Friday, March 26, 2010

Global Forest Resources Assessment

My new post on FAO's Global Forest Resources Assessment can be accessed at the Ecoratorio blog.

Watery facts

Further to my post alluding to the quality of tap water supplied in Kerala, the Water Resources Minister admitted that:
- 1,879 wards in Kerala have sub-standard drinking water.
- 43 water treatment plants are outdated.
Over the years, we were always advised to drink boiled water since the water treatment itself uses unsafe levels of various chemicals (sometimes it is exceptionally easy to detect chlorine!). Moreover, the drinking water is easily contaminated by the adjacent drainage/sewage pipes, especially during the rains.

Paradoxically, according to V Srinivasa Chary (Director of the Centre for Energy, Environment, Urban Governance and Infrastructure Development in Hyderabad), Trivandrum is the one among the two Indian cities to have continuous water supply (the other being Kota).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Water, Water, but not everywhere

Tomorrow, March 22nd, is the UN designated World Water Day, which originated from the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro (more specifically, according to the proposals in chapter 18 of Agenda 21). This year’s theme is ‘Clean Water for a Healthy World’ which, as some may know, is an issue very close to the heart!

I wish not to elaborate more on the specifics, and consequentially deviate from tomorrow’s importance,
but I do hope that the day will result in increased awareness of the issue, more participation at the grassroots level, as well as a perceptible impact on the implementation of feasible governmental regional and national policies alleviating this problem. The estimated stats are gruesome: 4500 people die daily due to lack of clean drinking water and around 1.1 billion use unsafe drinking water sources.

Water is a central need in human existence, and thus has ripple effects on all other activities of an individual. But it’s not just about quantity, but also about quality- a fact especially relevant in developing nations which tends to follow unsustainable development, which, in turn, results in detrimental effects on the water quality.

I must admit that when it comes to water supplies and resources, Kerala probably fares much better than its peers (even though the state anticipates acute water shortages due to the drought conditions). Based on the 2001 census, 69.1% of rural households (total-4,942,550) and 78.9% of the urban households (total-1,652,656) had drinking water located within premises; of which, 13.9% of rural households and 39.9% of urban households had access to tap water. Yet, there are still many households without access to clean drinking water (and who use the water from wells, rivers, streams, and lakes- 77.2% of rural households and 56% of urban households use water from wells for drinking purposes), and it even might be worth researching on the impurities contained in the drinking water supplied to our homes.

Thus, when it comes to drinking water, it shouldn’t just be about ensuring that something in the form of H2O is supplied, but also to ensure that it is safe and drinkable, and available without any interruptions and free of charge for those who live below the poverty line.

I am always impressed by the commitment which citizens of other nations have towards alleviating the water problem faced by their less fortunate neighbours. However, I do hope that the funds raised are utilised productively. Or else it would be a shame if that $5.90 from a five-year old’s piggy bank is helping some official in constructing a swimming pool in his home.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Addendum: Mercuric

I mentioned in ‘Mercuric’ of how traditional eco-friendly Keralite house (similar to a Roman villa) featured nadu muttams, like the Peristylium, and often an Impluvium to collect rainwater. Unfortunately, nadu muttams also tends to ease the burglars’ game plans. As a result, house owners have now come up with various solutions, including installing a grille along the corridors, or affixing fibreglass above the muttam. Those who installed wire meshes found their efforts to be futile. Another option was followed by the current residents of my mother’s maternal home, which used to have three nadu muttams: these have now been converted into rooms.
Any ideas of how to maintain a burglar-safe nadu muttam?

Since my previous post, after the appearance of rainclouds in the evening, we are expecting some respite, although a local climate expert has dampened these hopes by stating that the resultant showers, if any, will be light. The more aged astutes are predicting torrential cloudbursts. The seas are apparently exceptionally rough.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Results of the Poll: What is more important?

Mutual coexistence of all elements in Nature- humans, flora, and fauna- 100%

New poll added. Please participate.


