Monday, May 16, 2016

Drought management: Going beyond knee-jerk response - Ranjan Panda's article in Big Wire!

Drought management: Going beyond knee-jerk response

Drought story pic for Bigwire - 14 May 2016
While participating in a seminar on climate change in August last year, I asked officials of the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA) to expand their focus to drought.
In fact, for decades, I have been constantly trying to draw the Odisha government’s attention to the issue of drought, which has been the most silent but dangerous natural calamity for Odisha as well as the country.
The officials tried to convince me that since the drought was the domain of the revenue and agriculture departments, the OSDMA could do nothing about it.
OSDMA, one of the first state-level authorities to be formed in the country after the Disaster Management Act (DM Act) came into force in 2005, has been focusing its attention on cyclones and flood types of sudden disasters and not the slow and gradual disasters such as drought.
In February, however, it was reported that OSDMA will be entrusted with drought management from this year onward. Perhaps my suggestions were taken note of!
The question now is, will the management of drought be more effective under the OSDMA for Odisha or for that matter other states under such bodies formed under DM Act?”
The recent historic judgment of the Supreme Court exposing the reality of mismanagement of drought in the country does not make us much hopeful about that.
The SC judgment on the petition of the Swaraj Abhiyan begins with a quote by Lokmanya Tilak that says, “The problem is not lack of resources or capability, but the lack of will.”
The SC has found out a clear lack of ‘will’ from the states in acknowledging the problems, let alone responding to drought.  It was referring to states such as Bihar, Gujarat, and Haryana which almost refused to acknowledge the crisis.
The apex court commented: “Possible drought-like situation usually belongs to the most vulnerable sections of society. The sound of silence coming from these states subjects the vulnerable to further distress.”
Drought management efforts mostly begin only after drought is declared and efforts are largely limited to relief measures that do not really compensate the loss, nor does cater to mitigation in a strategic manner.
The court has pointed out a lot of loopholes in current drought management practices and shows how the existing mechanisms have failed in tackling this disaster in the country.
The DM Act 2005, that has been the statute book for disaster management, has also not been taken seriously.
The court finds out that despite much importance laid down in the Act for the formulation of a national plan for disaster management, no such plan has been formulated so far.
The court further observes that despite the requirement of the formulation of a National Disaster Response Force, under the Act, for the purposes of specialist response to a potential disaster or disaster, such a force has not been constituted yet.
The court seems further convinced that the central government is not doing much for mitigation of drought as a disaster when it remarks, “Although, the DM Act has been in force for more than 10 years, the National Disaster Mitigation Fund has not yet been constituted. There is, therefore, no provision for the mitigation of a disaster.”
The NDMF under the Act was to be formed to support projects exclusively for mitigation purposes.
The Centre and the states have engaged in political battles only around “declaration of drought and relief” rather than caring for real mitigation.
In scathing remarks the court says, “Evidently, anticipating a disaster such as a drought is not yet in the ‘things to do’ list of the Union of India and ad hoc measures and knee jerk reactions are the order of the day and will continue to be so until the provisions of the Disaster Management Act are faithfully implemented.”
In April, Uma Bharti, the central government’s minister for water resources, had said something completely opposite to what the apex court has said now. “Drought is a phenomenon for which it’s pointless to plan in advance,” she had said in defence of criticisms against the government on Maharashtra’s acute water scarcity this year.
Bharti and the central government need to take a U-turn on this thinking because drought is a disaster that is silently yet consistently increasing its grip over the country and needs the maximum preparations.
(Ranjan Panda is an Indian environmentalist, water and climate change expert. He can be contacted


Managing the heat wave: Ranjan Panda's article in the Deccan Herald!

Managing the heat wave

Ranjan K Panda, May 03, 2016,
Act now
CONSEQUENCES Heat waves have a negative impact on ecology as well.  REPRESENTATIVE IMAGE

The year 2015 was recorded as the hottest year in history. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), USA found out that May 2015’s combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces was the highest in a 136-year period. 

India saw the deaths of over 2,000 people due to the heat wave in 2015, as informed to the Parliament by the Union Minister for Science & Technology and Ministry of Earth Sciences on August 5, 2015. As per this report, 67 people had died in Odisha that has been highly alert about heat wave ever since 1998, when over 2,000 people had died. By  April 18 this year, about 137 deaths were reported from across the country. The actual number may be much more.

Heat wave is a grossly underestimated and under-reported disaster, which kills and affects more people than disasters which strike suddenly. Many heat-related deaths go unreported because they are taken to be the consequences of existing ailments. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) lists out heat wave as a natural disaster. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “Heat wave is a period of abnormally hot weather”. 

In layman’s language, it is a prolonged period of excessive heat often combined with excessive humidity. In such cases, the human body starts gaining heat from the atmosphere. Experts believe that in cases of high humidity and temperature, a person can suffer from heat-stress disorders even with the temperature at 37 degree celsius. It leads to heat cramps, heat exhaustion and sunstroke, which are life threatening. Looking into the conditions that prevail this year, we may expect more deaths across the states. 

Abnormal heat levels
Caused by climate change-induced global warming and supported by local factors, the deaths in the 1998 heat wave had taken Odisha by shock as more deaths occurred in the coastal belt of the state. The state immediately stood up to the disaster and increased its efforts to cope with it. Odisha’s heat wave management has been largely hailed as a very effective one. The state issued its Heat Wave Management Protocol on March 18, 2016. 

As the world witnessed the warmest February in 2016, and was passing through the hottest ever March, Odisha’s temperature was also on a rising trend. Temperature in many districts in western and southern Odisha continued to rise and many began to cross 40 degree celsius by the end of March. More than 50 heat wave deaths have already been reported. Additionally, Odisha was gripped in a water crisis from mid-February. 

