to control water-borne diseases.” – Climate News Network

COP21: As the southern Indian city of Chennai still struggles to cope after floods that have cost hundreds of lives and left thousands homeless, India says climate change is to blame.

CHENNAI, 5 December, 2015 – “We will have to resurrect an entire city,” was the verdict of one Indian army officer involved in rescue operations after 17 continuous days of record-breaking rainfall devastated the coastal city of Chennai.

Yet the plight of India’s fourth largest city, and other parts of the state of Tamil Nadu, has attracted little attention at the COP21 climate change talks in Paris, which aim to prevent the atmosphere overheating and causing extreme weather events such as the one that has ravaged Chennai.

The scale of the devastation has been vast after rivers and lakes broke their banks when rain three times more than the usual figure fell in the days leading up to the Paris summit.

The confirmed death toll has reached 280, and 28,000 people have had to be rescued. Three million people were left without basic services at the height of the crisis, the cost of which is estimated at more than US$225 million.

Perhaps conference delegates are just getting used to extreme weather. In 2012, it was Haiti and the Philippines that were affected, and a super-cyclone hit the Philippines again in 2013. This year, it is India’s turn.

No monsoon

But India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, insists: “We are seeing the impact of climate change now. The unseasonal rains resulted in the floods in Tamil Nadu. We have witnessed heavy rains in non-monsoon weather.”

During a radio address to the Indian people before the Paris summit, he stressed the need for capacity-building and spreading awareness about the impact of climate change in India. He also proposed joint exercises by South Asian nations for disaster preparedness.

India’s environment minister, Prakash Javadekar, linked the deluge to the actions of industrialised nations. “What is happening in Chennai is the result of what has happened for 150 years in the developed world,” he said. “Historically, they have reaped the benefits of growth, and now they can’t say that the past is the past.”

More than 50 villages in the region were marooned, and 50,000 people were sent to relief camps that resemble wartime refugee camps.

Two left alive

In the village of Periyakatupalayam, near the coastal town of Cuddalore, the flash floods killed eight members of a single family, including four children.

“We lost everything,” said 50-year-old Amirtham through her tears after she and her son were the only family members to survive. “There is no meaning now for me in living out the evening of my life. I could see my house just washed away with my grandchildren inside.”

Rajalakshmi, a 12-year-old schoolgirl who found a place in the relief camp with her family, said: “I lost my school books in the tsunami in 2004, then in the Thane cyclone in 2011, and again this year. I have nothing with me. There is an empty space and a mass of soil in the place where my house was.”

Gagan Deep Singh Bedi, appointed by the Tamil Nadu government to manage relief work, agrees that the district’s infrastructure must be strengthened in the face of floods and other disasters. “Relief programmes are being carried out,” he says. “We provide food and water, and medical camps are being organised to control water-borne diseases.” – Climate News Network

World’s first solar-powered airport takes off

The international airport at Cochin in southern India has blazed a pioneering trail by becoming the first to run all its ground operations on solar power. COCHIN, 8 September, 2015 – More than 46,000 solar panels have been laid out across 45 acres of land to fuel the operations of Cochin airport, India’s fourth largest in terms of international passenger traffic. Officials at the airport in the south-western state of Kerala say it will now be “absolutely power neutral” – and will even produce an excess that will boost the state’s electricity grid. The project’s designers say between 50,000 and 60,000 units of electricity will be supplied each day by the 12 megawatt plant, commissioned by the German multinational engineering and electronics company Bosch at a cost of US$9.5 million. “When we realised the scale of our power bill, we looked at various possibilities,” says V.J. Kurian, Cochin International’s managing director.

Sustainable model

“We consume around 48,000 units of power a day. So if we can produce the same by strictly adhering to the green and sustainable model of infrastructure development we always follow, we can send a message to the world. “Now this has become the world’s first airport that fully operates on solar power. In fact, we are producing a few megawatts of extra energy, which is being contributed to the state’s power grid.” India, which relies heavily on coal-fired power plants for its energy, is the world’s fourth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), sending nearly 1.3 million tonnes into the atmosphere each year. China is the world’s biggest polluter, with annual GHG emissions of more than six million tonnes.

“By strictly adhering to the green and sustainable model of infrastructure development we always follow, we can send a message to the world”

Other airports in India are now being urged by the government to follow Cochin’s lead. The Netaji Subash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata, West Bengal is already planning to set up a 15 megawatt solar plant on 60 acres of land. Around the world, other airports are adopting solar power to run all or part of their ground operations.

Cost-effective

A new international airport in Mexico City aims to be the world’s most sustainable when completed in 2018. The revamped Terminal 2 at London Heathrow airport has many solar features integrated into its operations. And Denver International is one of a number of US airports utilising solar power plants. Cochin International says its new solar plant, which began operations in mid-August, is cost-effective, very efficient − and has attracted widespread attention. The airport’s public relations manager, P.S.Jayan, told Climate News Network: “During the inauguration of the airport service, schoolchildren visited to see how solar energy is used to operate the entire airport facility. “We have received many requests from schoolteachers who want to send their students here to learn about renewable energy.” – Climate News Network

The international airport at Cochin in southern India has blazed a pioneering trail by becoming the first to run all its ground operations on solar power. COCHIN, 8 September, 2015 – More than 46,000 solar panels have been laid out across 45 acres of land to fuel the operations of Cochin airport, India’s fourth largest in terms of international passenger traffic. Officials at the airport in the south-western state of Kerala say it will now be “absolutely power neutral” – and will even produce an excess that will boost the state’s electricity grid. The project’s designers say between 50,000 and 60,000 units of electricity will be supplied each day by the 12 megawatt plant, commissioned by the German multinational engineering and electronics company Bosch at a cost of US$9.5 million. “When we realised the scale of our power bill, we looked at various possibilities,” says V.J. Kurian, Cochin International’s managing director.

Sustainable model

“We consume around 48,000 units of power a day. So if we can produce the same by strictly adhering to the green and sustainable model of infrastructure development we always follow, we can send a message to the world. “Now this has become the world’s first airport that fully operates on solar power. In fact, we are producing a few megawatts of extra energy, which is being contributed to the state’s power grid.” India, which relies heavily on coal-fired power plants for its energy, is the world’s fourth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), sending nearly 1.3 million tonnes into the atmosphere each year. China is the world’s biggest polluter, with annual GHG emissions of more than six million tonnes.

“By strictly adhering to the green and sustainable model of infrastructure development we always follow, we can send a message to the world”

Other airports in India are now being urged by the government to follow Cochin’s lead. The Netaji Subash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata, West Bengal is already planning to set up a 15 megawatt solar plant on 60 acres of land. Around the world, other airports are adopting solar power to run all or part of their ground operations.

Cost-effective

A new international airport in Mexico City aims to be the world’s most sustainable when completed in 2018. The revamped Terminal 2 at London Heathrow airport has many solar features integrated into its operations. And Denver International is one of a number of US airports utilising solar power plants. Cochin International says its new solar plant, which began operations in mid-August, is cost-effective, very efficient − and has attracted widespread attention. The airport’s public relations manager, P.S.Jayan, told Climate News Network: “During the inauguration of the airport service, schoolchildren visited to see how solar energy is used to operate the entire airport facility. “We have received many requests from schoolteachers who want to send their students here to learn about renewable energy.” – Climate News Network

India blames heatwave deaths on climate change 

Fierce temperatures in India doubled the heat-related deaths normally recorded in May − and the government insists natural causes are not to blame. CHENNAI, 19 June, 2015 − India, one of the key players in the efforts to reach an international agreement on global warming, has no doubt of its malign effects. It was, says a government minister, the warming climate that caused last month’s devastating heatwave. From mid-April till the end of May, nearly 2,200 people were killed by the heat − 1,636 of them in Andhra Pradesh, the worst-affected state. The normal May figure for the whole of India is about 1,000 heat-related deaths. Dr Harsh Vardhan, India’s Minister of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences, has blamed the heat deaths squarely on climate change.

Improve understanding

Launching a supercomputer at the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting to improve understanding of climatic changes, he said: “It’s not just another unusually hot summer − it is climate change. “Let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heatwave and the certainty of another failed monsoon.” Dr Vardhan said that May’s heatwave, followed by the delay to the start of the monsoon, on which nearly half of India’s farmlands depend, was a definite manifestation of climate change. Jejabba, a 63-year-old farmer in Andhra Pradesh state, was one of those who lost their lives because of this year’s scorching heat. He took his cows out to graze in a mango grove near his house around 11am, but was tired and dehydrated when he returned home four hours later. After he began vomiting, and then fainted, he was rushed to the small government hospital 5km from his village, but died on the way.

“In my 17 years of service, I have not come across such an alarming number of deaths due to a heatwave”

“Summer is severe, and many people have been affected by the heatwave in our village,” says Jejabba’s distant cousin, Pindigi Ramamurthi, who runs a grain store in the village. “Just the previous day, we took our two children to hospital after they began vomiting. The doctor admitted them for a few hours to administer fluids, and luckily that revived them.” Local officials recorded Jejabba as “the latest of the summer deaths”. But when his widow asked for compensation − the state government pays 100,000 rupees (US$1,570) to the family of a victim − the local panchayat (civic) official, who has to recommend the payment, told her she must get a certificate from the hospital doctor. “The doctor told the family he could not give the certificate because Jejabba did not die in his hospital,” Ramamurthi recalls. “Why couldn’t the poor fellow have stayed alive just an hour or so longer till we reached the hospital? Now the widow must suffer this red tape.” In parts of southern India, daytime temperatures reached between 45° and 47°C during this year’s heatwave − up to 7°C above normal.

Alarming number

Dr Srihari Rao, resident medical officer at the government general hospital in Tirupati, about 45km from Jejabba’s home, says: “In my 17 years of service, I have not come across such an alarming number of deaths due to a heatwave. “Almost every day in May there was a death in the district from sunstroke. The majority of the dead were in the 65 to 80 age group, but there was also a case of a 19-year-old girl dying from dehydration.” Dr Rao said infants, aged people and farmers had been particularly severely affected. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported last year that there would be significant changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, including heatwaves in India. Its report was based on weather records from 1906 to 2005. Researchers at the India Meteorological Department, after conducting a study of heatwaves over the last 50 years, have called for public information campaigns to be launched on the dangers, and also stressed the importance of using social care networks to reach vulnerable sections of the population. − Climate News Network

Fierce temperatures in India doubled the heat-related deaths normally recorded in May − and the government insists natural causes are not to blame. CHENNAI, 19 June, 2015 − India, one of the key players in the efforts to reach an international agreement on global warming, has no doubt of its malign effects. It was, says a government minister, the warming climate that caused last month’s devastating heatwave. From mid-April till the end of May, nearly 2,200 people were killed by the heat − 1,636 of them in Andhra Pradesh, the worst-affected state. The normal May figure for the whole of India is about 1,000 heat-related deaths. Dr Harsh Vardhan, India’s Minister of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences, has blamed the heat deaths squarely on climate change.

Improve understanding

Launching a supercomputer at the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting to improve understanding of climatic changes, he said: “It’s not just another unusually hot summer − it is climate change. “Let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heatwave and the certainty of another failed monsoon.” Dr Vardhan said that May’s heatwave, followed by the delay to the start of the monsoon, on which nearly half of India’s farmlands depend, was a definite manifestation of climate change. Jejabba, a 63-year-old farmer in Andhra Pradesh state, was one of those who lost their lives because of this year’s scorching heat. He took his cows out to graze in a mango grove near his house around 11am, but was tired and dehydrated when he returned home four hours later. After he began vomiting, and then fainted, he was rushed to the small government hospital 5km from his village, but died on the way.

