Fears grow for children addicted to online games

Medical and addiction experts, charities and parents are becoming increasingly concerned about the amount of time children are spending playing online games as figures show that UK spending on titles such as League of Legends, World of Warcraft and Grand Theft Auto will top £3bn this year.

Dr Aric Sigman, a freelance lecturer in child health, said he had heard from a number of doctor’s surgeries that parents were asking for sleeping pills for their children. “Whether you call it an addiction or not, this is an enormous and growing problem,” he said.

The charity Action for Children says that a quarter of parents rank their children’s screen time, and how to control it, as their greatest challenge – bigger than the traditional issues of homework or healthy eating.

“We were surprised it came top. We hadn’t picked up that it was such a big issue,” says the charity’s managing director, Carol Iddon. “With gaming, children get a lot of satisfaction and positive reinforcement, it can build their confidence. But that can make it become addictive.”

Ben Jones (not his real name) a gamer known by his online persona of Onibobo, is part of the growing sub-culture of young people, particularly male, who appear to have become hooked on internet gaming. “League of Legends is my poison. I play it until pretty late,” he said.

His gaming sessions normally last about nine hours and typically run right through the night. Aged 27, he’s been a heavy usage player since he was 15, and it has taken its toll. At college he spent more time gaming than studying, and since leaving he has found it tough to hold down a job. “When I’m playing I know every hour I could be doing something else with my life, but it gives you a weird sense of fulfilment, like you’re achieving something,” he said.

Jones worries he is probably addicted – his gaming in part led to the break-up of a relationship this year – but he thinks he could stop if he really wanted to. “It’s like smoking or drinking,” he said. “It’s a very bad habit.”

The gaming industry is a reluctant to acknowledge any social responsibility, but brands are cashing in on growing demand. Data group Euromonitor calculates that UK spending on games will top £3bn this year, 10 times more than households spend on traditional board games such as Monopoly or Scrabble.

“The games are designed to keep you playing,” said Peter Smith, a director at Broadway Lodge, an addiction treatment centre in Weston-super-Mare.

Broadway has been helping people with drug and alcohol-related problems since 1974, and for the past three years has opened its doors to people struggling with gaming dependency. Smith says that parents have few places to turn to if they are worried about their children’s gaming. There is no telephone helpline, and GPs and schools, while increasingly aware of the problem, have limited expertise in dealing with it.

“If you’re a parent with a 15-year-old who’s playing endlessly, staying up late, not eating properly and then missing school because of it, where would you go for help? There isn’t anywhere,”  he said.

Most experts agree that the escapism and socialisation aspects of online gaming are a big part of the appeal. In League of Legends, for example, there is a clan system whereby players can invite others on to their list of friends, and then play as a group against other teams.

But it is not necessarily a friendly environment. “If you’re playing and make a mistake, you can have four people on your own team screaming at you, wishing you had cancer or your mother and father were dead,” said Jones. “People take it so seriously, they lose touch.”

Children losing touch with reality is the biggest concern for parents, perhaps. But gaming dependency – unlike gambling dependency, for example – is yet to be recognised with a formal diagnosis, and there is limited funding for research.

“We’re under-aware of it, and we’re therefore minimising what the potential problems are,” said Smith.

When pressed, Jones said he felt bad for his parents, who were concerned about the amount of time he spent in his room online. “You can lose a lot of cash, let alone time,” he said. “And it’s not really a transferable skill. It’s a strange world to be in.”

by Rob Walker, The Guardian


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Rivers don’t recognise borders

The reported Chinese decision to block the Xiabuquo river, a tributary of the Yarlung Zangbo, the Tibetan name for the Brahmaputra, to complete the Lalho hydro-power project at an estimated cost of $740 million has raised an alarm in India, particularly in the North-east, as this will be the first such action on the flow of water from the Brahmaputra into the lower riparian countries. Is this the beginning of hydro politics and water wars in South Asia that strategists have been projecting for quite some time?

This also highlights the transnational ecological importance of the Tibetan plateau as the Mekong and many other rivers originate either in Tibet or in its close proximity and that gives China a strategic advantage of being the only upper riparian state. Of the total 2,906 km of the Brahmaputra, 1,625 km falls in China, 978 km in India and 363 km in Bangladesh. The Lalho project has a special significance for Assam and the North-east since India has embarked on large hydel power development in the region to harness the potential of some of the tributaries of the Brahmaputra in Arunachal. The estimated hydro power potential of Arunachal alone is 33,000 MW, of which only about 2,000 MW may have been used and also the fact that there has been a shift in the Cente’s approach from flood control to basin development with the restructuring of the Brahmaputra Flood Control Board.

This approach has been already put in place in the Meghalaya sub-basin under the Meghalaya Basin Development Authority that has successfully taken up a number of inter-related activities such as flood and erosion control, community-based conservation of forests and wetlands and various non-farm sustainable income-generating activities like commercial hatchery, fish farming in small ponds, apiary, floriculture, horticulture and smallscale food processing mainly through the cooperatives or self-help groups. From this perspective, overemphasis on hydro power development or only flood control betrays an “extractive state” mindset that tends to ignore the overall impact of embankments or construction of storage dams or reservoirs and hydro power generation on the ecology and the communities in its command areas.

In Assam, the construction of about 4,800 km of embankments across the Brahmaputra and the Barak valley over the years did not result in significant flood moderation, not to speak of flood control, due to frequent breaches or overtopping of embankments, And this, the experts noted, had caused huge and recurring losses to human habitats, standing crops and animals than the usual high floods.

In Bangladesh, where 5,800 km of embankments were constructed, the experience is about  the same. Poor maintenance of embankments, the use of low quality construction materials, usually linked to corruption, are issues of serious public grievance.

The focus of basin development, on the contrary, is comprehensive community-centric sustainable development of a basin’s land water and biotic resources and its adoption is thus a welcome development. In this background, the Chinese blockade of a tributary of the Brahmaputra should be a wake-up call for India and Bangladesh, the two lower riparian countries, and Bhutan and Nepal as stakeholders of the Ganga- Brahmaputra-Meghna Basin to develop an integrated and scientific basin development approach to pre-empt unilateral action and bring about “spatial integration” of sub-systems of the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin.

This could be achieved through possible physical links between the sub-systems with link canals and storages; and these could only make  meeting the water demand of deficit areas from water rich sub-systems possible by mutual agreement. What stands in the way is the structure of the nation-states based on territorial sovereignty and absence of international water governance as evidenced from the fact that the 1997 UN Convention on the non-navigable uses of the international water courses has been ratified so far by only 27 countries though 106 nations voted for the proposal in the General Assembly.

The voting pattern on the UN resolution showed how perceived national interests dictated the decisions; as, for example, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam were in favour being lower riparian nations of the Ganga-Brahmaputra and the Mekong basin, respectively, while China, Turkey and Burundi voted against, being upper riparian countries; and India, Egypt, Israel and Pakistan abstained. Notwithstanding this position, the 1997 UN convention provides a framework to initiate a basin development approach for international rivers, though this is, indeed, a grey area of global governance.

