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TRINet Newsletter October 2015 +  

News Digest

More sea walls along Maharashtra’s coastline, environmentalists call it 'ecological blunder' In what environmentalists term an ecological blunder, sea walls are to be constructed along more shorelines across the state, including Mumbai. The State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), in its 86th meeting, gave a green nod for the construction of anti-sea erosion walls on nine shorelines in Mumbai, and 17 across Thane, Raigad and Sindhudurg districts.

Baby Canal to Clean Cooum River: Chennai:After many initiatives to restore the severely-polluted Cooum river back to its days of glory, work on building a baby canal in the middle of the river has now begun. The move is expected to prevent stagnation and other related trouble and ensure the smooth flow of water in the river. The eight-metre wide canal will run from Parathipett Anaicut in Padi Kuppam to Chetpet, covering a distance of about 18 kilometres, as part of the Integrated Cooum River Eco-Restoration Plan.

Gender and Sanitation +  

Gender and Sanitation

While we are quick to talk in public about the growing scarcity of potable water or about water pollution, we are only now slowly accepting the fact that sanitation too needs to be talked about more than ever before. Focus on sanitation is not new though. The Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) previously called Total Sanitation campaign is a program following the principles of community-led total sanitation and was initiated by Government of India in 1999. Today we have the iconic Vidya Balan as the national sanitation brand ambassador flagging off  "Changing Behaviour: Creating Sanitation Change Leaders" on August 25 calling for hygiene awareness and to stop open defecation.

Now, is it all that easy? Why is it that though most post-tsunami houses in Tamil Nadu had attached toilets but their usage is abysmally low?  Why then are there are news reports of girls having refused marriage as the prospective marital home did not have a toilet facility?  

TRINet Newsletter September 2015 +  

News Round-up: August 2015

Earth's Resources for 2015 Have Already Been Used Up: Humanity is placing inordinate demands on nature, and it just keeps getting worse. In 2000, humanity had exceeded its "ecological budget" by October. This year, "Earth Overshoot Day" was August 13, according to the Global Footprint Network, a California-based environmental think tank. Earth Overshoot Day marks the moment "when humanity's annual demands on nature exceed what Earth can regenerate that year." This is yet another wake-up call that sustainable global development hasn't taken root despite two decades of effort. Humanity currently needs 1.6 Earths to cover what we take from nature each year.

Sea Levels Will Rise, Experts Warn, and It's Not Going To Stop'New satellite measurements from NASA suggest that ocean levels could rise by 3 feet or more globally by the end of the century. The question faced by scientists and policymakers is not whether oceans will rise, but how fast and by how much.

Water Security in the face of Climate Change +  

Water Security!

India brought out its first National Water Policy (NWP) in 1987 and a number of State governments, including Tamil Nadu (1994), followed up by formulating their state water policies. The National Water Policy was revised in 2002 and once again in 2012, this time with climate change as its primary focus. However, Tamil Nadu has continued with its 1994 policy which is quite outdated considering the present requirements and threats.

In 2013, India Water Partnership formulated a project to review state water policies with special reference to climate change in line with the National Water Policy 2012. The work was taken up by the Institute for Resource Management and Economic Development (IRMED), New Delhi. Tamil Nadu has been taken up along with Goa for 2015.

The multi-stakeholder workshop was held on 23rd July 2015 at Chennai was organized by IRMED and Centre for Water Resources, Anna University; supported by the Madras Institute for Development Studies. Apart from the key note and inaugural addresses, the focus was on obtaining feedback from the audience on what should be emphasised in Tamil Nadu’s state Water Policy. There is a revised water policy based on a 2013 Committee report but it was not yet available in the public domain and hence the discussions had to be based on the 1994 policy and the 2012 NWP.

CRZ Again +  

The CRZ is once again in the limelight. A search with “CRZ” as the keyword brings forth a spate of news reports in the last few weeks. Of course CRZ violations – especially in Goa and Kerala are a-plenty. But what is of concern is that regulations are set to be amended so that not just Mumbai, but other coastal cities too will be allowed to build high-rises within the 500m of the high tide line. The CRZ has been a contentious confusing notification. With more amendments in the offing, it is worth reading the detailed report prepared by Manju Menon et al. on the institution that is supposed to implement the notification.

"Governance" as is well known, refers to the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented). Good governance requires good institutions. The institutional set-up for regulating the coast is the coastal zone management authority. One of the characteristics of good governance is transparency: Transparency means that decisions taken and their enforcement are done in a manner that follows rules and regulations. It also means that information is freely available and directly accessible to those who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement. It also means that enough information is provided and that it is provided in easily understandable forms and media (UNESCAP).

Our Energy-intensive Lives +  

Achieving Universal Energy Access in India: Challenges and the Way Forward. P.C. Maithani and Deepak Gupta. Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd. 2015

The month of May has been a blaze of heat everywhere in India with the heat wave claiming thousands of lives and distorting roads and sending to critical heights levels of toxins in the air in cities like Delhi. Newspapers said it was the coolest May in a decade for Chennai thanks to a few days of cool weather in between the ‘dog days’ which actually made the subsequent days feel hotter. Everywhere one can hear the whirring of fans and air conditioners as people try to stay indoors to beat the heat. Our lives have become largely controlled by the availability of power. Whether it is the fridge in the kitchen, the TV or the ubiquitous cellphone, all require electrical inputs at some time or another. While LPG is still used as fuel for some parts of cooking, we have induction stoves, rice cookers and a whole lot of other appliances from coffee makers to atta mixers in the kitchen that require electricity. When the power goes off, the inverter or a gen-set comes on as we cannot think of even a short while without power and so even the scheduled load shedding is somehow ‘managed’; we panic if our cellphones run out of charge. In short, our lifestyles have become energy intensive.