The conventional heat wave protocol of the state has not worked this year and Bhubaneswar, the state’s capital, has already recorded its highest temperature in history when it touched 45.7 degree celsius on April 10. The state’s dry areas that have experienced temperatures as high as 50 degree celsius in the past, are soaring gradually. The convention has failed because the state has put all its attention on adapting to the heat wave rather than preventing it. Prevention lies in ecological correction measures and the state has to understand it, before it is too late. 

The state has been a notorious playing field for climate change but the development models add to the woes as local factors are causing further devastations. Development has put the state on a high desertification path. Being a mineral-rich state, it has been blindly exploiting these resources at the cost of forests, rivers and water bodies. All this has meant a fast land degradation process that furthers heat wave conditions both by fuelling further increase in heat and being impacted by that further negatively. 

In 2006, Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) had warned that many parts of Odisha, especially the western and southern uplands, are already showing symptoms of desertification. The state is ‘developing’ from a drought prone to desert prone region, when severe desertification leads to permanent land damages. In just 13 years, severely degraded land in the state had increased by 136%, barren land had increased by 69% and land converted to non-agricultural uses had increased by 34%. In 1991-92, about 10% of the state’s total geographical area was unfit for agriculture, forest and tree cover excluded. In 2004-05, such spread increased to nearly 17.5% of the state’s total area. The barren land has since increased by almost 50,000 hectares. Agricultural land given away for other purposes has increased by a whooping 2,99,000 hectares. This has added to the heat woes either by degrading water resources or increasing concrete cover. Then, the permanent pastures have also grown by a great margin of 51,000 hectares. And the net sown area of the state has decreased by as high as 2,43,000 hectares indicating the shrinkage of natural resources. 

Coal is another culprit in generating heat and draining water resources. Odisha has committed for almost about 75,000 megawatts of coal power plants, using water mostly from major rivers such as Mahanadi and Brahmani. Hence, Odisha has to redesign its intervention and factor in more ecological correction measures to be able to mitigate the impacts of the heat wave in a sustainable manner. 

Ranjan Panda featured as 'Aqua Guard' by the New Indian Express!

Dear Friends/Co-sailors,

I am happy to inform you that one of India's leading English newspapers The New Indian Express has featured me in its Sunday (15th May) Magazine Cover Story titled 'The Aqua Guards.' 

The magazine has to say the following in this feature:

Ranjan Panda, known as the ‘Water Man of Odisha’, knew long ago of the impending trouble. He had given the state government statistics about the impacts of climate change. “In 2006, we had warned that the state’s lands are degrading at an alarming rate and the water crisis may go out of proportion. In 2015, we had said 2016 may become the hottest year ever,” says Panda, adding that the warnings were taken casually.

Panda, who founded Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO), has pioneered the revival of traditional surface water harvesting bodies in several drought-prone villages of the state. He believes water harvesting is the key to solving Odisha’s water scarcity...
You can find further details of the Cover Story at the following link: 

Thank you all for your constant support and encouragement in our endeavours!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

WIO's #BeatTheHeat2016 Campaign: 'An Issue A Day' with the Chief Minister of Odisha! Issue 7 - 1 May 2016

Dear Friends/Co-sailors,

Greetings from Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) !

As you are aware, we at WIO have just initiated a citizen's voluntary campaign #BeatTheHeat2016 to spread awareness and action to mitigate heat wave, climate change and related environmental crises in the state of Odisha this summer.

As part of this campaign, starting 18th April, we have started a Poster Drive to 'Raise An Issue A Day' with the Chief Minister of Odisha urging upon him to take notice of the vital issues and take action.

Today on 1st May 2016, we are raising our 7th Issue with the Chief Minister. 

While we have pasted today's poster above, please also find the text of it below:

We sincerely need your kind support in making this drive successful for benefit of the common people suffering from Heat Wave and related disasters.  Hope you shall actively participate in this campaign.   

Issue No. 7 raised with the CM of Odisha on 1st May 2016

 Increase in forest fires is another indicator of failure in managing Heat Waves!
Many stretches of forests in the state are now experiencing deadly fires during summer.  Fire incidences and intensities are on an ever increasing trend since 1990 coinciding with the industrial growth of the state that has chopped off more forests, emitted more heat and sucked more water. Just in the last five years 8392 forest fire incidences have been reported by your departments! This shows that the flora and fauna inside Odisha forests are in a very vulnerable condition and depleting/dying fast.  This is also increasing further heat in the state.
Please ensure that industrialisation in the state does not destroy more forests and emit more heat.  Also, ensure that forest officials don’t engage in aiding forest fires in the name of bush cutting for Kendu Leaf operations.  Please also ensure that ample water conservation and harvesting measures are taken up inside and nearby the forests.  Empowering forest communities with skills and ‘rights to forests’ will be a great help in controlling forest fires!

We have already twitted this to the CM.

You may also like to retweet it from our twitter handles @ranjanpanda and @MahanadiRiver.  In that case, please don't forget to tag @CMO_Odisha and use the hashtag @BeatTheHeat2016

In this campaign, we are asking all concerned citizens of Odisha to send in the issues/questions they feel are vital to be raised with the CM.  Our Campaign Coordination Committee will decide on relevant issues and then send in one poster a day to the CM for the coming few weeks.

As always, we look forward to your support in this as well.

Thanking you,

Ranjan Panda

Convenor, Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO)
Mahanadi River Waterkeeper (Member, Global Waterkeeper Alliance)

Tweet @ranjanpanda
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Skype: ranjan.climatecrusader


Fighting water woes, combating climate change...more than 25 years now!