Ukhrul: A town of thousand dried pond
A view of Phangrei Peak in Ukhrul district Credit: EastMojo image

Ukhrul: Several roads and buildings have been constructed, new land cutting rises, deforestation from fuel wood, forest fires, and farmland extends, the population has increased, and land and water resources are under stress. There are additional problems from the disproportionate use of agrochemicals and pesticides on hilltops polluting water bodies, soil, and foods. They incur loss of biodiversity, ecosystems, human health, and the economy. Many people suffer from anemia, cancers, neurological disorders, toxicity, immune disorders, disruption of the endocrine system, body aches, stomach ailments, etc., from exposure to or incorrect use of agrochemical products. These diseases further stop the economic growth of distressed people and families caring for them. It increased poverty and gradually maimed the community. Water scarcity in Ukhrul defaces all human dignity and reduces us to a primitive society scurrying on muddy soil for water day and night.

It is not only climate change, but landscape change that is affecting the hydrological cycle. The hydrological cycle is the continuous movement of water on the surface, above the surface, and below the earth’s surface. Above the earth’s surface, water moves in the form of vapour.

On the surface, it flows in the form of glaciers, rivers, and surface runoff. Below the ground, water seeps through the soil, cracks, and pores in the rocks and finally exits through openings to form springs, streams, or lakes. It is the circulation of the earth’s water.

However, this natural process has shattered in the built areas of Ukhrul because the forest, grassland vegetation, and rocks that support rainwater infiltration are lost. The next level of environmental stress is the inability to withstand earthquakes, landslides, erosion, etc. Some visible signs of water stress are soil and air dryness, sinking of soil by a few centimeters, and frequent outbreaks of diseases in ground-dwelling animals and birds. A spring or a river needs steady infiltration from its recharge area by trapping the surface water and making it percolate inside the ground and get stored in the pores and cracks of the rocks. Dense forest vegetation reduces the speed of surface runoff, resulting in higher infiltration underground, filtering the water and improving water quality. Forests are fundamental to regulating the Earth’s climate, exchanging more carbon, water, and energy with the atmosphere. They affect rainfall patterns and the severity of heat waves, impacting the resilience of agricultural systems and local communities. In addition to carbon storage, the physical structure of forests also affects the climate. Forests absorb energy from the sun to move vast quantities of water from the soil back into the atmosphere through evapo-transpiration, cooling the surface temperature locally and globally and repeating the water cycle.

The forest canopies contribute to the upward mixing of warm air into the atmosphere, drawing away heat, capturing clouds, and redistributing essential moisture and water droplets. As per Global Forest Watch web monitoring reports there are more than 28,692 deforestation reports and more than 1,794 fire incidents in Ukhrul in a year. The temporal spread of rainfall has drastically reduced, and rain may continue to decrease. In a year, we lose 20-50 kilo hectares of primary forests from wood fuel collection and forest fires.

The Himalayan has rich spring water during the monsoon season, but the discharge dries up during the dry season (Nov to May). The breaking of monsoon spring indicates traditional agricultural activities and the busiest time of the year on rain-fed terrace fields. The spring discharge has slowly vanished and directly affected our terrace paddy fields. Deforestation, forest fire, hill cutting, landslides, etc., interrupt the catchment area and the feeder of the springs, stream or river. It drastically reduces the quantum of natural groundwater recharge.

This results in drying up the springs. The groundwater level in our region has lowered to 10-20m from 2-3 m (approx.) in the last ten years. It is a real threat to water availability, disease outbreaks for animals, birds, and fishes, insects swarming and breeding, and even sinking and thawing the ground soil. It will ultimately result in catastrophic natural disasters. The revival of springs, streams, and rivers by targeting sloping lands, barren agricultural lands, hilltop forests, dried-up ponds, dried-up rivers, dried-up springs, etc.) needs an integrated landscape approach based on local ecological conditions. In our case, the vital features for water infiltration underground are rocky landscape, soil porosity and permeability, forest canopy, recharge area (escarpment slop) plantation, dip slop vegetation, and spring type. Moreover, surface runoff must be minimized and infiltrated.

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The porosity and permeability properties of rocks decide the storage and transmission of water. Inadequate natural recharge during the monsoons makes the springs seasonal due to changes in land use, precipitation patterns, and other anthropogenic factors. It indicates moderate aquifer storage with high transmissivity. Implementation of artificial groundwater recharge works can significantly improve the lean period discharge.

The remedial actions include plantation, landscaping, preserving natural rocks for infiltration, digging a spring trench, and storage tank. It is a climate change adaptation idea that individuals or families can adopt to enhance rural water security. To be precise for a ground action, a trench is generally an old water spring, a small rectangular structure of size (Length= 6 feet, Breadth= 3 feet, Depth= 2.5) feet constructed adjacent to the spring in a staggered manner to harvest the discharged water. It is equally important to realize oneself that we can’t afford or buy clean air, clean water, clean soil, or to be specific we won’t be able to buy irrigation water for our farmers. It takes a village to bring a change.

Written by: Rinyei Khamrang, Shimreishang NG, Wunglengam AZ, & Ngalengshim. [This work is a part of a study of Rainforest Biodiversity of Phalee (RBP) towards the North East India Bio-cultural Conservation Initiative by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the National Biodiversity Authority, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP-NEICI)]. Rainforest Biodiversity of Phalee

This article was originally published on Ukhrul Times on October 14 and has been reproduced here after taking due permission. Read the original article here.

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