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CareEarth Trust helps restore three wetlands in Chennai city

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Inefficient solid waste management results in waste piles that contribute to urban flooding in cities like Chennai. While most citizens blame civic authorities for the lapse, are they doing their bit?

Come November, along with swollen waterways and flooded streets, another prominent image flashed repeatedly on television screens is that of mountains of mixed garbage. Chennai’s solid waste headache is by no means entirely monsoon-related. But the issue manages to capture the media’s attention around this time of the year mostly because unregulated dumping tends to disrupt waterways in many parts. Intensified waterlogging and heightened public health concerns closely follow.  

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A group of heritage enthusiasts trail the Cooum to come up with astounding details of a holy river that has become a sewage carrier.

One of the shortest rivers to drain into the Bay of Bengal, the Cooum is now a local synonym for an open sewer and is generally considered to be beyond the realms of redemption. When blogger Padmapriya Baskaran, well known for her spiritual travel blog Aalayam Kanden started out on her quest to map historic temples along the river Cooum, little did she know about the treasure trove of information that lay scattered along its banks.

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The revival of Narayanapuram wetland is a fitting example that good things can come out of government’s willingness to associate with independent organisations for the betterment of the society.

Once home to over 400 water bodies, Chennai’s development story is similar to most metropolises across India. Urbanising at a hurried pace, the concrete city spilled over its waterways and wetlands, leaving behind a sorry tale of ecological destruction. The Narayanapuram wetland, part of the massive Pallikaranai marshland, which was recently taken up for restoration, shows that not all hope is lost; not yet, at least.

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Desalination is considered a solution to increasing water shortage in the world. A few functional desalination plants in Tamil Nadu, however, show a different picture.

Population growth estimates suggest that India will be supporting over 1.5 billion inhabitants by 2050 if the present growth rate of 1.9 percent per year continues. From 710 billion cubic metres (BCM) in 2010, the demand for water is expected to surge ahead to 1180 BCM in 2050 as the Planning Commission has predicted a 2.5-time increase in domestic and industrial consumption. 

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Keeping Pulicat lagoon healthy is paramount to the health of the Chennai’s ecosystem. What is happening instead is its slow degradation.

Along the east coast of India, five massive wetlands--starting from Point Calimere (Kodiakarai) and Pulicat in Tamil Nadu, the Krishna-Godavari basin in Andhra, Chilika in Odisha and Sundarbans in West Bengal--provide the necessary moisture for monsoon winds to precipitate. While it may be difficult to comprehend the intricacies of how monsoons work, one thing is clear--these wetlands need to remain wet for rain clouds to emerge and develop. And Pulicat is an integral part of this system.

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Tamil Nadu continues to witness cycles of flood and drought annually. Mismanagement of traditional water management systems is one of the main reasons.

That Tamil Nadu qualifies to be dubbed as a land of climate paradoxes is beyond debate. The massive flood of 2015 was quickly followed by a punishing drought in 2016. Though the state benefited marginally from the south-west monsoon, as is usually the case, the biggest let down was the manner in which the more dominant north-east monsoon had panned out. Tamil Nadu wound up with a paltry 168.3 mm of rainfall during the north-east monsoon season as against the normal 440.4 mm, leaving the state with an overall deficit of close to 62 percent of the long-term expected average precipitation.

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Lack of preparedness by government authorities in dealing with the massive oil spill on the Chennai coast has transformed it into one of the worst crises on the coast.

Disaster struck two nautical miles off Ennore’s Kamarajar port just before dawn on January 28 when two cargo ships--LPG tanker BW Maple bearing the flag of the UK’s Isle of Man and MT Dawn Kanchipuram loaded to the brim with petroleum oil and lubricants--collided due to poor inter-vessel communication. The LPG tanker, on its way out of the port, suffered a major dent. The incoming Dawn Kanchipuram was left with two holes that tore through it.

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The state of the poromboke lands in Chennai signifies the deteriorating nature of its ecology. Saving them is important not just to preserve a tradition but also to safeguard growing urban spaces.

From its rather benign origins connoting a type of land classification, the term poromboke has transformed into something grotesque over the years. This term had been in use since the Cholas denoting stretches of land reserved for shared communal use which cannot be bought or sold. Tamils, who prided themselves on the richness of their culture assigned a special place for such poromboke lands which helped preserve the region’s ecological balance. Today, poromboke, however, is a mild cuss word for worthlessness and incompetence.

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Better green cover could be a way to reduce the extent of disaster a Vardah could bring. Here’s a lowdown on the trees that Chennai must have.

 

Literary works from the Sangam period dating back to the fourth century BC indicate the presence of a five-fold classification system of geography and related ecosystems. The five types include kurinji (mountainous region), mullai (forests), marudam (croplands), neithal (seashore) and palai (desert landscape). And, the coastal city of Chennai fits snugly in the neithal landscape.

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