TODAY -
An SOS for saving Cherrapunjee
Source: Hueiyen News Service / Agencies

Shillong, January 05 2008: THE PARADOXICAL drought witnessed by Cherrapunjee, the world's wettest place, during the lean period can be eased by harvesting of rainwater, father of the green revolution Professor M S Swaminathan said.

Expressing concern over the prevalence of "wet drought" in Cherrapunjee, now called Sohra, Swaminathan said urgent steps are required for storing the rainwater received during the monsoons.

"Every year between December and May, the 10,000 people living in Sohra experience a 'wet drought' as the natural springs which are the main source of drinking water dry up completely during this time," he pointed out during the course of a public lecture at the ongoing Indian Science Congress at the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) premises here.

"People have to walk long distances to the plains to collect water and many children spend their time just collecting water," the top scientist rued and emphasized that the only solution is to hold rainwater where it falls.

"Every household must have tanks to hold rainwater that can be collected from the roof," Swaminathan stressed.

"Jaisalmer, a district in the hearth of the Thar desert with annual rainfall of 100 mm has shown that if we harvest just 100 mm of rainfall on just 1 ha of land, we can receive as much as 1 million litres of water," he pointed out.

"In Mizoram, every house collects rainwater in tanks made of tin or concrete situated either on the ground or underground which lasts for the non-monsoon months," he added.

"Cherrapunjee, which receives more than 12,000 mm of rain every year can follow the same method," Swaminathan said and called for the formulation of an action plan for fostering water use efficiency.

Pointing out that Cherrapunjee, which is "dotted with waterfalls" is located on top of a limestone plateau, he said limestone "sucks up water".

"The surrounding hills are denuded and more than 50 per cent of the forests are lost.

Repeated soil erosion has meant that some of the hillocks around the town are completely denuded.

The top mantle which can be recharged by rainwater is extremely thin and is less than a meter in some places and therefore water does not stay because rain hits arid, dry soil and flows off," he explained.

Complimenting the Meghalaya Government for constituting a Rain Water Harvesting Mission to accelerate rainwater harvesting by constructing impounding weirs, he said the National Rain-fed Area Authority can also provide technical help in this regard.

'Evergreen revolution' in NE: Underlining the need to conserve the rich bio-diversity of the North-East, Prof Swaminathan called for ushering in an 'evergreen revolution' in the region.

"Efforts should be directed at promotion of 'bio-happiness' among the tribal families.

The N-E is one of the 12 mega bio-diversity zones of the world and more than 80 per cent of the people here depend for their livelihood on agriculture," he said.

Noting that the region produced 5.8 million tonnes of food-grain against a requirement of 7.4 million tonnes, the noted scientist called upon the institutes in the region to take up conservation programmes for the rare, endangered and threatened (RET) species of flora.

Observing that "domestication of rice" had taken place in the North East 10,000 years ago, he called for evolution of "new rice species" in the region blending traditional wisdom and modern science.

"The cultural traditions of the tribal people have an important role in understanding bio-diversity conservation and management issues," he said.

Emphasising on the linking of bio-diversity, biotechnology and business in a mutually reinforcing manner, he called for concerted efforts by agricultural scientists for "saving genes for posterity".

"The loss of every species and gene limits our options for the future.

If farm ecology and economics go wrong, nothing else will go right," he cautioned.

Putting in a nut-shell his ideas for ushering in 'Evergreen Revolution', Prof Swaminathan gave thrust on soil health care, water harvesting and efficient use, technology and appropriate inputs, credit and insurance and assured and remunerative marketing.


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