“In my 17 years of service, I have not come across such an alarming number of deaths due to a heatwave”

“Summer is severe, and many people have been affected by the heatwave in our village,” says Jejabba’s distant cousin, Pindigi Ramamurthi, who runs a grain store in the village. “Just the previous day, we took our two children to hospital after they began vomiting. The doctor admitted them for a few hours to administer fluids, and luckily that revived them.” Local officials recorded Jejabba as “the latest of the summer deaths”. But when his widow asked for compensation − the state government pays 100,000 rupees (US$1,570) to the family of a victim − the local panchayat (civic) official, who has to recommend the payment, told her she must get a certificate from the hospital doctor. “The doctor told the family he could not give the certificate because Jejabba did not die in his hospital,” Ramamurthi recalls. “Why couldn’t the poor fellow have stayed alive just an hour or so longer till we reached the hospital? Now the widow must suffer this red tape.” In parts of southern India, daytime temperatures reached between 45° and 47°C during this year’s heatwave − up to 7°C above normal.

Alarming number

Dr Srihari Rao, resident medical officer at the government general hospital in Tirupati, about 45km from Jejabba’s home, says: “In my 17 years of service, I have not come across such an alarming number of deaths due to a heatwave. “Almost every day in May there was a death in the district from sunstroke. The majority of the dead were in the 65 to 80 age group, but there was also a case of a 19-year-old girl dying from dehydration.” Dr Rao said infants, aged people and farmers had been particularly severely affected. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported last year that there would be significant changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, including heatwaves in India. Its report was based on weather records from 1906 to 2005. Researchers at the India Meteorological Department, after conducting a study of heatwaves over the last 50 years, have called for public information campaigns to be launched on the dangers, and also stressed the importance of using social care networks to reach vulnerable sections of the population. − Climate News Network

“Water Man of India” makes rivers flow again

Revival of traditional rainwater harvesting has transformed the driest state in India, and could be used to combat the effects of climate change across the world. Chennai, 6 April, 2015 − School textbooks in India have been telling children for generations that Rajasthan is an inhospitable state in the northwest of the country, constrained by the hot, hostile sands of the Thar Desert. But the driest state in India has a softer, humane face as well – that of Rajendra Singh, known as the “Water Man of India”, whose untiring efforts in water conservation in arid Rajasthan have led to him being awarded the Stockholm Water Prize, commonly referred to as the Nobel Prize for Water. Singh did not attempt to design a new technology to address Rajasthan’s water problems. He began simply by de-silting several traditional surface level rainwater storage facilities – called “johads” in the local Hindi language − that fell out of use during British colonial rule. And, in doing so, he has quenched the thirst of villages that were dying. Thousands of villages followed his example, and so much water was captured and soaked into aquifers that dry rivers have begun to flow again.

Water wars

Singh believes that water conservation is vital to combat the effects of climate change and to avoid “water wars” in the future. And such is his reputation on water issues that he received a call from Prince Charles, heir to the UK throne, seeking advice on how to handle the devastating summer floods in England in 2007. In an interview with Climate News Network, Singh recalled how he began making water flow again in perennially dry Rajasthan by inculcating do-it-yourself initiatives in the villagers. He explained: “I imbibed Gandhian ideals during my school days that emphasised working for empowerment of villages. “As an Ayurvedic (traditional medicine system in India) doctor, I went to the Alwar district of Rajasthan early in 1982 to start a clinic and spread awareness among youth about health and hygiene. “I was perturbed because the majority of young men had already left the village, and the rest were about to leave for green pastures in the cities as they were unable to battle the water scarcity. Besides, they also wanted to earn good money. “Women, old people and children were left behind in the village. I reworked my doctor plans to address the water scarcity, as that would actually save people from several diseases.

A village johad in arid Rajasthan. Image: LRBurdak via Wikimedia Commons

A village johad in arid Rajasthan. Image: LRBurdak via Wikimedia Commons

“Along with the support of the villagers, I de-silted a couple of johads in Alwar. When rains filled them, people in neighbouring villages trusted my initiative and over 8,000 johads are renovated now. “Hordes of youth have returned to their villages as water filled tanks and the standard of living in hamlets rose in a big way.” He said that five rivers in this region had revived and started to flow again. Johads are simple tanks built across a slope, with a high embankment on three sides and the fourth side left open for rainwater to enter. They hold water during rains and recharge the aquifer below to ensure continuous water supply to the neighbourhood in the dry season.