While on this issue, certain unalterable geographical facts call for appreciation. The Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna system is part of a broader region that experts called the Bay of Bengal basin. The Ganges,the Brahmaputra and Barak -Meghna are separate sub-systems sharing a common delta providing a common terminus to the sea. This being the reality, basin development is to address common problems and technical possibilities of integration of the river systems; and this will require according a lower priority to sub-basin planning for water use, which is presently the practice in the North-eastern states. The recent public protests in Assam over the possible adverse environmental impact of the Lower Subansiri hydro power project in Arunachal in the Assam plains are the outcome of the absence of any integrated planning for the North-eastern sub-basin of the Brahmaputra.

In the final reckoning, the Assam valley is the gift of the Brahmaputra and its abundant ground water caused a visiting World Bank mission to depict Assam in its report as “a thin layer of land floating over a lake bigger than Lake Superior”; and the ground water potential has remained till date largely untapped, though its partial use in recent years covering about 150,000 hectares through  mainly a shallow tubewell programme  backed up by a good credit-input and extension support enabled Assam to harvest five million tons of rice and earn accolades from the Centre.

Thus. even if half of the estimated irrigation potential of 2.5 million hectares is realised by 2020, Assam could emerge as a major agricultural state and in a position to export to its neighborhood. Much, however. would depend on flood moderation and erosion control, vital for stabilisation of agricultural output, restoration of  forests, rejuvenation of wetlands and soil conservation, together with storage reservoirs on some major tributaries might cause some flood moderation and prevent congestion of drainage, thereby reducing peak flood as these will be more effective than embankments.

To deal with land erosion, a durable solution suggested by some experts is to convert the Brahmaputra regime, which is presently a braided stream, to that of a meandering one mostly flowing through a single channel. This will vastly improve navigability of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries. The North-east has the largest amount of navigable waterways in India, with a length of 3,844 km, and much of it is in the Brahmaputra valley. Thus, realigning the Brahmaputra through a long-term river training plan, as was done in Germany to rejuvenate the Rhine, could effectively position the region’s inland water transport as a major driver of economic development. This would boost tourism — both domestic and foreign, as the world famous wildlife sanctuaries of Assam and the North-east are in the Brahmaputra valley and easily accessible from the river systems.

Obstructing progress along this path is hydro politics and an outdated perception of national interest in a period when combating the challenges of climate change makes it imperative for an international common action plan. The national interest approach ignores the fact that rivers don’t recognise state borders. Therefore, a holistic basin development approach that takes care of the legitimate demands of all stakeholders and nations and puts in place laws and institutions for various interventions on the basis of ecology and conservation and not on national aggrandisement is the need and challenge before the Bay of Bengal basin countries. It is time for the South Asian Association Regional Cooperation and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectorial Technical and Economic Cooperation to say “No” to hydro politics in South Asia.

Rangan Dutta

 

Brahmaputra – The Beautiful River or The Battleground?

Bogibeel, the fourth bridge on Brahmaputra is under construction between Dhemaji and Dibrugarh district.  Photo – Parag Jyoti Saikia

Capture 3

The Brahmaputra River, geologically is the youngest among the major rivers in the world yet it is known as a moving ocean. The river Brahmaputra travels 2880 km from its origin in the young Himalayan range through the Tibet and India and finally merges with the sea in Bangladesh by opening its streams like the roots of a large Banyan tree. While traversing through India the river is astonishingly wide at some areas. In Upper Assam near Dibrugarh the river is 16 km wide where as in lower Assam at Pandu, near Guwahati the river is 1.2 km wide but in the immediate downstream it is nearly 18 km wide. Brahmaputra which is mainly a glacier fed river has also the distinction of being the river with highest sediment yield 852.4 t/km2/y in the world and second highest water yield at delta, next only to Amazon.[1]

Origin and Path

The BrahmaputraRiver originates in the Chemayungdung mountain ranges which nearly sixty miles south-east of Mansarovar lake in the MountKailash range in Southern Tibet at an elevation of 5300 m.A spring called Tamchok Khambab spills from the glaciers which later gather breath and volume to become the Tsangpo, the highest river in world.

A Buddhist shrine called a stupa overlooks the Brahmaputra River in southern Tibet. Source: http://kids.britannica.com/comptons/art-67000/A-Buddhist-shrine-called-a-stupa-overlooks-the-Brahmaputra-River

Out of its total length of 2,880 km the Brahmaputra covers a major part of its journey in Tibet as Tsangpo. Tsangpo or the BrahmaputraRiver flows 1625 km in Tibet parallel to the main range of Himalayas before entering India through Arunachal Pradesh.

Apart from the name Tsangpo, the Brahmaputra is also known by its Chinese name, Yarlung Zangbo in Tibet.  There are several tributaries of Tsangpo in Tibet. According to Encyclopedia Britannica,  Raka Zangbo (Raka Tsangpo), Lhasa (Kyi) and Nyang Qu (Gyamda) are prominent north bank tributaries where as Nyang Qu (Nyang Chu) is a tributary on the south bank. The Raka Zangbo (Raka Tsangpo) joins Tsangpo in the west of Xigazê (Shigatse) and Nyang Qu (Gyamda) River joins the river from the north at Zela (Tsela Dzong). The Lhasa (Kyi) river flows past the Tibetan capital of Lhasa and joins the Tsangpo at Qüxü.  The right bank tributary Nyang Qu (Nyang Chu) meets the Tsangpo at Xigazê.

Before entering India, the river passes Pi (Pe) in Tibet and suddenly turns to the north and northeast and cuts a course through a succession of great narrow gorges between the mountain Gyala Peri and Namjabarwa (Namcha Barwa) in a series of rapids and cascades.

The Great Bend of Tsangpo where China planning to build world’s biggest hydropower project Source: http://greenbuzzz.net/nature/the-biggest-canyons-in-the-world/

The river then turns south and southwest and flows through a deep gorge across the eastern extremity of the Himalayas with canyon walls that extends upward for 16,500 feet (5,000 meters) and more on each side. This is the celebrated great bend where China has plans to build the world’s biggest hydropower project of 40 000 MW capacity and also divert water from here to the North China, though China is currently denying any such plans.

Siang River Source: https://www.facebook.com/lovely.arunachal/media_set?set=a.117543018322855.21150.100002014725686&type=3

The river enters Arunachal Pradesh near Gelling where it is known as the Siang or Dihang. The total length of Siang River is 294.5 km till its point  of confluence  with Dibang and Lohit River. The elevation of Siang river catchment area ranges from 90 m to around 5800 m. In India the total catchment of Siang river up to its confluence with Dibang is 14965.30 sq km.[2]

The SiangRiver meets two other major tributaries of Brahmaputra, Dibang and Lohit in the west of Sadiya, at a place named Kobo. From this confluence point, the river is known as the Brahmaputra till it enters Bangladesh. In India the journey of the river Brahmaputra is 918 km long.

