43 percent of water bodies in Meghalaya are polluted

Spring chamber with recharge pits (Image: Meghalaya Community Led Landscapes Management Project)
Spring chamber with recharge pits (Image: Meghalaya Community Led Landscapes Management Project)

Meghalaya is faced with environmental challenges and serious natural resource degradation such as forest, land and water. This along with climate change has serious implications for natural resource-based livelihood systems on which the majority of its population depends.

The Government of Meghalaya initiated the Community Led Landscapes Management Project (CLLMP) to strengthen community led natural resource management with a landscape approach in 400 highly degraded and degraded villages of the state through World Bank support. The MCLLM implemented by the Meghalaya Basin Management Agency aims at strengthening community institutions in planning and managing natural resources for sustainability.

A baseline study was commissioned to establish data on the current status of natural resources and to develop an impact monitoring system for various interventions. The study conducted in 71 villages selected through random sampling across the state’s three regions i.e. Garo Hills, Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills had a sample size of 11690 households with a population of 64783.

The baseline report also covers other critical issues that the project seeks to address through targeted interventions in the project villages and for the communities living in those villages. The purpose of the baseline study is to establish baseline information for the monitoring of result indicators as per the agreed Results Framework for the MCLLMP over the project period. The comparative assessment was also carried out on the extent of natural resource degradation and its major causes for all three regions.

The report is organised in six major sections: a) major occupation of the target group and their sources of fuel, b) land use land pattern baseline information generated through GIS technology, c) village resources such as forest and water bodies and their use, d) status on the degradation of natural resources and water body pollution, e) region-wise brief assessment report on first three sections, f) major findings, and g) result framework.

Major findings and way forward

The literacy rate in the project villages is found to be 65.86% with the highest literacy rate in the Khasi region (77.82%) followed by the Garo region (58.30%) and the Jaintia region (53.24%). With the literacy rate being just above 50% in Garo and Jaintia region there will be a challenge in the selection of Village Community Facilitators (VCF). More handholding support would have to be provided in these regions.

It was found that there were more females than males in Jaintia and Garo Hills regions. The sex ratio for the Khasi region was lower at 969. The inclusion of women in all stages of the project is of utmost importance.

The major occupation of 11690 households: 85% are farmers and daily wage labourers, 8% households are employed either by the government or by private schools and just 7% households are into (petty) business. It can be inferred that there is a need to provide technical inputs and capacity building in land and agriculture productivity enhancement so as to enable the community to include such interventions in the community-led plans.

As regards fuel use, just 21% of households use LPG, while the remaining 79% depend on wood, charcoal, biomass, kerosene and electricity. There was no improvement in the use of biomass despite Meghalaya New and Renewable Energy Development Agency’s (MNREDA) efforts in the last 33years. Effective use of biomass could reduce deforestation, as the felling of trees for fuel is ranked by the community as the second-largest drivers of deforestation in a study on ‘Identification of drivers of deforestation in Meghalaya’ by Rain Forest Research Institute, under the CLLM Project.

Fuel: Sourcing of appropriate technologies to reduce the use of wood as fuel such as improved chulhas, biomass briquetting, rocket stoves, biogas etc. that are also fuel-efficient and cost-effective will encourage the community to adopt them and result in a reduction in deforestation.

The study revealed that there was ample availability of open forests, culturable wasteland and grassland thereby opening up the opportunity for forestry, agriculture and horticulture activities. This will greatly enhance the area under dense forest, land available for agri-horticultural activities, agroforestry in the project villages.

Types of forests: The coverage of community forests is 48%, followed by private forests 46%, protected forest with 4% and then clan forest with just 2%. Khasi Hills region has the highest area under forests followed by Jaintia and Garo region. Garo Region has no clan forest, limited private, protected and community forest. Jaintia region has more clan forest as compared to the other two regions.

Water bodies: On average 10 water bodies are found per village, with the highest numbers found in the Khasi region followed by the Jaintia and Garo regions suggesting that conservation and preservation of water bodies and the immediate surrounding will greatly benefit the communities.

Waterbody pollution: On average 43% of water bodies are polluted. The highest percentage of pollution is found in the Jaintia region followed by Khasi and Garo regions. The figure is alarming for a small state and calls for an urgent need for sensitization of the community to take immediate steps to mitigate the situation.

Uses of water bodies: It was found that 21% of water bodies are used for domestic purposes and 15% are used for irrigation. Uses of water bodies are found to be more in Garo Region than in the other two regions. Ways and means to gain access for optimal use of water bodies for various purposes need to be explored.

Soil erosion is the major cause for land degradation caused by unplanned deforestation, jhum cultivation, mining activities, forest fires and other natural factors. Activities for control of soil erosion and reclamation of eroded stretches are urgently required and communities should be encouraged to take up suitable measures such as vegetative barriers, contour bunds, engineering structures like gabions loose bolder check dams etc.

The study shows a huge decline (48%) in jhum cultivation in the Jaintia and Garo regions. On the contrary, an area under jhum has increased by 45% in the Khasi Hills region. Encouraging, food forest concepts and cultivation of low volume high-value crops to bring about reduction of jhum areas of Khasi Hills can be adopted.

The full report can be accessed below.