“Community-based water management yields long-lasting results and is the only solution for water shortages”

But Singh explained: “After the advent of bore wells and pipelines connecting every hamlet in India, we forgot the traditional water conservation facility used by our ancestors.” Having won the Stockholm prize, what does the future hold for the Water Man? “My immediate plans are to take up a global-level campaign on water conservation and peace,” he said. “As predicted by several experts, the next world war will be for water. Unless every one of us starts at least now to save water and protect the water bodies, we face severe conflicts − apart from suffering climate change impacts. I will be leading the global water walk in the UK in August 2015. “During his two visits (2004 and 2006), Prince Charles told me that he was impressed by the johad model of conservation. He then called me in 2007 to be part of his team of water engineers to work out all possibilities to address the crisis during the floods in England. They listened to my suggestions on creating the johad model on hilltops and downhill to arrest water in the hills and prevent floods in the future.” In India, however, he is not confident that the government has the right ideas. “Our government is pushing a different idea of inter-linking of rivers, which will only politicise the water crisis. I was part of the national-level body to clean up the holy Ganga River from 2010 to 2012, but I quit as there was lack of accountability and it ended up as a toothless organisation. “Inter-linking of rivers is not a solution for flood and drought. As far as India is concerned, it will result only in inter-linking of corruption and politics.

Hearts and brains

“What we need is inter-linking of the hearts and brains of people to take up water conservation in their homes and community. If exploitation of river water and polluting the river are stopped, every river will flow. Water engineering should be focused on conservation of each drop, and not on changing the course of rivers, which are designed by Mother Nature.” Singh is also against the idea of privatising water supplies, and does not believe it would result in people using water more judiciously. “Water is not a commodity,” he said. “In my own example, johads are de-silted by the people and used by people. Community-based water management yields long-lasting results and is the only solution for water shortages. “When people realise their need and de-silt lakes and ponds as a group, they can use the water without having to pay for it. Right to water is every man’s right, and monetising water will increase conflicts in the society. “Helping a community to have access to clean and safe water means helping the community to have a dignified life.” – Climate News Network

Revival of traditional rainwater harvesting has transformed the driest state in India, and could be used to combat the effects of climate change across the world. Chennai, 6 April, 2015 − School textbooks in India have been telling children for generations that Rajasthan is an inhospitable state in the northwest of the country, constrained by the hot, hostile sands of the Thar Desert. But the driest state in India has a softer, humane face as well – that of Rajendra Singh, known as the “Water Man of India”, whose untiring efforts in water conservation in arid Rajasthan have led to him being awarded the Stockholm Water Prize, commonly referred to as the Nobel Prize for Water. Singh did not attempt to design a new technology to address Rajasthan’s water problems. He began simply by de-silting several traditional surface level rainwater storage facilities – called “johads” in the local Hindi language − that fell out of use during British colonial rule. And, in doing so, he has quenched the thirst of villages that were dying. Thousands of villages followed his example, and so much water was captured and soaked into aquifers that dry rivers have begun to flow again.

Water wars

Singh believes that water conservation is vital to combat the effects of climate change and to avoid “water wars” in the future. And such is his reputation on water issues that he received a call from Prince Charles, heir to the UK throne, seeking advice on how to handle the devastating summer floods in England in 2007. In an interview with Climate News Network, Singh recalled how he began making water flow again in perennially dry Rajasthan by inculcating do-it-yourself initiatives in the villagers. He explained: “I imbibed Gandhian ideals during my school days that emphasised working for empowerment of villages. “As an Ayurvedic (traditional medicine system in India) doctor, I went to the Alwar district of Rajasthan early in 1982 to start a clinic and spread awareness among youth about health and hygiene. “I was perturbed because the majority of young men had already left the village, and the rest were about to leave for green pastures in the cities as they were unable to battle the water scarcity. Besides, they also wanted to earn good money. “Women, old people and children were left behind in the village. I reworked my doctor plans to address the water scarcity, as that would actually save people from several diseases.

