Agumbe's fall from grace a man-made crisis: Experts

Agumbe's fall from grace a man-made crisis: Experts

Agumbe's fall from grace a man-made crisis: Experts

 Agumbe, which was considered the Cherrapunji of South India not so long ago for its record rainfall, is not only receiving less rainfall during monsoon now, but is also staring at a water crisis during summer in the last three to four years. Cherrapunji, at one time, held the record for the highest rainfall in India. Experts say this is a manmade crisis.

Deforestation

Deforestation, encroachment of forest land for agriculture and unscientific afforestation with acacia trees are said to be the major reasons.

According to the statistics from the meteorological department, the average annual rainfall at Agumbe has been 8,000 mm.

 In 1962, it recorded 11,343 mm, the highest in the last 53 years. However, in 2015, the Agumbe station recorded only 5,000 mm of rainfall, the lowest ever in the area. In the last two decades, Agumbe has received above-average rainfall for only four years.

Agumbe, which is part of the Western Ghats, plays a vital role in maintaining the balance of bio-diversity in entire South India. “The Western Ghats, which constitute only 5% of the total Indian landscape, ensure not only water security, but also food security. Therefore, harming this region is showing a repulsive effect on bio-diversity,” says Dr T V Ramachandra, an ecological scientist at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, who has done an extensive study on the Western Ghats in Shivamogga, Uttara Kannada and Chikkamagaluru districts.  

Several villages around Agumbe are facing a water crisis, said S K Hegde, Assistant Executive Engineer of Shivamogga Rural Water Supply. “The next two months of summer are very critical for us as most of the streams and rivulets have dried up in the area. We have been instructed to supply drinking water by either re-energising borewells after sinking them deeper or by sinking new borewells, wherever necessary.

Despite receiving an average 6,500 mm of rainfall in the last five years, Agumbe is not able to hold water because of deforestation, says Dr Ramachandra. The land has lost its seeping capacity. And to top it, the Forest department has been planting acacia trees, which consume nearly four to five times more water than a native tree.

Experts say these trees not only lead to depletion in groundwater but also affect the health of the soil.

Encroachment

According to Agumbe Deputy Conservator of Forests, Vaanathi M M, more than 12,668.20 acres of forest land has been encroached upon by the farmers, and another 10%  of the total forest land is being used for cultivation of acacia.

In Agumbe forest range alone, of the total 15,000 hectares of forest land, nearly 1,400 hectares have acacia plantation, which is being used as timber and firewood.

The state government imposed a ban on the plantation of acacia and eucalyptus in forest land in 2011 for their harmful qualities. Yet, Vaanathi’s department has planted these saplings this year, too.

T V Ramachandra, ecological scientist at IISc, Bengaluru: The Western Ghats, which constitute only 5 % of the total Indian landscape, ensure not only water security but also food security. Therefore, harming this region is showing a repulsive effect on bio-diversity.

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