A recent study has shown that Kobo used to be confluence point in 1915.  By 1975 the confluence shifted to a place called Laikaghat which is 16 km downstream of the earlier point of confluence. In 2005 through satellite images it was observed that the confluence point has shifted “19 km farther downstream”.[3]

The river crosses Assam below Dhubri and enters Bangladesh where the river is known as Jamuna and it flows for 337 km. Regarding Brahmaputra’s role in Bangladesh a study writes “The Jamuna is the local name given to the river for its entire length in Bangladesh to the Ganges junction.

Jamuna River in Bangladesh Source: http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Asia/India/North/Uttar_Pradesh/Agra/photo322311.htm

The Brahmaputra-Jamuna has one principal tributary input, the TeestaRiver in the north-west, and two major offtakes on the left bank that are the Old Brahmaputra and the Dhaleswari. The Brahmaputra/Jamuna River contributes ~51% of the water discharge and 38% of the sediment yield to the Padma (Schumm and Winkley, 1994), with the sediment yield being estimated at 590 MT/ yr and the sand fraction contributing 34% of this total (Sarker, 1996).”[4] The Jamuna joins the Ganges at Goalundo Ghat and from here the combined flows of these two mighty rivers are known as Padma which joins Meghna in the downstream. The united stream thereafter known as the Meghna and with this name the river Brahmaputra ends its journey, entering the Bay of Bengal.

Bhutan forms an integral part of the Brahmaputra river basin even though it does not come in the path of the river. In our subsequent blogs we will bring a detail account of Bhutan’s role in Brahmaputra river basin.

 The Brahmaputra River Basin

The Brahmaputra river is an international river and its river basin is spread over four countries Bhutan, Tibet , India and Bangladesh with a total basin area of 5,80,000 sq. km. Out of this total catchment area 50.5% lies in Tibet, 33.6% in India, 8.1% in Bangladesh and 7.8% in Bhutan. For geologist and environmentalist the Brahmaputra is a very unique river because “drains such diverse environments as the cold dry plateau of Tibet, the rain-drenched Himalayan slopes, the landlocked alluvial plains of Assam and the vast deltaic lowlands of Bangladesh.”[5]

Map of Brahmaputra Basin from its origin to its confluence Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahmaputra_River

In India the total basin area of BrahmaputraRiver is 197 316 sq. km. which 5.9% of the total geographic area of the country. In India the river is spread over states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Sikkim.

In India state-wise the drainage area of the BrahmaputraRiver is as follows:

State

Drainage area (sq. km)

% of state area in Brahmaputra basin

Arunachal Pradesh 83 740 100%
Assam 71 216 90.79%
West Bengal 12 585 14.18%
Meghalaya 11 780 52.52%
Nagaland 10 895 65.71%
Sikkim 7 100 100%
Total 197 316

Source: ‘Intregrated Water Resource Development: A Plan for Action’, MoWR, Govt. of India, September, 1999

The Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland portion of the Brahmaputra river basin is mainly covered by mountain ranges and narrow valleys. Meghalaya part of the basin is majorly covered by hills where as Assam and West Bengal are mostly plain areas.

Politically in India the basin is spread over 22 parliamentary constituencies (2009) comprising 12 in Assam, 4 in West Bengal, 2 in Arunachal Pradesh, 2 in Meghalaya, 1 in Sikkim and 1 in Nagaland.

Projected Water Use for Diverse Purposes in the Brahmaputra Basin

Catchment Area 197 316 km2
Population (1991 census) 29.1 million
Surface-Water Potential (Av Annual) 629 km3/year
Utilisable Surface Water 24 km3/year
Total Replenishable Ground Water (Av. Annual) 26.55 km3/year
Natural Groundwater Recharge from Rainfall 25.72 km3/year
Estimated Utilisable Flow excluding Ground Water 21 km3/year

Source: ‘Integrated Water Resource Development: A Plan for Action’, MoWR, Govt. of India, September, 1999

Tributaries of Brahmaputra

Sub-basin map of Siang River Source: Environment Assessment Report Siang Basin In Arunachal Pradesh, Interim Report June 2012

Studies have stated that the Brahmaputra river in its entire course receive water from a large number of tributaries. A study called “Study of Brahmaputra River Erosion and Its Control” done by IIT Roorkee[6] stated “the Brahmaputra receives as many as 22 major tributaries in Tibet, 33 in India and three in Bangladesh.” However this study did not mention anything about the river in Arunachal. We have already mentioned about the few of the tributaries Tibet. In Arunachal the major tributaries of Siang River are Ringong Asi, Yang Sang Chhu, Sigong/ Sirapateng, Niyikgong, Angong, Simang, Yamne, Siyom, Yargyap, Hirit Korong.[7]

In the course of journey through Assam from east to west, some of the important tributaries of the BrahmaputraRiver which join the river on the north bank are Lohit, Dibang, Subansiri, Jiabharali, Barnadi, Puthimari, Pagladia, Beki, Manas, Ai, Gabhoru, Chompawati, Sankosh, Raidhak, Torsa, Teesta etc. Burhidihing, Desang, Dikhow, Jamji, Bhogdoi, Kakdonga, Dhansiri, Kopili, Kolong, Sonai, Digaru, Bharalu, Krishnai, Dudhnoi are the major tributaries on the left bank. The actual number of rivers and rivulets which joins the mighty river is much larger than this list. In subsequent blogs we will try to go into details of some of the tributaries of the river Brahmaputra.

Hydrology of Brahmaputra

For the river Brahmaputra the average annual flow (water discharge) throughout Assam vary from 8500 to 17000 cubic meters per second. At Pandu Ghat near SaraighatBridge the average annual floods recorded was 16,000 cubic meters per second. During floods water discharge reaches its peak and the yearly average peak flow recorded was approximately 51,000 cubic meters per second.[8] At its mouth in Bangladesh, the average annual discharge of the river is 19,830 cubic meters per second. This is the fourth highest average annual discharge in the world. For the river Brahmaputra the highest daily discharge was recorded in August 1962 at Pandu which was 72,726 cubic meters per second. The lowest daily discharge at the same place was 1757 cubic meters per second in February 1968.[9]

Satellite image of the river Brahmaputra (2008) just downstream of Guwahati city indicating intense braiding. width of the river at pandu is 1.2 km but donstream is about 18km. Source: ‘Riverbank erosion: a perspective” a presentation by Dr. Bipul Talukdar, Assam Engineering College

Though the Brahmaputra has been described as a braided river, recent studies have shown that the river does not fit into the conventional definition of braided river. A recent study states “In the study reach of the upper Assam area, the Brahmaputra appears to be a multichannel and multi-pattern river that has a tendency to very frequently generate ananabranching[10] (Latrubesse, 2008) pattern in decadal scale.” [11]