A village johad in arid Rajasthan. Image: LRBurdak via Wikimedia Commons

A village johad in arid Rajasthan. Image: LRBurdak via Wikimedia Commons

“Along with the support of the villagers, I de-silted a couple of johads in Alwar. When rains filled them, people in neighbouring villages trusted my initiative and over 8,000 johads are renovated now. “Hordes of youth have returned to their villages as water filled tanks and the standard of living in hamlets rose in a big way.” He said that five rivers in this region had revived and started to flow again. Johads are simple tanks built across a slope, with a high embankment on three sides and the fourth side left open for rainwater to enter. They hold water during rains and recharge the aquifer below to ensure continuous water supply to the neighbourhood in the dry season.

“Community-based water management yields long-lasting results and is the only solution for water shortages”

But Singh explained: “After the advent of bore wells and pipelines connecting every hamlet in India, we forgot the traditional water conservation facility used by our ancestors.” Having won the Stockholm prize, what does the future hold for the Water Man? “My immediate plans are to take up a global-level campaign on water conservation and peace,” he said. “As predicted by several experts, the next world war will be for water. Unless every one of us starts at least now to save water and protect the water bodies, we face severe conflicts − apart from suffering climate change impacts. I will be leading the global water walk in the UK in August 2015. “During his two visits (2004 and 2006), Prince Charles told me that he was impressed by the johad model of conservation. He then called me in 2007 to be part of his team of water engineers to work out all possibilities to address the crisis during the floods in England. They listened to my suggestions on creating the johad model on hilltops and downhill to arrest water in the hills and prevent floods in the future.” In India, however, he is not confident that the government has the right ideas. “Our government is pushing a different idea of inter-linking of rivers, which will only politicise the water crisis. I was part of the national-level body to clean up the holy Ganga River from 2010 to 2012, but I quit as there was lack of accountability and it ended up as a toothless organisation. “Inter-linking of rivers is not a solution for flood and drought. As far as India is concerned, it will result only in inter-linking of corruption and politics.

Hearts and brains

“What we need is inter-linking of the hearts and brains of people to take up water conservation in their homes and community. If exploitation of river water and polluting the river are stopped, every river will flow. Water engineering should be focused on conservation of each drop, and not on changing the course of rivers, which are designed by Mother Nature.” Singh is also against the idea of privatising water supplies, and does not believe it would result in people using water more judiciously. “Water is not a commodity,” he said. “In my own example, johads are de-silted by the people and used by people. Community-based water management yields long-lasting results and is the only solution for water shortages. “When people realise their need and de-silt lakes and ponds as a group, they can use the water without having to pay for it. Right to water is every man’s right, and monetising water will increase conflicts in the society. “Helping a community to have access to clean and safe water means helping the community to have a dignified life.” – Climate News Network

India’s lethal heat wave strikes again

Large numbers of people die in India each year because of heat waves − and as climate change takes hold and the country swelters again, doctors are warning the public to take extra precautions Chennai, 28 May − Kumar Srinivasan, a 34-year-old policeman, is struggling to cope with the heat as he controls traffic at a busy city-centre road junction in Chennai, South India. “I feel like a roasted chicken,” he says. “But it’s actually worse, since I am alive while the chicken would have gone to rest in heaven.” India is sizzling under hot winds as many parts of the country suffer temperatures hovering above 40˚C. And officials in the National Weather Forecasting Center of the India Metrological Department have warned that “heat waves to severe heat wave conditions would prevail in isolated parts of the country in the last week of May”. As the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports confirm that India will continue to get hotter because of climate change, doctors are concerned that the public needs to be warned of the danger they are in. Excess heat is already claiming many lives. Research published earlier this year in the journal Plos One showed that in May 2010, when the Indian city of Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat experienced a heat wave with record-breaking maximum temperatures of 46.8˚C, an estimated 1,344 deaths occurred − 43% higher than expected.

