When we cut down forests, we don’t think about the consequences we might have to face in the near future. The COVID-19 virus is a scathing example of what humans have to face as a consequence of disrupting nature. Transmission of diseases from animal to humans is merely an impact we are facing at present, but drought, flood, glacier burst, food and water insecurity are growing challenges for the future.
I am fortunate to have grown up in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. Around 71 percent of the state’s geographical is covered by forests. My knowledge of the Himalayan ecosystem is founded on my childhood experience and seven years of research as a primatologist.
I have observed some progressive, drastic changes due to environmental factors that highlight the fragility of the Himalayas. Few of these are noted here.
Climate Change, Forest Fires
Despite a dense forest cover, degradation is also happening continuously. Around 15 years back, as I was growing up, I remember rainfall was predictable and agricultural production was always satisfactory.
Currently, we have irregularity in rainfall, which direct impacts our livelihood. Similarly, snowfall pattern also shows similar trends and impacts some high-altitude horticultural crops.
When I was a kid, winter was the same every year and summer was comfortable. In recent years, winter is getting irregular – this year, for instance, it was not harsh due to lesser snowfall. Summer, on the other hand, is getting hotter and longer.
Since I grew up in a comfortable climate, it’s getting hard for me and my family to cope with this harsh summer.
Drought periods are getting prolonged and responsible for year-round forest fires and water scarcities. Back then, forest fire was once annually and that was before monsoons or during peak summer. Now, we can witness fire incidents year-round.
Excessive fires create smog and pollution, which is quite evident now with people complaining about respiratory problems. I had reported this for The Quint in April.
Two months later, thanks to incessant rain, the same forests look green now. We can't judge the impact by just looking at the forest; the actual damage and loss of biodiversity needs research.
Floods and Other Natural Disasters
As a researcher, I notice these impacts on a deeper level. For instance, unusual weather patterns and habitat degradation have a direct effect on forest growth and development. This creates possibilities of low food availability for wild animals and increases their movement outside the forest zones.
These factors force wildlife to share habitat with humans and lead to issues like disease transmission and conflict. In return, both sides suffer consequences.
Cloudbursts and landslides are another effect. The 2013 Kedarnath floods still give me goosebumps. During one of the worst natural disasters in India, I was at a research site inside the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, which is not far from Kedarnath but falls in a different valley.
We had no access to cellular network, so news arrived few days after we returned to the nearest village. Rain that year was something I have not witnessed so far. We were deep in the forest and it was difficult to walk back 5 km to Siroli Village, in that rough storm.
The valley had flooded. While there were no casualties, some bridges and paths were inundated. Lots of villages, bridges and roads remained unconnected for several days. Certainly, the rate and intensity of cloudbursts has increased dramatically, thus resulting in heavy losses.
There are numerous natural disasters in my state and all of us are facing the consequences in different ways. But why have such effects increased recently?
There are a lot of factors responsible but one of the most important ones is high pressure on the surrounding environment, that leads to forest degradation. The Himalayas is a fragile mountain range, thus we have to take special care, else we have to be ready for the worst disasters!
Development is essential for us but we have put more emphasis on sustainable development. We often overlook the forest and animals, yet we are directly linked to them and any imbalance will impact humans, too.
For the past seven years, my work in the Himalayas has been concentrated on maintaining this balance and will continue so. We humans have been exploiting forests for a long time and now, and reversing this environmental damage is an essential need.
(The author is a primatologist and local from Uttarakhand. All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)