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IT and housing boom choke Chennai’s last marshland

Only a tenth of the original area of Pallikarani marsh is now left after Chennai's industry and housing boom

Only a tenth of the original area of Pallikarani marsh is now left after Chennai’s industry and housing boom

 

By L Ajith

CHENNAI: As construction and industry boom destroy a rare marshland that feeds groundwater sources and drains floodwaters in this sprawling south Indian commercial hub, conservationists are trying to save a tenth of its original area that is still left.

Located about 20 km south of Chennai city centre, Pallikkaranai marsh is the metro’s last remaining natural wetland, one of the rare ecosystems that India’s National Wetland Conservation and Management Programme (NWCMP) is trying to save.

After reclamation for housing, infotech industries and roads, the marshland has now shrunk to 6.9 square km from its 60 square km recorded in the 1960s.

As a result, now it is impossible to stream and drain flood waters into the marsh during heavy monsoon rains. Buildings, tarmacs and concrete spaces have not only replaced what once used to be wetland, but also flank its edges, preventing natural drainage. So the excess storm water inundates these spaces without seeping into the ground or draining into the wetland and then to the Bay of Bengal that lies adjacent to it. At the same time, without recharge of groundwater aquifers, Chennai and suburbs face severe drinking water shortage.

During the 2015 monsoon season, parts of Chennai were flooded and remained inundated for upto a month after and extreme rainfall events. Experts blamed the disaster on rampant, illegal and poorly designed construction.

Pallikkaranai marsh absorbs its share of water, but it is choked now. Due to dumping of waste and sewage, Pallikkaranai marsh is undergoing a character change besides shrinking to a tenth of its original size, as Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan of the Care Earth Trust explains. To prevent such ecosystem losses, conservation of forests, inland wetlands, and coastal and marine ecosystems need to be integrated into policy and planning, recommend Ritesh Sharma and Shantanu of Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity- India Initiative.

“The consequences of loss of Ecosystem and Biodiversity causes natural disasters like floods and droughts and shortage of crops, fish, and vegetables,” says Ravindra Singh of the German international development agency GIZ.

Wetlands not only prevents floods, but also protect the shoreline, and suck up and store carbon dioxide, thereby reducing greenhouse effect that leads to global warming. Pallikaranai marsh is special, as it hosts several rare, endangered or threatened species. It is home to over 100 species of fish and 136 species of birds, including migratory birds, as Singh notes.

A recent workshop of the Indo-German Biodiversity Programme in Chennai, Ashok Lavasa, IAS, Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change that sponsored the event said economic growth and conservation of natural capital should go hand in hand. Both are essential to protect ecosystem services that support human well-being and prosperity.

“India is one of the 17 mega-diverse countries in the world…With only 2.4% of the world’s geographical area, her 1.2 billion people co-exist with over 47,000 species of plants and 91,000 species of animals. Several among them are keystone and charismatic species,” as Lavasa points out. At the same time, the country supports one sixth of the world’s livestock population. In such a context, balancing the needs for now and for future is often a balancing act indeed.

Still, considering the seriousness of ecosystem losses and the hazard exposure, especially with uncertain and changing weather patterns, conservation needs to gain an upper hand in many cases. As Prof Saudamini Das of the Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi, points out, coastal cities such as Kochi in Kerala or Kolkata and Mumbai that are built on reclaimed water bodies and mangroves are also possibly exposed to a future flash floods. These lessons and warnings should serve as wake up calls.

 

 

Lima climate talks: an update

By Ramesh Jalan

The Conference of Parties 20 and  Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 10) plenaries reconvened on Wednesday morning to open agenda items. The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) contact group on item 3 considered the elements of adaptation and finance in parallel sessions, and mitigation once adaptation had concluded.

In the afternoon, the ADP contact group considered the draft text on advancing the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. A joint COP/CMP contact group also convened on issues related to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Informal consultations took place throughout the day on items under the SBI and SBSTA.

On loss and damage, AOSIS, the LDCs, AILAC, the AFRICAN GROUP and others, opposed by AUSTRALIA, emphasized that it should become a stand-alone element in the new agreement. NEW ZEALAND opposed any reinterpretation of the Warsaw decision on loss and damage.

The LDCs proposed a climate change displacement coordination unit, and a mechanism to deal with slow-onset events, including a compensation regime. The LMDCs said discussions on loss and damage are premature pending outcomes on the Executive Committee.

On Wednesday, delegates engaged in a “hands-on” mode of work both in ADP contact group sessions on the various elements of the future agreement, and in numerous meetings under the SBI and SBSTA. Many delegates continued to note the “new” pattern of contact group and informal consultation management, with chairs finishing on time and then sending parties off to consult among themselves.

This optimism was, however, overshadowed by a perceived lack of mutual confidence among parties. With positions and remaining points of contention clear on many issues, a sense of frustration grew in the corridors as many delegates raised concerns over the slow progress under the ADP.

In the group on finance, parties that viewed the adjectives “adequate” and “predictable” as problematic were challenged to explain “how inadequate and unpredictable finance could enhance climate action.” One seasoned delegate voiced a view shared by many: “we know where we stand; it’s high time we moved beyond the justify-your-position negotiating mode and built bridges.”

One delegate complained, “parties need to build confidence and trust, not only to reach the mandated decision on INDCs in Lima, but also to make progress towards Paris.”

More at http://www.iisd.ca/vol12/enb12611e.html .

(Dr Ramesh Kumar Jalan is the Resource Person and Moderator of the Climate Change Community of Practice, Solution Exchange, UNDP, New Delhi)