Road fatalities

Another chilling statistic in 2012, recently published by the National Crime Records Bureau, is that 5.4% of the total 22,960 road fatalities in India were attributable to heat strokes. That is more than 1,000 people. The Indian government has done its bit to make the summer slightly more bearable for policemen such as Srinivasan, providing them with packets of aerated fruit juices and buttermilk (yoghurt diluted in water), as well as sunglasses. “I am just waiting for the summer to be over, or for some of the summer showers that sometimes happen during June,” Srinivasan says before stepping out of the shade of his little booth to start directing traffic manually again in the scorching heat because a power failure has cut out the traffic lights. Indian politicians, trying to woo voters, put up water pandals (small stalls made of dried palm/coconut leaves) to supply water, and even buttermilk at times, to the public during the recent election period. In fact, the Indian elections are deliberately timetabled to avoid the worst part of summer, and the entire election process this time was completed by the second week of May, when the sun was beginning to get harsh.. Doctors at the government’s Rajiv Gandhi General Hospital in Chennai have asked the public to take preventive measures to avoid heat strokes – including wearing light-coloured, loose-fitting cotton clothes, staying hydrated, and avoiding strenuous exercise during the day.

“The maximum temperature will reach 40˚C  in many places in Tamil Nadu . . .  It’s going to be sweltering hot.”

And the Regional Meterological Centre (RMC) in Chennai has been publishing weather projections for the state of Tamil Nadu on its website, keeping people informed with with regular updates of  projections of average temperatures for one week for every district in the state. S.R. Ramanan, director of the RMC, told Climate News Network: “The maximum temperature will reach 40˚C  in many places in Tamil Nadu in the coming days.  It’s going to be sweltering hot.” While rich and middle-class Indians go for upgraded refrigerators, air conditioners and coolers, the poor households have to settle for earthen pots to keep drinking water cool. The plight of people is the same, or even worse, in most parts of tropical India during the hostile summers, particularly since fast-moving urbanisation is taking its toll on trees, which are being chopped down to make way for new high-rise buildings, roads and shopping malls

Loss of shade

The loss of the natural shade of avenue trees means that it’s not just humans who are suffering. The bovine population roams around the streets looking for any tiny puddle of urban gutter water to quench their thirst, and the government’s forest department has had to build concrete tanks and fill them with water to try to prevent animals from suffering dehydration. Many milkmen live in urban areas and do not take enough care of their cows to protect them from the summer heat, and the Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University has also found that many aged animals suffer kidney failures in the summer season because of dehydration. Meanwhile, as more people die every year in India due to heat strokes, social activists are calling for the government to take up initiatives to protect people and spread awareness about preventive measures. “Curbing privatisation of water and ensuring supply of good quality drinking water for the residents is a major step to avoid dehydration and heat strokes,” said Chennai social activist A.Devaneyan. “The government health department should conduct awareness campaigns to inform people about taking additional care of elders and children during the summer.” Devaneyan pointed out that the rising number of players in the bottled drinking water industry has also led to rising prices. He said: “A one-litre bottle now costs 20 rupees. How many can afford that?” Not surprisingly, the popularity of the Tamil Nadu state chief minister, Ms Jayalalithaa Jayaram, also rose after she recently ordered her government to supply water at 10 rupees per bottle − half the price of the “private” water. – Climate News Network.

  • Pramila Krishnan is based in Chennai as Principal Correspondent of the Deccan Chronicle, an English-language newspaper in India.