The Brahmaputra has been widening its (riverbed) size continuously from the last century. Reports from Water Resource Department showed that in Assam the river Brahmaputra was spread over for 4000 sq km in 1920 but in 2008 this has increased to 6000 sq km.[12]

The Brahmaputra along with several of its major tributaries like Subansiri, Jia Bharali, Manas had very high water yields[13]  which are higher than most of the major rivers in the world. The reason behind such high water yield for Dr. D.C. Goswami, one of the renowned environmental scientist from Assam is “High monsoon rainfall in the upper catchments and their steep gradients are considered to be the major factors responsible for the high rates of unit discharge which in turn help generate the high sediment yield from the basin and contribute significantly towards causing drainage congestion in the valley.”[14]

Seismicity and Brahmaputra Basin

The Brahmaputra river basin and its adjoining hill ranges are seismically very unstable because it is located in the Eurasian (Chinese) and Indian tectonic plates. The most severe earthquakes with Richter magnitude 8.7 was recorded twice in the valley, in 1897 and 1950. The latter one particularly had severe impacts on the river Brahmaputra. As a result of this earthquake river bed was raised at least by three meters at Dibrugarh which had increased the flood and erosion intensity of the river. In the opinion of geomorphologists “the region’s active seismicity has a significant impact on the hydro-geomorphic regime of the Brahmaputra system of rivers, causing landslides that result in the natural damming of rivers, flash floods due to the bursting of landslide-induced temporary dams, raising of riverbeds by siltation, fissuring and sand venting, elevation of existing river and lake bottoms and margins, creation of new water bodies and waterfalls due to faulting.”[15]

Climate Regime

The Brahmaputra in its path from snow covered mountains of Himalaya to the deltaic flood plains of Bangladesh covers different climatic regimes. The mean annual rainfall in the Brahmaputra basin excluding the Tibetan portion is 2300 mm.  The distribution of rainfall is different at different parts of the basin. In the southern slopes of Himalaya the rainfall is over 6000 mm but in parts of Nagaland this is 1200 mm. The monsoon rainfall (June to September) contribute 60-70% to the annual rainfall of the basin.[16]

In this basin, areas which are above or equal to the elevation of 1500 m experience snowfall. In the Indian part of Brahmaputra basin there are 610 glaciers which covers an area of 928.91 sq km and the volume of these glaciers are 49.57 cubic km. Out of these 449 glaciers are in Teesta basin and 161 glaciers are in Arunachal.[17]  In the Brahmaputra basin, Himalayan snow and glacial melt waters play a very significant role in water availability and climate change will have severe impacts on this. Climate change will also impact the rainfall and snowfall pattern in the Brahmaputra basin. This issue needs more serious attention and we will come up with more detailed blogs on this.

Bio-Diversity in the Brahmaputra Basin

The Lohit flooplains, immediately dowsntream of Lower Demwe HEP, constitute an Important Bird Area as per international criteria and is also a potential Ramsar site Photo: Neeraj Vagholikar

The Brahmaputra river basin hosts very rich and unique bio-diversity. The whole of northeastern region is a globally recognized bio-diversity hot spot.  In the Indian territory the total forest cover of the Brahmaputra basin is 1,14,894 sq. km. which is 54% of the total basin area. In the distribution of forest cover among 6 states in Brahmaputra basin, Arunachal Pradesh tops the list with 82.8% forest cover but it is sad that the highest number of hydro-electric dams are planned in this state inviting disastrous impacts for the biodiversity, forests, people and environment. The tally of rest of the five states is as follows – Nagaland (68.9%), Meghalaya (63.5%), Sikkim (38.1%), West Bengal (21.4 %) and Assam (20.6 %).

Besides, the aquatic bio-diversity of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries is also very rich. Here we should also take the case of ‘beel’ or wetlands in the Brahmaputra flood plains which according to experts work as ”ecotonal zones” and ”play an important role in the dynamics of the Brahmaputra ecosystem, as these are natural feeding and breeding grounds for a number of fish species and other aquatic fauna.”[18]

Flood and Erosion

Brahmaputra river basin is known to be very prone to flood and erosion and these two hazards have led to many problems in the basin. In India, out of the eight northeastern states, Assam faces the most severe brunt of flood and erosion. Both flood erosion has been severely affecting the economy as well political, social and cultural milieu of Assam.

Experts opine that natural as well anthropogenic factors lead to devastating floods in northeastern region. “The unique geo-environmental  setting of the region vis-à-vis the eastern Himalayas, the highly potent monsoon regime, weak geological formation, active seismicity, accelerated erosion, rapid channel  aggradations, massive deforestation, intense land use pressure and high population growth especially in the floodplain belt, and ad hoc type temporary flood control measures are some of the dominant factors that cause and/or intensify floods in the Brahmaputra and the Barak basins (Goswami, 1998).”[19] The Brahmaputra river basin is also prone to flash floods and some of the worst flash floods have occurred in the valley in the new millennium.

Along with floods, erosion is also threatening the lives of the people in the state of Assam as it leads to permanent loss of land.  Here we can take the case of the river island Majuli, which had been one of the worst sufferers of the erosion done by Brahmaputra. In 1853 the total area of Majuli was 1129 sq km but it has now reduced to 3.55 sq km.[20]

Ilish fishing, Dauladia, Bangladesh, 2001 Source: http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2011/11/14/142219164/capturing-the-unseen-side-of-bangladesh

In Bangladesh the Brahmaputra river which known as Jamuna is also infamous for severe floods and erosion. The river carries huge water and sediment discharge in this deltaic region. Because of its geographical setting, Bangladesh is very much dependent on its river for fertile fields and diverse flora and aqua culture but rivers also brings several hazards in the form of floods and erosion. Bangladesh has witnessed severe annual floods but the floods in 1987, 1988, 1998 and 2004 were the most severe ones in recent decades. But studies have shown that, “The people of Bangladesh have adapted their lifestyle for centuries to live with river flooding – frequently moving their temporary bank-side homes, planting on newly emergent river bars, and sometimes raising their homesteads above water level in flood periods (Paul, 1997). However, a growing population, coupled with the expansion of infrastructure and economic development, has resulted in an increase in the intensity of flood damage (FPCO, 1995; Paul, 1997; CPD, 2004). The lives of many millions of Bangladeshi citizens is thus reliant on these rivers, with up to 600,000 people living on the riverine islands and bars alone (Sarker et al., 2003).”[21]

In order to protect people from the fury of floods and erosion the main measure taken in India as well in Bangladesh is the construction of embankments. In Assam the total length of embankment is 4,473.83 km constructed on a total of 130 small and big rivers. But recent reports say that out this, 3376 km embankments are in a vulnerable condition and need immediate strengthening and repair.[22] As a deltaic region Bangladesh too has put its thrust on increasing length of embankments. In 1989 Bangladesh launched an elaborate flood control programme through construction of embankments which was named as ‘Flood Action Plan’. But this plan was vehemently criticized both at national and international level.

Protest against big dams – KMSS (Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti) members protesting in Pandu Ghat in Guwahati against the ship carrying the turbines for the Lower Subansiri project. Source: http://peakwater.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Lower-Subansiri-turbines-protest.preview.jpg

In order to control the floods in Brahmaputra valley one of the proposed solution is construction of multi-purpose dams. In fact flood control was one of the pretexts for hydro-development in the northeastern region. But the idea that multipurpose dams can lead to flood control along with hydro-power generation is actually contradictory and unviable as seen from experience of such projects. Studies done on some of the biggest multi-purpose river valley projects of independent India, e.g. ‘Unravelling Bhakra’ by Shripad Dharmadhikary, ‘Drown and Dammed’ done on Hirakud by Prof Rohan D’Souza, “One Valley and a Thousand: Dams, Nationalism, and Development, Studies in Social Ecology & Environmental History” on Damodar Valley dams by Daniel Klingensmith have shown how unviable this proposition is. A number of these dams have actually created avoidable flood disasters in the downstream areas due to wrong operation of the dams[23]. In case of the mightly Brahmaputra river, this is likely to prove even greater disastrous considering its characteristics described above.

Today Brahmaputra valley is witnessing severe opposition against hydro-power dams.  The struggle against the Lower Subansiri hydro-electric project can be regarded as milestone. In the Brahmaputra valley the hydropower projects have been opposed also because of the impacts which it will going to have in the downstream as well as on the biodiversity, seismicity, society and culture of one of the most ecological sensitive areas. .

Institutional Mechanism over Brahmaputra in India

The Brahmaputra Board is the foremost body on Brahmaputra established by Government of India under an Act of Parliament i.e. The Brahmaputra Board Act, 1980 (46 of 1980) under the Ministry of Irrigation which now renamed as Ministry of Water Resources. The main task entrusted on Brahmaputra Board is ‘planning and integrated implementation of measures for the control of floods and bank erosion in the BrahmaputraValley and for matters connected therewith.’ Both Brahmaputra and Barak valleys are under the jurisdiction of Brahmaputra Board. Even though this independent board was established to better manage the flood and erosion problem of the two river basins, but its activities have come under severe public criticism. Besides Brahmaputra Board, the State Water Resource Department and Central Water Commission also looks after water issues in the river basin. Recently international funding agency Asian Development Bank (ADB) has come to be associated with flood and erosion control in the Assam but from the experiences of Bangladesh, the advent such agencies must be dealt with precaution.

Brahmaputra Valley as the Point of Confluence for People and Cultures

The Brahmaputra is a dynamic river whose dynamism is not only limited to its physical characters or features of the river, but immersed in social, political, economic and cultural aspects. The Brahmaputra valley has been the space of assimilation for people from different races and the one can find large variety of languages and dialects being spoken in this valley. The northeastern region falls under the Brahmaputra and Barak River basin[24] which is home for more than 166 separate tribes, 160 scheduled tribes and over 400 other tribal and sub-tribal communities and groups, speaking a wide range of languages (Climate Change in India: A 4×4 Assessment, 2010). The northeastern region can also be considered as an ‘ethnological transition zone’ between India and the neighbouring countries of Bhutan, Tibet, Burma and Bangladesh. In this region one can find 220 languages belonging to three language families – Indo-Aryan, Sino-Tibetan and Austric.[25]

Relevance of Brahmaputra for Assam

For Assam, the state located at the center of the northeastern region, the river Brahmaputra paves its way through this state like the lifeline of the state. The river ‘Brahmaputra’ literally means ‘Son of Brahma’. It is also one of the few rivers in India which is regarded as a ‘male’ river. There are several myths and legends about the Brahmaputra’s origin and we will bring those together in our coming blogs.

Bogibeel, the fourth bridge on Brahmaputra is under construction between Dhemaji and Dibrugarh district. Photo – Parag Jyoti Saikia

In Assam Brahmaputra River is also known by several other names  i.e. ‘Luit’, ‘Siri Luit’, ‘Bor Luit’ ‘Bor Noi’. For the people of Assam, the Brahmaputra is a symbol of great pride due to its ‘moving ocean’ size but this also ignites fear when it rises to its strength during floods. People of Assam have faced difficult times when the river has come to its full strength. Famous singer Jayanta Hazarika wrote, when he formed ‘Xur bahini’ to gather relief for flood victims “Luitor Bolia baan, toloi koloi nu dhapoli meliso, hir hir sowode kal roop dhori loi kaak nu bare bare khediso (Oh the maddening floods of Luit, where are you heading this time. Whom are you chasing again with frightening sound of your waves)”.

But this river is also the source of strength for the people of Assam. Time and again, they have expressed their unity as ‘Luitporia’ or ‘people from the banks of Luit’. The famous cultural icon of Assam, Jyoti Prasad Agarwala wrote in 1942 during Indian Freedom movement “Luitor parore ami deka lora, moriboloi bhoi nai (we are the youth from the banks of Luit and we don’t have any fear of death)”.  For another legendary cultural icon, Dr. Bhupen Hazarika  who is known as the bard of Brahmaputra, the river’s power of destruction was the source which will awaken the people. In his famous song “Bistirno parore” he asked the river – “Sahasro barishar, unmadonar, avigyotare, pangu manobok sawal songrami aru agrogami kori nutula kiyo (with your maddening experience of thousand monsoons, why don’t you arouse the disabled human beings for struggle and progress)”.

This blog is a small step to document the various aspects of the river Brahmaputra. It is the need of the hour since a flood of dams are proposed to submerge the Brahmaputra valley. Chinese plans of dam construction is not very much in the public domain but the impacts of dam construction of in the upstream Tibet will have severe impacts on the Brahmaputra river. Besides, the bogey of Chinese threat to divert the waters of Siang is used by the Indian government to push for rapid dam construction sidelining all the social, environmental, safety, sustainability, climate change concerns and impacts on the river ecosystem. The government very shamelessly has also put aside all the democratic processes to push for rapid dam construction. Though there is no proposal for a dam on the Brahmaputra in Assam, there are proposals to dam its major upstream tributaries.  This upsurge of dams, if they do get constructed will have huge impacts on the Brahmaputra River which are yet not known due to lack of credible projects specific or cumulative impacts assessment studies. These studies should include issues like  the river ecosystem, river bio-diversity, forests and wildlife, climate change, floods and erosion and economic and socio-cultural impacts. However, we are hopeful that the ongoing struggles against such unjustifiable projects will succeed and all these projects won’t come up. Through a series of blogs we will also try to bring together all these different streams of concerns.

Himanshu Thakkar, Parag Jyoti Saikia

South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (www.sandrp.in)
Email: ht.sandrp@gmail.com, meandering1800@gmail.com


[1] Lahiri, S.K., Sinha, R., Tectonic controls on the morphodynamics of the Brahmaputra River system in the upper As-sam valley, India, Geomorphology (2012)

[2]EnvironmentAssessmentReport  SiangBasin In Arunachal Pradesh, Interim Report June 2012, Prepared for Central Water Commission(CWC

[3] Lahiri, S.K., Sinha, R., Tectonic controls on the morphodynamics of the Brahmaputra River system in the upper As-sam valley, India, Geomorphology (2012)

[5]GoswamiD.C., “Managing the Wealth and Woes of the River Brahmaputra” available at http://www.indianfolklore.org/journals/index.php/Ish/article/view/449/514

[7]EnvironmentAssessmentReport  SiangBasin In Arunachal Pradesh, Interim Report June 2012, Prepared for Central Water Commission(CWC)

[9] Goswami D.C., “Managing the Wealth and Woes of the River Brahmaputra” available at  http://www.indianfolklore.org/journals/index.php/Ish/article/view/449/514

[10] An anabranch is a section of a river or stream that diverts from the main channel or stem of the watercourse and rejoins the main stem downstream.

[11] Lahiri, S.K., Sinha, R., Tectonic controls on the morphodynamics of the Brahmaputra River system in the upper As-sam valley, India, Geomorphology (2012)

[13] Water yield means volume of water drained by unit area of the basin.

[14] “The Brahmaputra River”, India  by D.C. Goswami and P. J. Das in The Ecologist Asia Vol. 11 No 1 January- March 2003

[15] ibid

[16] ibid

[17] “Water Sector Options for India in a Changing Climate” by Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP, New Delhi, March 2012

[18] ‘Stemming the Flood, Killing Biodiversity’ by Dr. Sanchita Boruah and Dr. S.P. Biswas in The Ecologist Asia Vol. 11 No 1 January- March 2003

[19] Goswami D.C., “Managing the Wealth and Woes of the River Brahmaputra” available at  http://www.indianfolklore.org/journals/index.php/Ish/article/view/449/514

[24]Barak River is located in south Assam and also an international river but smaller than the Brahmaputra.

Climate Change Hits Assam Tea

The flavour has changed from what it was before. The creamy and strong flavor is no more. It has been revealed that the changes have already been observed everywhere in the Indian tea industry and scientifically it is established that these are gravely attributed to excessive use of pesticides attributed to climate change. Other factors like cultivation methods might also be partly responsible. Studies by  scientists  including Toklai Experimental Station (TES) at Jorhat, Assam has also revealed these  changes.

Excessive pesticide residues in tea continue to be a concern among exporters. These pesticides used in tea plants generally fall in two groups: organochlorines organophosphates and pyrethrins. The chemicals used in tea cultivation are dicofol, endosulfan, ethion, fenzaquin and parquet among others. But all tea producing countries do not have the same standard regarding use of pesticides. The pesticide levels in tea measured from some countries are not within acceptable levels.

Assam tea is acclaimed worldwide for its distinctive taste, and if this is affected, it could spell doom for exports in the long run. According to TAI estimates, the average price realization from exports have been quite discouraging in recent years due to major improvement in production by Sri Lanka and Kenya, India’s two major rivals in the export market.

Scientists from TES, the oldest tea research station in the world, said rainfall and minimum temperature were two of the most important factors affecting both quality and quantity of harvests. The decline has been taking place although there has been an increase in the area of tea cultivation as new gardens have come up, and many gardens have added new areas for tea plantation. This is an indication of the seriousness of the threat. A rise in temperature and change in rainfall pattern are threatening the production and quality of India’s Tea.

Rainfall in North-east India has dropped by more than one-fifth in the past 60 years and the minimum temperature has increased by 1.8 degrees to 67.1 Fahrenheit. A rise in temperature and change in rainfall pattern are threatening the production and quality of Indian Tea. The average rainfall in NE India ranges from 2000-4000 mm. However more than total amount the distribution of rainfall matters a lot for sustained high yield of tea throughout the season. In the NE India, the rainfall distribution is not even. The excess rainfall in the monsoon months of June – September causes drainage problems.

The average monthly rainfall during November to March is less than the evaporation loss and the resulting soil moisture deficient affect tea bushes. When this dry spell persists for a longer period, tea plants suffer heavily and crop goes down in spite of having sufficient
rainfall in the monsoon.

A study earlier conducted by the TES had found that the average minimum temperature in Assam had risen by 1 degree Celsius in last 90 years, besides the region losing around 200 mm rainfall because of climatic changes. Temperature affects tea yield by influencing rate of photosynthesis and controlling growth and dormancy. In general, the ambient temperature with 13 degree C and 28-32 degree C is conductive for growth of tea. Maximum ambient temperature above 32 degree C is unfavourable for optimum photosynthesis more so if it is accompanied by low humidity. In the tea belts of the region the average winter minimum temperature (Dec- Feb) remains below 12 degree and there is hardly any growth during this period.

About 850 tea gardens in Assam produce 55 per cent of India’s tea, but crop yield are decreasing and amid fears of a co relation with environmental change. Assam is the largest tea producing state of India and accounts for around 55 per cent of total tea produced in the country. Though Assam witnessed a bumper tea production in 2009, thus bringing the industry out of 10 years of recession, production took a hit last year due to excessive rainfall. From 499 million kg in 2009, the figure dropped to 480 million kg in 2010 in Assam. Total tea production in India in 2010 was 966 million kg.According to Tea Board estimate Assam produced 512,000 tonnes of tea in 2007. By 2008 this had declined to 487,000 tones, with estimated production in 2009 down again to 445,000.

Fortunately the output in Assam, the largest tea-producing state, was up 5 per cent to 607.83 million kg in the April-December period of 2013-14, from 577.13 million kg in the year-ago period. Of course this has happened on account of vast cultivation area extension by small tea-growers. Climate change makes bound and unavoidable the profuse uses of
fertilizers and pesticides in tea cultivation which degrades both quality and quantity of Assam and Darjeeling tea, a section of tea cultivators and experts said. A steady decline or an almost stagnant picture shown in tea production has been blamed on climate change.

What’s really scary is that this change in climate seems to be affecting the tea’s flavour. Researchers from TES said that some 41 species of mirids in the genus Helopeltis have so far been described in the world and most of them in India. In recent years, two species of Helopeltis, H. schutedeni Reuter (Hemipetra: Miridae) and as earlier predicted, H. thievora waterhouse, have become the greatest enemies of tea planters in India or Asia I but in Africa causing 55% and 11% to 100% crop loss, respectively. Some bugs are transforming themselves into super bugs, thereby making the common pesticides worthless in the tea gardens of Assam.

Helopeltis (Tea mosquito bug) and looper caterpillar is gradually attaining resistance against common pesticides used in our tea gardens. Helopeltis has been keeping the tea growers scary for the past several years. Constant use of same kind of same kind of pesticides is leading to the transformation of these insects into super bugs much to the anxiety of the tea planters and the scientists as well.

It is almost impossible for Assam tea to survive without use of these chemicals because of the sub-tropical climatic condition in the state where the use of these chemicals are necessary for pest control. The tea industry in India is turning up towards domestic market rather than follow a stricter tea standard. What is alarming is that tea growers are still using harmful chemicals like HCH, DDT, Dicofol, Fenvalerate, Methamidophos, Alphamethrin and Acephate.

A cup of tea that cheers can also be an important route of human exposure to pesticide residues. It is important to evaluate the percent transfer of pesticide residue from dried (made) tea to tea infusion, as tea is subjected to an infusion process prior to human
consumption.

Chandan Kumar Duarah

First published  in Eurasia Review

http://www.eurasiareview.com/06022014-climate-change-hits-assam-tea/

Assam continues to top maternal deaths in India

 Assam has recorded the highest maternal death in India for the tenth successive year, portraying the dismal condition of healthcare system in the northeastern state.

The findings are part of the National Family Health Survey-4 released recently.

According to the Sample Registration System during 2011-1013, the Maternal Mortality Rates (MMR) of Assam is 300 for every 100,000 live births, way above the national average of 167.

In the same survey, Assam has recorded a high domestic abuse rate, with 25 percent of married women reporting domestic violence. The figure though is lower than the average national rate, which stands at 50 percent.

The fourth national family survey conducted field work in Assam from November 6, 2015 to March 31, 2016 through Nielsen (India) Private Limited and gathered information from 24,542 households – 28,447 women, and 3,860 men.

Its findings show that 32.6 percent of Assam women, between 20-24 years, were married before the age of 18, which could be an indication of the high number of maternal deaths. The survey also found that Assam also has a high anemic rate. According to the report, 46 percent girls and women between age 15 and 49 are anemic, reports northeasttoday.in.

Analysing the reports, Centre for Catalysing Change executive director Dr Aparajita Gogoi said that the Janani Suraksha Yojana has led to more than 70 percent institutional deliveries.

The health expert, however, said that gender differentiation and female feticide could be the causes but there are also a number of medical reasons for the high mortality rate.

The high MMR in certain pockets, like the tea belts and char areas in Assam, is another aspect of the problem, Gogoi said. The tea communities in Assam are socially isolated and often have high rates of malnutrition, worm infestation and alcohol consumption and low rates of education. She also said that it needs to be researched as to why Assamese girls and women are anemic given the protein rich diet the people in the State eat.

In a telling comment on the Assam Government’s health care records, the State has for the tenth successive year recorded the highest maternal deaths in the country. With the Maternal Mortality Rates (MMR) of 300, the State has surpassed the national average of 167.

According to the Sample Registration System (SRS) (July, 2011-13), the MMR in Assam of 300 per 1 lakh live births is the highest in the country, the corresponding national number being 167.

Further, what should come as an eye-opener, Assam has recorded a high domestic abuse rate, with 25 per cent of married women reporting domestic violence. The figure though is lower than the average national rate, which stands at 50 per cent.

These findings are part of the National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS-4) (2015-2016) released recently.

The NFHS-4, which will be the benchmark for future survey, conducted field work in Assam from November 6, 2015 to March 31, 2016 through Nielsen (India) Private Limited and gathered information from 24,542 households – 28,447 women, and 3,860 men.

Analysing the reports, Centre for Catalysing Change executive director Dr Aparajita Gogoi told this newspaper that the progress in institutional deliveries, especially under the Janani Suraksha Yojana, has led to over 70 per cent institutional deliveries.

There are many reasons for the high mortality rate in Assam. The State is grappling with challenges like difficult terrain and inaccessibility to health services as a percentage of the population live on islands in the Brahmaputra, which can be aggressive and harsh in the rainy season.

The NFHS-4 states that 32.6 per cent of women in Assam, aged 20-24 years, were married before age 18. Early marriages of such huge numbers could lead to maternal deaths.

The health expert, however, said that gender differentiation and female foeticide could be the causes but there are also a number of medical reasons for the high mortality rate.

One can understand the situation in a conservative State like Rajasthan, where girls are married off early but why an Assamese girl is married off before attaining the age of 18,” wondered Dr Gogoi.

Further, there are socio-economic reasons. The high MMR in certain pockets, like the tea belts and char areas in Assam, is another aspect of the problem, she said. The tea communities in Assam are socially isolated and often have high rates of malnutrition, worm infestation and alcohol consumption and low rates of education.

Assam also has a high anaemic rate and according to the survey report, 46 per cent girls and women between age 15 and 49 are anaemic. She said that it needs to be researched as to why Assamese girls and women are anaemic given the protein rich diet the people in the State eat. Genetically the Ahom community in Assam have low haemoglobin, which could be one of the reasons for anae

Groundwater contamination cases rising in State

Assam  has been facing a grave water quality problem, which is threatening the future of a large section of its upcoming generations.

It has been found that 19 districts of the State have areas affected by arsenic and nine districts have high fluoride in many pockets, including greater Guwahati. On top of this, high level of toxic elements like lead in groundwater of Darrang and Dhemaji districts is found, cadmium is found in the groundwater of Dhemaji district, while high level of non-biodegradable toxic pesticides like DDT and hexachlorocylohexane (HCH) are found in the groundwater of Dibrugarh and Nagaon districts.

Besides, proximity to the uranium deposits in Meghalaya, hydrocarbon exploration activities since the 19th century, universal presence of high quantity of iron in groundwater have been complicating the situation, said water quality experts.

Cadmium affects the central nerve system, makes bones brittle, causes mental disorders and may lead to cancerous diseases by causing disorders in DNA. Intake of high amount of HCH is toxic for the human body, experts maintain.

In the late 1990s, the first batch of fluorosis patients was discovered in the State and this led to the discovery of high amount of fluoride in the groundwater of Karbi Anglong district. This was followed by the discovery of arsenic in 2003 in two districts of the State – Dhubri and Karimganj.

Fluoride and arsenic contamination of groundwater, which was thought to be free from bacteriological contamination, posed a serious health hazard, as, groundwater was mostly supplied by the Government to the people of the State’s rural areas since the early 1960s as safe drinking water.

It is feared that at least two million people of the State are at risk only because of fluoride and arsenic contamination of groundwater, said the experts.

In some places, one in every three persons is affected by non-curable fluorosis. And this is creating a deep social desolation begetting the burden of the State’s society. Children get affected more from these problems as arsenic, fluoride, lead are neurotoxins for them and now even some babies are born with fluorosis, the experts said.

Cases of contamination of groundwater in the State are swelling up everyday, making groundwater unsafe for consumption. According to the official data, the number of the State’s districts which have got their groundwater contaminated by fluoride and arsenic has shot up to 22 and 21 respectively from 19 and 20 respectively in 2014-’15.

According to the data available with this newspaper, in 2014-’15, the arsenic affected districts of the State included Baksa, Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Cachar, Darrang, Dhemaji, Dhubri, Goalpara, Hailakandi, Jorhat, Kamrup, Karimganj, Kokrajhar, Lakhimpur, Morigaon, Nagaon, Nalbari, Sivasagar and Sonitpur.

This year, Tinsukia has also been found to be affected by arsenic, raising the number of affected districts to 21, said the sources.

Till 2013-’14, nine districts – Barpeta, Dhubri, Goalpara, Golaghat, Jorhat, Kamrup, Karbi Anglong, Karimganj and Nagaon – were found to be affected by fluoride.

But in 2014-’15, with the inclusion of Baksa, Cachar, Chirang, Darrang, Dibrugarh, Morigaon, Nalbari, Sivasagar, Sonitpur and Udalguri, the number of affected districts rose to 19.

In 2015-’16, with the inclusion of Bongaigaon, Lakhimpur and Tinsukia, the number of fluoride-affected districts have shot up to 22, sources said.

According to experts here, the trend of rise in the number of fluoride and arsenic affected districts should be studied, together with the impact of such contamination of groundwater, which is used by the people of many areas in these districts for the purpose of drinking as well as domestic use, on human and animal health.

Except in the two districts of Karbi Anglong and Nagaon, no comprehensive health impact studies of groundwater contamination in the rest of the districts has so far been known to have been conducted, said the experts. The origin of fluoride so far is known to be geogenic.

The State’s Department of Mining and Mineral may undertake such studies, involving also the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED), Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) and the North Eastern Regional Institute of Water and Land Management (NERIWALM) in this regard, said the experts.

 

Pangs of Hunger! India Sinks Further Down The Global Hunger Index

India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world with an estimated growth of more than 7.5 per cent of GDP. Still the country has a population with a significant percentage of people living without having a square meal per day, says the Global Hunger Index (GHI) released on 11 October 2016.

According to the report released by US-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), India stands 97 in the list of 118 countries, showing the worst performance among neighbouring countries where it ranked 130 out of 188 countries in 2015.While per capita income in India has more than tripled in the last two decades, the minimum dietary intake fell during the same period.

Levels of inequality and social exclusion are very high. In Asia, India stands better than only Afghanistan, Timor-Leste, Pakistan, and North Korea and has a worse than developing country average score of 21.3.

India scored 28.5 on a scale of 0 to 100 showing a marginal improvement over the previous period. While all other neighbouring countries showed better performance with China ranked 29 followed by Nepal (72), Myanmar (75), Sri Lanka (84) and Bangladesh (90), India’s arch rival Pakistan did a worse performance with a rank of 107.

Though the country has made rigorous improvement since 2000, India still remains a country having serious hunger condition. Overall, the Central African Republic, Chad, and Zambia fared the worst while Argentina fared the best (1) among the countries included in the study.

The report further states that if the hunger declines at the same rate as the report finds since 1992, the world will not achieve the target to end hunger by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UNSDG) deadline of 2030 and India will be one of the nations remaining on the list which will be a sad state for the country that is emerging as a the best growing economy among the other world economies.

“More than 45 countries – including India, Pakistan, Haiti, Yemen, and Afghanistan – will still have “moderate” to “alarming” hunger scores in the year 2030, far short of the UNSDG to end hunger by that year,” said the report.

“India is slated to become the world’s most populous nation in the next six years, and it’s crucial that it meets this milestone with a record of ensuring that the expected 1.4 billion Indians have enough nutritious food to lead healthy and successful lives,” said PK Joshi, IFPRI Director for South Asia. “India is making tremendous progress—but it has significant challenges ahead,” he added.

The Global Hunger Index is a multidimensional statistical tool used to describe the state of countries’ hunger situation. It takes into consideration indicators like undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting, and child mortality.

India is home to 194.6 million undernourished people, the highest in the world, according to the annual report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. This translates into over 15 per cent of India’s population, exceeding China in both absolute numbers and proportion of malnourished people in the country’s population.

“Higher economic growth has not been fully translated into higher food consumption, let alone better diets overall, suggesting that the poor and hungry may have failed to benefit much from overall growth,” says the report The State of Food Insecurity in the World.

The report suggests that this is a result of growth not being inclusive. “Rural people make up a high percentage of the hungry and malnourished in developing countries, and efforts to promote growth in agriculture and the rural sector can be an important component of a strategy for promoting inclusive growth.”

There has however been a significant reduction in the proportion of undernourished people in India — by 36 per cent — from 1990-92. In India, the extended food distribution programme has contributed to a positive outcome, the FAO says.

Around the world, 795 million people — or around one in nine — are undernourished. Asia and the Pacific account for almost 62 per cent of this section. Yet, the trends are positive, with a decrease in the prevalence of people with undernourishment — from 18.6 pc in 1990-92 to 10.9 percent in 2014-16 worldwide.

Southern Asia, which has historically had the highest number of underweight children below five years of age, also happens to be a region that has made big strides in reducing malnutrition among children.

According to the statistics, the prevalence of underweight children declined from 49.2 percent in 1990 to 30 percent in 2013. A host of factors can contribute to children being underweight, not just deficiency in calories or protein. Poor hygiene, disease or limited access to clean water can also contribute to the body’s inability to absorb nutrients from food, manifested finally in nutrient deficits such as stunting and wasting.

World Food Programme (WFP), present in India since 1963, has seen its work evolve with the country’s economic growth and changing needs. Self-sufficiency in cereal production and Government safety nets to provide food security has allowed WFP to transition from food distribution to providing technical assistance.

Food delivery was phased out in 2012 and under a new Country Strategic Plan 2015-18; WFP is supporting the Government in strengthening the efficiency and effectiveness of its food-based safety nets under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

This includes the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS); the Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) targeting mothers and young children; and the Mid-Day-Meal (MDM) school feeding programme. WFP is also committed to enhancing the capacity of Government on food security analysis and benchmarking of NFSA schemes for effective results.

The Modi government has to seriously think of controlling its bursting population and improve methods of food production to get better yield for its food crops by providing better irrigation and electricity facilities to the farmers to deracinate hunger from the country.

Sustainable crop production is a way forward for growing or raising food in an ecologically and ethically responsible manner. This includes adhering to agricultural and food production practices that do not harm the environment, that provide fair treatment to workers, and that support and sustain local communities. Sustainable crop production is in contrast to industrial crop production, which generally relies upon monocropping (growing only one crop in a large area of land), intensive application of commercial fertilizers, heavy use of pesticides, and other inputs that are damaging to the environment, to communities, and to farm workers. In addition, sustainable crop production practices can lead to higher yields over time, with less need for expensive and environmentally damaging inputs.

DR. P. K. VASUDEVa

(The writer is retired professor International Trade).