Wetlands are drying, hailstorms increasing, mangoes becoming sweeter and oranges taking on sour overtones, says a new report on the impact of climate change in Kerala's scenic hill district Wayanad.
The report and its ramifications should be top of the agenda for Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who is contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Wayanad, said his colleague Jairam Ramesh.
The report, titled "Sustainable Development Goals and Climate Resilient Strategies, Wayanad district", was released by Ramesh recently."The agenda awaits the intervention of the new Wayanad MP," the former Environment minister and senior Congress leader told PTI, anticipating that Gandhi, who is contesting from Amethi and Wayanad, will represent the Kerala constituency in the Lok Sabha.
Climate change and crisis in the farm sector were a dominant theme during the election campaign in Wayanad, devastated by floods that swept through the area and several other parts of Kerala last year.
Major political parties, including the Congress-led UDF, the CPI(M) led LDF and the BJP-led NDA highlighted the issue of livelihoods of people affected by the floods.
Apart from the floods, the insidious impact of climate change is being seen across the district. "Mangoes are becoming more sweet and oranges are becoming sour in taste," says the study on climate change in Wayanad authored by eminent ecologists Dr Balakrishna Pisupati and Deepta Sateesh.
Wetlands are drying up and the beautiful streams crisscrossing the hill district carry less water as the area is heavily hit by climate change, it says.
"With the change in temperature and humidity (moisture content), the rainfall pattern changes and thus there is a climate change in the region," it says.
"Koda, the phenomenon of local cloud formation at very low altitude, has disappeared. Rainfall is less but the intensity of water has increased leading to harsh rains. Hailstorms have increased. Erratic rains/the pattern of rainfall is changing."
According to the document, changes in the climate have affected cultivation practices, terrain, lives and livelihood of the people. "The quality of traditional or local grown varieties of fruits is changing: for example, mangoes are becoming more sweet and oranges are becoming sour in taste," it states after a detailed study conducted between January and May 2018.
"The nature of terrain is changing," it warns, citing instances of drying up of the wetlands.
"Change is inevitable but the rate at which the change is happening is a matter of concern. The change in climate has led to change in all forms. The debate is to deal with these changes and be climate resilient so that it does not affect and environment, nature, ecology and lives of the people," it says.
The experts recommend urgent action by policy makers and people's representatives to protect the tribal-dominated agrarian district from ecological disaster. "As the largest percentage of the population of the district is ‘tribal’, it is important to include their knowledge and practices into the future development plan and creative interventions, that will enable Wayanad to become a model ‘SDG- ready’ district over the next 5-10 years," it says.
Sateesh, who authored the report, said a Gandhi Swaraj model development process with the active participation of the local community is an effective way to tackle the threat of climate change in the region.
As Wayanad is a monsoon-fed region, the principles of sustainable planning and design need to be applied considering rain as an integrated part of planning, the report says.
"The concept of seepage helps in understanding the landscape not just in terms of land and water as two faces of a coin but rather it helps in understanding the intensity of the texture of the landscape according to presence of water in the landscape.
The concept of porosity also needs to be given due consideration.
"The main issue of the district is how to tackle the problems of drought and flood in the same region. River streams are drying, aquifers are vanishing. This is due to the no permeability of the materials we use in terms of development of construction. The strength of landscape being porous needs to be understood in order to tackle the problems related to water," it says.
The report, prepared as part of a project, was conceptualised by the Chennai-based Forum for Law, Environment, Development and Governance (FLEDGE). The Design+Environment+Law Laboratory (DEL Laboratory), Bangalore and MS Swaminathan Research Foundation were partner organisations.