Large numbers of people die in India each year because of heat waves − and as climate change takes hold and the country swelters again, doctors are warning the public to take extra precautions Chennai, 28 May − Kumar Srinivasan, a 34-year-old policeman, is struggling to cope with the heat as he controls traffic at a busy city-centre road junction in Chennai, South India. “I feel like a roasted chicken,” he says. “But it’s actually worse, since I am alive while the chicken would have gone to rest in heaven.” India is sizzling under hot winds as many parts of the country suffer temperatures hovering above 40˚C. And officials in the National Weather Forecasting Center of the India Metrological Department have warned that “heat waves to severe heat wave conditions would prevail in isolated parts of the country in the last week of May”. As the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports confirm that India will continue to get hotter because of climate change, doctors are concerned that the public needs to be warned of the danger they are in. Excess heat is already claiming many lives. Research published earlier this year in the journal Plos One showed that in May 2010, when the Indian city of Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat experienced a heat wave with record-breaking maximum temperatures of 46.8˚C, an estimated 1,344 deaths occurred − 43% higher than expected.

Road fatalities

Another chilling statistic in 2012, recently published by the National Crime Records Bureau, is that 5.4% of the total 22,960 road fatalities in India were attributable to heat strokes. That is more than 1,000 people. The Indian government has done its bit to make the summer slightly more bearable for policemen such as Srinivasan, providing them with packets of aerated fruit juices and buttermilk (yoghurt diluted in water), as well as sunglasses. “I am just waiting for the summer to be over, or for some of the summer showers that sometimes happen during June,” Srinivasan says before stepping out of the shade of his little booth to start directing traffic manually again in the scorching heat because a power failure has cut out the traffic lights. Indian politicians, trying to woo voters, put up water pandals (small stalls made of dried palm/coconut leaves) to supply water, and even buttermilk at times, to the public during the recent election period. In fact, the Indian elections are deliberately timetabled to avoid the worst part of summer, and the entire election process this time was completed by the second week of May, when the sun was beginning to get harsh.. Doctors at the government’s Rajiv Gandhi General Hospital in Chennai have asked the public to take preventive measures to avoid heat strokes – including wearing light-coloured, loose-fitting cotton clothes, staying hydrated, and avoiding strenuous exercise during the day.

“The maximum temperature will reach 40˚C  in many places in Tamil Nadu . . .  It’s going to be sweltering hot.”

And the Regional Meterological Centre (RMC) in Chennai has been publishing weather projections for the state of Tamil Nadu on its website, keeping people informed with with regular updates of  projections of average temperatures for one week for every district in the state. S.R. Ramanan, director of the RMC, told Climate News Network: “The maximum temperature will reach 40˚C  in many places in Tamil Nadu in the coming days.  It’s going to be sweltering hot.” While rich and middle-class Indians go for upgraded refrigerators, air conditioners and coolers, the poor households have to settle for earthen pots to keep drinking water cool. The plight of people is the same, or even worse, in most parts of tropical India during the hostile summers, particularly since fast-moving urbanisation is taking its toll on trees, which are being chopped down to make way for new high-rise buildings, roads and shopping malls

Loss of shade

The loss of the natural shade of avenue trees means that it’s not just humans who are suffering. The bovine population roams around the streets looking for any tiny puddle of urban gutter water to quench their thirst, and the government’s forest department has had to build concrete tanks and fill them with water to try to prevent animals from suffering dehydration. Many milkmen live in urban areas and do not take enough care of their cows to protect them from the summer heat, and the Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University has also found that many aged animals suffer kidney failures in the summer season because of dehydration. Meanwhile, as more people die every year in India due to heat strokes, social activists are calling for the government to take up initiatives to protect people and spread awareness about preventive measures. “Curbing privatisation of water and ensuring supply of good quality drinking water for the residents is a major step to avoid dehydration and heat strokes,” said Chennai social activist A.Devaneyan. “The government health department should conduct awareness campaigns to inform people about taking additional care of elders and children during the summer.” Devaneyan pointed out that the rising number of players in the bottled drinking water industry has also led to rising prices. He said: “A one-litre bottle now costs 20 rupees. How many can afford that?” Not surprisingly, the popularity of the Tamil Nadu state chief minister, Ms Jayalalithaa Jayaram, also rose after she recently ordered her government to supply water at 10 rupees per bottle − half the price of the “private” water. – Climate News Network.

  • Pramila Krishnan is based in Chennai as Principal Correspondent of the Deccan Chronicle, an English-language newspaper in India.