The mercury has been rising. Quite astronomically, if I may add so. Whilst newspapers tagged yesterday's temperature of 37.5 deg C as the highest in 22 years, our two reliable thermometers indicated 45 deg C (outdoors-in shade) at 1630 hrs. This morning, at 0800 hrs, the same thermometers recorded 29 deg C.

Ideal room temperatures are usually in the range of 21-25 deg C, which the American Society for Testing and Materials stretches to 38 deg C. After all, it is recommended that the human body should be maintained within/around 37 deg C. In Kerala, there have already been some deaths due to sunstroke which is hardly shocking: when the windows are opened, a blast of searing air greets you, very much akin to how it feels when opening the door of a pre-heated oven. Perhaps the boiling temperatures mightn’t pose a problem for the well-heeled, who reside in centrally air-conditioned houses, travel in air-conditioned Mercs/Audi/BMWs, and work in air-conditioned offices. But the majority is fortified only with an umbrella. Our non-air-conditioned home, during these sultry times, have an indoor temperature of 30 deg C, which is certainly thanks to the greenery maintained by us. Our neighbours, on the other hand, have been moaning about the agonising heat.

The Trivandrum of my earliest memories had a pleasant temperature range (this link would provide a quick glimpse), with us then considering temperatures of 30 – 32 deg C to be exceptionally warm. Until around a decade ago, the maximum range was around 33- 34 deg C. The change in weather/climate is much more perceptible since I have not been around for a few years. And I am quite convinced that these soaring temperatures have to do with (at least partly) the virulent de-greening of the city, the foliage having been a protective cloak.

As a toddler, I recollect Trivandrum as a very green city which the aerial view substantiated: a dark emerald carpet with very few perceptible buildings (for the towering trees concealed the myriads of settlements). Roads were lined with stately avenue trees, the parks and grounds of various offices had copious greenery (mainly mature trees), and most houses had shrubs and trees of various sizes. Pockets and belts of paddy fields, fallow grounds, and wooded areas were located just around 10-15 minutes walk away from our home, which is located barely 1 km away from the main arterial road, MG Road, the continuation of the National Highway (a twin of London’s Marylebone Road). Such green pockets, with water bodies, used to abound everywhere, with culverts and brooks transporting pristine water flourishing with aquatic flora and fauna. The traditional Keralite house was also very eco-friendly, similar to a Roman villa, often in the same proportions: there was one-three nadu muttam (an inner courtyard like the peristylium), often with pools (like the Roman impluvium). Whilst herbs and shrubs would be planted in the areas immediately surrounding the house, trees would be planted a little distance away. Thus, it is not that surprising that the weather then was tolerable.

When we fast-forward to a few years, we can notice the progressive de-greening, more so within the past six years. Most of the avenue trees have been hewn down (presumably as part of the road widening projects or to lay down massive cables; or for no apparent reason). The pattern is repeated in the grounds of various offices, where the ‘garden’ comprises of concrete tiles and lawns. The green pockets are, more or less, nonexistent, having been replaced by towering apartment complexes and sprawling mansions. Culverts and brooks have dried up and most ponds have been filled up. And the modern Keralite house shuns greenery (as hinted in my post in Ecoratorio).

So, what can be done?
The first should be to halt (or at least decrease) this de-greening in the name of development. This can be easily implemented by the city corporation (and the state government) which not only issues building permits, but also makes and implements building policies and controls. For instance, making it mandatory for new buildings and developments to:
- plant and maintain a sufficient amount of vegetation.
- follow environmentally friendly and sustainable architecture.
- plant more avenue trees.

Secondly, residents could be provided with incentives to maintain greenery in the grounds of their homes.
Thirdly, the derelict ponds could be cleaned.
Fourthly, instead of converting paddy fields and fallow lands into developments, farming could be encouraged.

If not, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kerala ends up with a faster desertification rate.