Western Ghats is considered to be one of the global biodiversity hotspots, with its lively climate and its scenic geography, but studies done by Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore have found through remote sensing data available that Kerala have lost 906,440 hectares of forest land.
This new study by IISc named, ‘Four decades of forest loss: Drought in Kerala’ which was co-authored by Dr. Ramakrishnan R. and T. V. Ramachandran of Centre for Ecological Science, IISc, states that the forest cover as a percentage of total land area has been reduced from 66.2% to 42.15%. The study has found that Kerala has diverted more than 50% of its total forest area for other purposes since 1973. It pins the blame on these actions for the eroding forest cover.
“Kerala use to have one of the highest rate of rain fall, but now large scale conversion of forest into plantations and other forms of encroachments has reduced the rain during the monsoon seasons,”says Dr. Ramachandran, Professor at IISc. “Kerala has the highest number of endangered species of plants and animals as well, if they carry on with development with no regards to the environment, there won’t be any water left in this State for the survival of these species and our future generation,” he added.
Dr. Ramachandran further adds, “If water has to be stored, it requires green cover.Studies have shown that wherever there is native species of flora, the stream carries water throughout the year, where there is plantations(rubber, teak etc.) it comes down to 6 to 8 months and where there is degraded landscape it is just 4 months.” He believes that there is connection between landscape cover and water availability.
Numerous studies have been done in this matter, and all the studies have pointed to one single conclusion that deforestation has to be stopped. Dr. Ramachandran explains, “People are still unaware or ignorant about the consequences of all of this. People always complain about the weather but they always fail to confront these issues.”
C.R Neelakandan, an activist and also the state head of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) says, “Western Ghats are crucial to the rain fall in Kerala, the amount of rain water stored depends entirely on forest cover. When people use forest areas for rubber plantations, teak plantations or even tea plantations the ground level flora is destroyed.” According to him, even if you plant a hundred trees somewhere else while chopping down trees in the forest it wouldn’t matter in the long run because sometimes topography of the place are also important in storing water and climate.
Dr. T.V Ramachandran believs that, the people and government needs to work together to bring a change into this system of exploitation. He says “In the past few decades, the government had diluted their stance on environmental and forest protection policies for their own benefit. That has to change or there won’t be any water left.”
This report concluded that, the deforestation is the reason behind the worst draught Kerala has seen till date. It says, Kerala receives orographic rainfall which depends mainly on Western Ghats. The loss of forest cover can affect rainfall drastically. When there is so much of proof to back these claims, why is it that we’re not doing anything about it?
With such an alarming rate of deforestation, this region once famous for tropical rain forest is now left with only a few pockets of virgin rain forest. Dr. Ramachandran believes that, the people of Kerala and the government needs to take desperate measures to bring back its forest and there by bringing back the greenery that made Kerala ‘The god’s own country’.
Cover Image by Wouter Hagens (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons