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Northeast drying up as rainfall decreases

By Henlly Phom Odyuo Updated: Oct 22, 2021 11:44 pm
A section of the affected area by deficient rainfall in Dimapur.

Our Reporter
Dimapur, Oct. 22 (EMN):
The Northeast may still have a good green cover, home to major chunk of India’s forest, but the future looks bleak as temperature continues to rise. The month of October this year is one of the hottest the region has ever recorded.

This was highlighted at the online media briefing workshop organised by the Down to Earth and Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on Climate change in India’s Northeast, on Friday.

‘Rain is a major source of water as glaciers are not common in the region but rainfall patterns, especially during monsoon are changing; the region is drying up,’ said Akshit Sangomla from Down to Earth

He said that monsoon rainfall has been below normal in 20 of the last 22 years.

“More than a century long datasets show a declining trend in many states in the region. The probability of drought occurrence in the region was 54% during 2000-2014,” he said.

In 2018, many villages in the Wokha district witnessed floods for the first time in generations and this was through the eyes of an 82-year-old woman who shared her experience with Sangomla.

‘Flood waters could still be seen in December 2020 with new pests and insects attacking vegetable and other crop. Butterflies have decreased in number over the years, so has many other small and large animal species that were common earlier. Fish number and diversity have also come down,’ he shared.

Floods in time of drought

Dry periods are intermixed with floods, extended monsoons in recent years; more intense rain comes in less time followed by elongated periods of none to very less rainfall; heavy to extremely heavy rainfall causes floods; and flash floods and landslides are the impact of climate change, as per Sangomla’s study.

The region has lived with floods for a long time; flooding patterns are changing, becoming unpredictable for the people, said Sangomla. Short and long term impact of major floods can be witnessed all over the region while some places are witnessing floods more often than before, he added.

Northeast, he said, has witnessed an altered pattern, and although rainfall in the region has reduced in the past three decades, it has increased in some districts in all the states except Tripura where all the districts now receive deficit rain.

The Northeast receives almost three-fourth of its annual rain during the monsoon season but the region recorded lower than normal rainfall in 19 of the 21 years between 2001 and 2021.

Local changes: Big impacts

As per the study of Sangomla, in the last 30 years or so, all the states in the region except Sikkim showed a decreasing trend in monsoon rainfall. Local district-level trends depend on a lot of factors such as geography, forest cover; for example in Assam, districts north of the Brahmaputra showed an increasing trend in rainfall in the last 30 years which may be leading to occasional flooding in other districts.

Mountain springs, which are the major sources of water in the region, are drying up almost everywhere while water availability is a concern, he lamented.

Impacts on livelihoods

Rain feeds rivers, streams and spring, whereas 27% villages in Northeast are watered directly by springs. Decrease in spring water has impacted source of livelihood like agriculture, horticulture, fishing and animal rearing etc. Changes in the varieties of rice cultivated in some regions because of changes in rainfall patterns and overall diversity of rice varieties has come down. It was also observed that new pests and insects being witnessed in some places like Upper Siang in Arunachal Pradesh and Wokha in Nagaland, it was informed.

What needs to be done

More wide-ranging and in-depth research into the impacts of climate change in the region; study of combined impacts of climate change and other human interventions especially in the case of the dying mountain springs; and more meteorological stations in the hills and mountains for better analyses and forecasts, it was informed.

There are districts in the region with no meteorological stations, it added.

Traditional knowledge should be combined with modern science and technology; flood and drought risk analysis and planning should be carried out and organic agriculture, which many parts of the region have always practised, should be further encouraged, the participants were told.

Minister of Forest and Environment and Power, Government of Meghalaya, James Sangma said that the region has to rise to the occasion to reform and prevent mankind from catastrophe.

“There is hardly anyone telling us at what cost development needs to take place. Media has the power to reach out to the masses so such kind of advocacy becomes a responsibility and with critical environment juncture that we are in right now has to come in collaboration with media,” he said.

Sangma said that in Meghalaya, there is a legislation to contribute climate change curriculum in schools and to develop a climate change museum in the state which maybe the first in India.

CSE Director General, Sunita Narain, who was also a speaker at the workshop, said while replying to a query on palm oil tree plantation in the region, that it is not feasible.

“Palm oil debate is about cash crop and you cannot destroy natural forest for palm tree. In Northeast, the good thing is forest is controlled by the community so the community has the power to stop it. Forest largely are under the forest department in India but in Northeast the community has control which is a good thing,” she said.

By Henlly Phom Odyuo Updated: Oct 22, 2021 11:44:25 pm