According to a recent Planning Commission document, some 600 million Indians do not have access to electricity. In their book, “Achieving Universal Energy Access in India”, authors P.C. Maithani and Deepak Gupta explain in the first chapter that while there is no internationally adopted definition of energy access as yet, it could broadly be defined as the physical availability of modern energy carriers and improved end-use devices at the household level at affordable prices.

Shaken +  

Shaken Just five days ago, a massive earthquake in Nepal with a magnitude of 7.8 resulted in massive destruction of iconic heritage sites in the country’s capital apart from a growing death toll which may cross 10,000 due to people caught in the rubble as well as in avalanches and landslides including in Mount Everest and nearby areas. While an earthquake of this magnitude can be a disaster anywhere, it showed up the poor state of preparedness for such an event in a country that is sitting one of the biggest geological collision zones in the planet for geological stress builds up along the Himalayas and releases itself periodically in earthquakes. The intensity was so high that it was felt in many places in north India, especially in Bihar where many building were reportedly brought down. Relief has poured into the Nepal, starting with India’s Operation Maitri, from many countries. Earthquakes are not random events, nor can they be forecast like a cyclone, for instance. They are continuously happening as can be seen from the earthquake maps and data. Today, there is plenty of understanding about which are the areas that are earthquake prone. It is clear that preparedness and being pro-active is the only way with respect to seismic events. Time and again, it has been emphasised that it is not an earthquake per se that kills but poorly constructed buildings in earthquake prone areas that are shaken to the point of collapse trapping people within then.

Building Back Better +  

Ten years after the “Build Back Better” mantra, a short study was carried out in the tsunami affected villages of Tamil Nadu which had seen a frenzy of construction in the last decade. The houses along the coast were largely kutcha, according to the census information of 2001. So it was not surprising that the houses of fishermen living in fishing hamlets located mostly within 500 m of the shore line were damaged/destroyed by the tsunami, on an unprecedented scale. The damages were assessed at over 53,000 with around 45,000 of them fully damaged and the remaining partially damaged. Considering that the coast receives repeat visitations of hazards, especially cyclones, it was decided that a multi-hazard-resilient house would be provided for those who lost their homes in the tsunami. It resulted in cost escalation but that did not matter too much as plenty of funds were available. In fact, because of the huge humanitarian inflow of funds, the government decided to use some of the funds made available through a World Bank loan package to buy land and let the NGOs do the construction, though adhering to certain basic specifications. For those areas where there were no NGO takers / they backed out for whatever reason, the government stepped in and built houses. Then the government decided to go beyond providing houses to those affected by the tsunami by deciding on replacing houses that it had constructed earlier (but were now dilapidated) and others who lived in vulnerable houses (read kutcha houses) in vulnerable areas (e.g. riverbanks). Thus in reality, there are multiple phases of construction, though for an outsider (and even for many beneficiaries), they are all part of tsunami reconstruction.

The Road to Sendai +  

The first time many of us heard of Disaster Risk Reduction was probably in 2005, a month after the tsunami struck. The World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held at Kobe, Japan, adopted the Hyogo Framework of Action 2005-2015.
This was the time when post-tsunami reconstruction of the affected areas had begun – people were being moved into temporary shelters and discussions about rebuilding houses was going on full swing. The tsunami was an unexpected, new threat from the sea, an addition to the cyclones and storm surges. How did one ensure people’s safety by the sea?

The announcement of HFA’s three strategic goals at this time was thus most appropriate: The integration of disaster risk reduction into sustainable development policies and planning; Development and strengthening of institutions, mechanisms and capacities to build resilience to hazards and the systematic incorporation of risk reduction approaches into the implementation of emergency preparedness, response and recovery programmes. Ah, here were directions that could be followed. Thus, Slowly, wherever possible, these ideas were integrated into the rebuilding process. For example, multi-hazard resilient houses were built and Early Warning Systems were put in place. There were a number of sessions conducted by NGOs with communities where PRAs helped the locals (and the outsiders) understand threats, risks and methods to build a resilient society.

In 2008, BEDROC carried out a study to look at the state of disaster resilience among tsunami affected communities using a framework created by John Twigg with reference to the HFA’s five thematic areas for disaster resilience. One of the most obvious findings was that there was a heightened awareness of disasters and the need for disaster preparedness. But it still continued to be top down rather than a bottom up approach in terms of building disaster resilience.

Influencing Decisions +  

It appears now that final decisions on environmental clearances depend more on political directives than the environmental impact assessment reports. This means that, if you want to protect the environment, it is extremely important to influence the right politicians. How is this best done? A major player is the media, by highlighting issues that are likely to have extensive adverse impacts on the environment. Prithi Nambiar’s study “Media Construction of Environment and Sustainability in India” takes a look at this.