Climate change in Ukhrul district: A myth or reality

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There was a time when we were kids, we went to hills for fetching wild fruits, leaves and other wild vegetables and drank the flowing pristine water from myriad streams in the forest. And there was also a time when we helped our parents in cultivation (mainly rice) and enjoy all kinds of field fishes, snails, frogs and other insects. There were so many memorable days of our childhood life that we always yearn to cherish again and again. Today, we see that these fishes, snails, frogs and insects in paddy fields are gone due to excess use of fertilizer, the environment has become hotter and no rainfall during monsoon season, the springs in the forest are dried up, all because of the phenomenon called climate change. This article is a brief analysis of the causes/impacts of climate change in Ukhrul environment and a search on what measures should be taken to mitigate/prevent the advent of more climate-induced catastrophic events in future.

Major causes of climate change

Today, an ordinary person understands that the main concern of climate change around the world is because of the excess release of carbon into the air emanating from various human-induced activities primarily the burning of fossil fuels/coal/oil in thermal power plants for energy generation and also in industries/factories/vehicles, deforestation, stubble burning, fuelwood burning, etc.

Nonetheless, it’s plain and simple to understand the major causes of climate change in Ukhrul environment, as it is not heavily industrialized and urbanized like other cities of India. The place where the forest cover is 86% in 2010 that reduced to 80% in 2019 is certainly the major cause and concern for climate change in the region. There is no data to categorically account the percentage contribution of various sources of carbon emission in Ukhrul environment. However, looking at the current scenario of Ukhrul human-induced activities, it can be inferred that deforestation for various reasons, transportation and stubble burning are some of the major sectors that contribute to climate change in the region.

Deforestation

The highest contributor to carbon emission in the Ukhrul environment could come from deforestation and its concomitant uses. Deforestation for Jhuming, timbers and fuelwoods/wood extraction has led to dramatic changes in the forest landscape and cover, weather and climatic conditions of the district.

Since the settlement of Tangkhuls in various villages of the district, about 260 villages, through migration and transmigration, firewood/woods have been used in households until today serving many purposes like cooking and heating, building houses, building livestock barns and shelters, etc. If we reckon the economic values of carbon emission arising from felling of trees and emission from fuelwood burning till date, the monetary values (Global Social Cost of Carbon: 418 USD/tCO2) would be in some US billion dollars or much more. Not merely the economic loss, the impact on the environment is so immense that we had observed some climate change-induced catastrophic events in the past. Cylone Mora in Ukhrul 2021, huge landslides in Sirarikhong, Kasom Khullen and Ukhrul in 2015 have caused huge economic loss to the people. Much of such events or related climatic crisis remain unreported in many villages of the district.

Also read: Biodiversity Conservation: Ukhrul and Kamjong

Transportation

For a decade or two, the consumption of oils (diesel/petrol) is consistently increasing in the district, chiefly due to an increase in per capita income, change in lifestyle, shifting from conventional agricultural economy to business and entrepreneurial economy. Every year, tens and thousands of vehicles are added in all the districts of Manipur including Ukhrul. As per rule and the Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching latest vehicle scrapping policy, the national drive to phase out all vehicles older than 10 years (commercial vehicles) or 15 years (passenger vehicles) and 20 years (personal vehicles) to achieve clean, congestion-free and convenient mobility.

However, this move is yet to be implemented in Manipur. If implemented, this rule might bring a positively substantial change in Manipur environment including Ukhrul district. The Manipur Motor Vehicle Taxation (Second Amendment) Act, 2015 is opined to revise/upgrade in conjunction with the vehicle scrapping policy. At present, owing to lack of data and studies, it is difficult to estimate the correct amount of carbon pumped into the Ukhrul environment from vehicles (personal, passenger and commercial vehicles). However, the transportation sector too has an enormous contribution to carbon emission, it could be the second most significant contributor.

Stubble Burning

Open burning of crop residue releases particulate matter (PM2.5/PM10), carbon, methane and other harmful gases. To prevent the open burning of crop residues, the Ministry of Agriculture developed a National Policy for Management of Crop Residue (NPMCR) in 2014, by promoting technologies for in-situ management and using satellite-based technologies to monitor crop residue burning. However, no significant progress has been made in India except satellite-based monitoring of crop residue burning, particularly in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. The National Green Tribunal has reportedly imposed several fines to farmers of Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana in the range between INR2500 and 10,000 for burning crop residue. However, this rule has no strict implementation yet in Manipur including Ukhrul district.

Though crop residue (rice, wheat, maize, mustard, etc) burning could be a less carbon contributor in Ukhrul environment as compared to deforestation, however, huge amount of carbon is pumped into the air every year. Hundreds and thousands ton of crop residues are burnt every year in the field. This could be the third significant contributor to climate change in the district. Very few proportions of the stubble are used for domestic purposes.

Impacts of Climate Change

Since a few decades, the impact of climate change in Ukhrul district has been experienced in myriad forms, like, the rise in temperature, erratic rainfall, no rainfall or less rainfall, flashfloods, landslides and soil erosion, chiefly impacting the agriculture sector. Many villages like Phalee, Shirui, Hundung, Ukhrul and Sinakeithei have reported the event of rising temperature and erratic rainfall affecting the agriculture yield. Many villages have also reported drying up of forest streams, huge landslides and soil erosion, depletion of watertable and drying up ponds and reservoirs. The region falls under the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspots, so it has a plethora of plants and animal species. However, some plants and animals are reported to be extinct and some are on the verge of extinction due to rapid deforestation coupled with indiscriminate hunting. The impact of nature destruction or destroying ecological balance could take to a toll on the worst irreversible ecological crisis and other climate-induced catastrophes that would be accompanied by huge unprecedented loss of property and lives.

If the people of the region are not conscious of the climatic crisis happening around them and if proper measures are not taken up at the earliest, then more climatic crisis are anticipated to come in future.

Also read: Forest fire crisis flares up Ukhrul: A fortune worth more than the total economy of Ukhrul is burned to ashes every year

Remedial measures

If we know the major causes of carbon emission, then the solution also lies there through mitigation and adaptation plans. The plans should chiefly be focused on how to restore the lost trees from deforestation, how to tackle carbon emission from vehicles and how to control stubble burning. The following are some of the practical suggestions that can be implemented and that which it can be achieved;

1. We need trees for timbers and fuelwood, this is something indispensable, however, we can plant double or triple the trees we cut down which is in line with India’s Paris agreement commitments. Here, government machineries and functionaries, universities, institutions in collaboration with village representatives can take up huge tree plantation drives with incentives to the villagers. Also, the government should intensify the Pradhan Mantra Ujjwala Yojana scheme to increase the use of LPG cylinders.

2. In the transportation sector, people should be encouraged to commute in public transport in any way possible or with government initiative, retrofit the vehicles with carbon cutter or other economically viable technology fitted in the exhaust pipes of the vehicles. Implementation of vehicle scrapping policy to phase out unfit and polluting vehicles and create a viable circular economy in an environment-friendly manner.

3. With regards to stubble burning, the crops residue should be either used for domestic purposes or should be allowed to decompose and used as compost or fertilizer in paddy or other cultivation fields or impose fines to farmers who openly burn crop residues.       

Dr. Mirinchonme Mahongnao           

Also read: Hannah Lalhlanpuii: When Blackbirds Fly

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